Birmingham & Black Country

Meriden Gypsy site protest 'brought residents together'

Raid members dismantle their camp after Gypsies leave the Meriden field
Image caption Raid members dismantle their camp after Gypsies leave the Meriden field

When a Gypsy camp set up illegally in a West Midlands field villagers moved quickly to start a campaign to force them out.

Residents of Meriden, about six miles from Solihull, set up a 24-hour vigil at the Eaves Green Lane site, but had no idea it would last more than three years, and see them camping out in all weathers.

However, the final Gypsy family left a week ago, so BBC News has been back to assess whether the campaign has had a lasting effect on villagers.

Before the protest Dave McGrath, one of the organisers of Meriden Residents Against Inappropriate Development (RAID), knew just six other people in the village.

"I moved into the village in 2009," Mr McGrath said.

"I'm a carer for my elderly father and travel for business and these duties meant I was away a lot."

However, he said up to 650 people have been involved with RAID in some form or other and, as a result, he knows far more people now.

Despite the fact the illegal site has now been closed, villagers have decided to continue fundraising and have set up a social club that meets weekly.

The work they have done, he said, will be used as a basis to set up other community schemes.

Nick Roberts lives about a mile and a half from the camp in Millison's Wood and admits his involvement was "peripheral".

Mr Roberts said: "I donated money to help their cause but I didn't take part in the protest group.

Image caption Resident Nick Roberts said he had donated money but was not an active member of RAID

"Maybe it was a conscience thing because I wasn't involved in RAID itself. It was just a little bit that I could do.

"I don't think there were opinions divided. None of the villagers I know wanted [the development]."

Many residents and others who work in the village did not want to go on record about the Gypsy site, for which retrospective planning applications to develop the area were dismissed by the High Court.

Some were of the opinion there should be somewhere for the Gypsies to go and added there had been little impact on the village since the first Gypsy families moved onto the site in April 2010.

But having lived in Meriden for six years, Paul Ward feels the place has become friendlier.

"I think people are more inclined to stop and speak to one another because people recognise each others face from being involved," Mr Ward said.

"I guess it's had an impact in that way, bringing the community together and I feel that's emanated through other aspects where people get involved in more things like events that happen throughout the year.

Image caption Work still needs to be done on the now vacated site to return it to its original state

"I hope it does continue because that's something positive that can come out of a negative event really."

The Gypsies have been given until 21 May to return the site to its original state, but in the end they decided to leave early.

Mr McGrath said fundraising in the village will continue, with a view to buying the land.

"I'm not ruling out a community-led initiative to offer a reasonable bid... and maybe turn the area into a nature reserve," he said.

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