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Time for Blue-skies thinking - camping in Shangri-la

Ben Chastney's picture
By Ben Chastney |  November 29, 2016 |

Since we held a national conference about unauthorised encampments earlier this year, there has been some evidence of local good practice but this is still quite rare.  Tired approaches and obstacles to change continue in many places.  However, last Friday Leeds GATE held a very positive national advisory group discussion to launch our Esmee Fairbairn funded Negotiating Stopping project which aims to change the narrative and response to unauthorised encampments.  Our aim was to bring a new group of ‘stake-holders’ – those involved in or affected by encampment- together to try and push things forward.

 

We were therefore really pleased to have such good engagement from a variation of representatives.  This included police, councils, members and politicians from around the country.  Particularly positive was the inclusion of both residents’ groups and community members; voices too often left out of unauthorised encampment discussions.  As expected, there are and will always be points of contention.  However, there was a lot of agreement, common goals and improved mutual understanding, providing hope that more progress can be made.

 

Looking at the obstacles, perhaps little came out which would have been new to anyone.  Barriers of political will, problems of perception about roadside families, financial constraints and communication challenges have always been there.  What we did get from Friday though is a better mutual understanding that different people within the debate see and experience these problems differently.  We were also able to put together some more concrete ideas about how everyone involved realistically can see small changes being made. 

 

We need to be realistic about how much a small group, however committed, can achieve overnight.  By definition, all of those in the room accepted the premise that current practices really cannot continue and that new approaches are required.  Many with the power to make significant decisions have not yet made this step.  Conversely though, let’s recognise what has already been done and is being done; evidence from many places of pragmatic and compassionate policies.  The evidence from these, whether of money saved, disruption avoided and wellbeing improved, will help us all demonstrate the value of negotiation and argue for its wider application. 

 

During the afternoon our group of stakeholders took a journey to a fictional place - Shangri-la - in which eviction can't happen.  We imagined what else might happen if forced removal were not a possible response to encampments.  We visualised how relationships might be different, and particularly what happens if those most affected by encampment (ie those on the camp and those living nearby) have the most power to affect what happens?  Bringing the actions and decision making much closer to the camps certainly could lead to different relationships and different solutions to problems and challenges.

 

One key point for me, was that there is not a one size fits all solution.  This naturally relates to discussion about obstacles and that these vary with the area or person involved.  Some form of local negotiation will always be of benefit, but that this might look different with different local variables.  How to manage waste, ensure safety, undertake welfare assessments or establish a fair stopping time will vary.  What we also took away though is that all of these issues can and should be addressed.  We know what not doing so looks like, there is more than enough evidence of how so-called zero tolerance has failed.  

 

Let me send my sincere thanks to all who attended our advisory group meeting, and wish us all the best as we take our messages and ideas back to wherever we live, travel or work.  We are happy to extend our invitation out to everyone, whether currently involved in the Negotiating Stopping debate or not, to join in this new conversation about encampment.  Leeds GATE are able to support all and any, whether they be police force, local resident, Travelling family, or politician.  A graphic report of the meeting will soon be made available and we are working on ways to bring the discussion begun at our advisory group into local settings via workshops and other ways to generate new conversations.  Please get in touch and continue to watch this space!

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