Plans in place to deal with solstice travellers

May 23 2020
Plans in place to deal with solstice travellers

By Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter

SOMERSET’S police and local authorities have put plans in place to deal with a potential influx of travellers during the summer solstice celebrations.

Around 10,000 people typically gather at Stonehenge in Wiltshire on the longest day of the year – which this year falls on June 20.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has meant this year’s celebration has been cancelled – prompting fears solstice revellers will head to Somerset instead.

Mendip District Council has said it is working with other public bodies to monitor groups arriving in the county during the solstice period, ensuring government guidance is being observed and that people remain safe.

English Heritage – which runs Stonehenge – confirmed on May 12 that the entire site would remain closed during the summer solstice, in line with the government’s ban on mass gatherings.

The charity told the BBC it was cancelling the annual celebrations “for the safety and well-being of attendees, volunteers and staff” – though the sunrise will be live-streamed via its YouTube channel.

Councillor Alison Barkshire raised concerns at a virtual meeting of Mendip District Council’s scrutiny board on Wednesday afternoon (May 20).

Ms Barkshire, who is a member of the Green Party, represents the Ammerdown ward between Frome and Radstock.

She said: “I am aware there have been issues around travellers coming into Mendip.

“Given that we are allowed (theoretically at least) to drive wherever we want to, is there any discussion about how that is going to be dealt with across the county – or particularly Mendip, where of course we attract them passing through as part of the summer solstice movement?”

Lead officer Tracy Aarons responded that the council was working with the police and other councils to ensure guidance was being observed during the solstice celebrations.

She said: “We are aware of that, particularly with the whole issue of the solstice and the fact that Stonehenge will not be open this year.

“There are conversations going on across Avon and Somerset with the police and the councils to work out how we will manage any movements.

“The police obviously track movements of groups anyway before they come into the county, so we are aware. But we are also looking at what joint policies we will use across the county to ensure that we can deal with anything that comes in.

“We in the Mendip area have had some movement in – but not as much as perhaps people might think.

“There are a number of small groups that we are giving some support as required by government, so that they are effectively contained and don’t have to go into public areas unnecessarily.”

Somerset County Council said it was working to identify local solutions to travellers’ needs while following national government guidelines.

A spokesman said: “Due to the Covid-19 emergency, there are new national guidelines on travelling communities to prevent the spread of the virus wherever possible.

“These communities will find it harder to self-isolate while they are travelling, and the government advice is that local solutions should be identified to ensure travellers are supported to stay in one place.

“We are working together with the other local authorities in Somerset to explore how those from the gypsy and traveller community in, and travelling through Somerset, are supported and safe in these unprecedented times, as well as meeting the needs of the surrounding communities of these locations.”

Friends Families and Travellers, a campaign group which represents gypsy and traveller communities, has published guidance for those living on traveller sites or at the roadside when lockdown was implemented.

A spokesman said: “If you are living on a traveller site, you should let your site manager know and ask for support.

“This includes ensuring you have access to communal toilets and showers when you need them, that these are adequately cleaned, that you can top up your electricity supply without leaving your home, and that there is space to store supplies.

“If you are living roadside, you should let your local authority know and ask for support in finding a place to stop with access to the right facilities.

“Try to ensure you are not threatened with eviction while self-isolating, that you have access to basic water and sanitation and access to rubbish disposal.

“You should also ensure any vulnerable members of your home have enough space to distance themselves from others.”

Picture: Stock image of travellers by Dan Regan