Back in 2009 when we opened the new traveller site at Brooks Green to 8 families, there was an air of excitement. This was the first site of its kind in the county, and certainly the first for Broadland Housing. We were very proud of the partnership we had built with South Norfolk District Council, the local Parish Council and the Gypsy community to deliver it.
It was an important milestone that gave 8 families a place to call home, permanently, while protecting their heritage and ability to travel. The children moving onto the site were able to go to school, some for the first time.
There are many aspects of Brooks Green that have made it such a success. The consultation on the site design helped us to understand the needs of the community, such as providing extra space for vehicles.
Each of the 8 pitches has its own ‘day house’ with dining, bathroom and toilet facilities. A ground source heat pump provides a cheap and effective energy source for the day houses. There is also a low maintenance sedum roof.
Another important factor was that Brooks Green was initially supported by a dedicated neighbourhood officer. This continued support helped the new tenants to settle in quickly.
Consulting the community
In August 2019 we celebrated the site’s 10th anniversary. Andrew Savage, Executive Development Director, met up again with Betsy Mitchell, one of the original tenants who had moved in shortly after the site opened. Betsy’s input was invaluable in the consultation stage of the project.
We were so grateful for all the comments and suggestions at the outset, especially Betsy’s ideas for the day houses. Consulting the families in this way was a vital part of the consultation. It gave them a sense of ownership from the beginning. We are very proud of what we have achieved here. Some of the families had previously moved around Norfolk up to 20 times a year before settling here. Brooks Green has genuinely transformed their lives.
Betsy said that had been a delight to live at Brooks Green over the last 10 years, with its quiet location and green spaces, with her family around her. In fact 12 of her grandchildren had been born on the site! Read the Eastern Daily Press article about the celebrations.
Brooks Green was named after landowner Barry Brooks, who allowed his land to be used despite some local opposition. Back at the opening event in 2010 he told the Eastern Daily Press: “A lot of people don’t understand travellers, but they are just like anyone else.”
10 years on
Speaking at the 10th anniversary event, Michael Newey, Chief Executive, echoed this:
Our job as a housing association is to create places where people can build communities. The Gypsy and Traveller community is often misunderstood, but we refuse to accept that any single group should be second-class citizens.
The idea that families are constantly being moved on – even when they include people with terminal illnesses, as well as children of all ages – denies them the ability to be part of the kind of community which most of us take for granted.
It took an innovative mindset and a lot of hard work to create Brooks Green – but looking at it 10 years later, it was very definitely worth it. There aren’t anywhere near enough sites for the Gypsy and Traveller community. Our job is to solve housing need – so when we can, we will.
Broadland Housing is a member of the National Policy Advisory Panel on Gypsy and Traveller Housing.