Bristol van dwellers moved on after injunction forces their hands

Bristol van dwellers moved on after injunction forces their hands

May 17, 2023

EXCLUSIVE: Meet the Bristol ‘van dwellers’ living ‘off grid’: Ex-gardener earning £100K before lockdown is among ‘new age hippies’ parked in trendy suburb who are now being moved along by council after row over fires, littering and human waste

  • Residents say the dwellers  ‘have made people’s lives here an absolute misery’
  • One remaining dweller claims he used to earn £100,000 landscaping gardens in the Cotswold’s 

The emaciated figure that shuffles to the flimsy caravan door and squints against the late-morning sunlight has clearly not been awake for long.

He is wearing a mask over his mouth and nose and complains that he has Covid. ‘I feel like s**t,’ he croaks.

The man, who reluctantly introduces himself as ‘LJ’, is one of the few remaining ‘van dwellers’ parked up in a trendy Bristol suburb. 

Most of his group have left in the past 24 hours after the city council went to a district judge for powers to move them on.

LJ says the tree-lined street that runs along the edge of Greenbank Cemetery in desirable Easton has been his home for the past eight months.

Only a handful of vans remain on the street after the court’s injunction

One dweller, LJ, used to earn up to £100,000 a year landscaping gardens in the Cotswold’s

He says he is too sick to comply with the authority’s injunction order compelling him to leave and too broke to pay someone to move his caravan or launch a legal appeal.

‘They’ll throw me off this street and I’ll end up back in a s****y tent with frostbite again,’ he says.

Life wasn’t always like this for the 35-year-old from affluent Malmesbury in the Cotswold’s.

Before the pandemic, he says he was earning up to £100,000 a year tending the grounds of the wealthy as a professional landscape gardener.

But, he says, lockdown destroyed his business and left him bankrupt and homeless.

‘I had no choice but to live in a tent for a year or two,’ he said. ‘Then an opportunity came up to move into this caravan and live a bit more comfortably.

‘But I am penniless and, as you can see, now I’m really ill too. I’ve lost three stone since Christmas. It’s been the toughest few months of my life.

‘None of it was my fault but this was the only choice I had. There’s a cost of living crisis raging out there but I can’t get a job or benefits because I don’t have an address. 

‘The system is set up to fail me, so what choice do I have other than to live like this? I can’t even afford a toilet roll at the moment.’

This admission lends weight to horrified local residents’ claims that the van dwellers have been using the long grass in the nearby cemetery as a public toilet – a claim LJ doesn’t deny. ‘When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go,’ he says.

It is possible they may also have sparked a micro-outbreak of Covid in the street. 

At least three other van dwellers spoken to by Mail Online said they believed have succumbed to the virus in recent days. 

They are among the majority of van dwellers now remaining in Greenbank View.

Another traveller who spoke to Mail Online, a woman in her late-30s from Cardiff, south Wales, said she was looking after her uncle in her caravan because he too was unwell. 

Residents have been trying to get rid of the dwellers for months after a rise in anti-social behaviour

One resident said criminal activity among the van dwellers includes drug dealing

‘We think it’s Covid but because we have no address, we can’t see a GP for treatment. He’s got asthma and I’m really concerned. He’s not a young man and he’s very poorly.’

Residents in the street are daring to begin to believe their ‘nightmare’ neighbours will soon all be gone following the court’s injunction ruling.

They complain that the van dwellers have made their lives a misery for years. This has been the worst episode in the long-running history of the traveller invasion, they said.

One, a digital executive in his mid-30s who gave his name only as Dan, told how one of the van dwellers threatened to smash his windows in at the home he shares with his family opposite one of the caravans.

He said: ‘I was on a video meeting with work at about 11am and someone outside was making so much noise I couldn’t hear my colleagues’ voices on the call.

‘I looked out of the front window and this woman, one of the van dwellers, was standing a couple of feet away threatening to smash my windows because her wind chimes had fallen off her caravan and broken. She was saying I’d done it and she was in a hell of a rage.

‘I went outside to try and reason with her but there was no calming her down and I was worried she might do something stupid so I called the police.’

Dan said other criminal activity among the van dwellers includes drug dealing – crack cocaine and heroin, in particular.

He said: ‘I spent a few years working on projects helping people with drug problems, so I recognise the signs. I’ve also heard them asking for ‘bags, rocks and stones’ which are the words they use for crack and heroin.

‘I don’t for a minute think the dealers are living here in the caravans, but they are definitely using them as cover in order to sell to some people here that are, and also to sell to buyers who come here from elsewhere just to do the deal.

‘It’s the perfect cover, really.

Local residents believe the dwellers have been using the surrounding area as a public toilet

One resident told Mail Online that one of the dwellers threatened to smash the windows of his family home

‘But for those of us who live here in homes, it has become a nightmare. You can no longer let your children walk around in the street, even in daylight.

‘They have made people’s lives here an absolute misery and the sooner the council has moved every last one of them along, the better.

‘I do appreciate that some of them are here because of genuine hardship and I feel sorry for them. It’s complex, but I’d rather not have this outside my front door.’

Dan said he has spoken to some of the van dwellers and says the community of travellers fall into two distinct groups.

‘You’ve got a younger group of people in their 20s and 30s – mainly women with Home Counties accents who appear to have made a lifestyle choice,’ said Dan. 

‘They have chosen this way of life, they are well-educated, some, even, say they went to private schools, and decided that middle class, professional career, way of life wasn’t for them right now. In five years time, I’m sure some of them will be working as lawyers or accountants.

‘Then there’s the other group. They’re hardened, eco protesting, old school rebels who embraced the new age traveller way of life many years ago and have stuck with it. They’ve done a lot of demos and festivals and they look knackered.’

Yesterday, it was revealed that authorities in Bristol are cracking down on the region’s famous ‘van dwellers’ by banning them from talking to local residents in a bid to move them along.

One of the caravans parked outside the cemetery features a sign that reads: ‘Bristol sinking city’ 

Dexter Shallcross, 24, has lived on the street in his yellow Mercedes Benz Sprinter since September.

Members of the community say they can’t afford to rent properties due to the housing crisis, despite many being from well-to-do backgrounds and having good jobs.

A legal loophole meant that as long as their vans were fully taxed and had passed MOTs there was nothing the authorities could do – but an injunction order to ‘persons unknown’ has now been placed on the vehicles warning that inhabitants face court, jail, fines or having assets seized if they do not comply.

Part of the ban includes ‘contacting either directly or indirectly, any resident of Greenbank View by whatever means’, including sending messages to them on social media.

The rule is part of a series of measures implemented by Bristol’s county court following an application by Bristol city council, which comes after a surge in complaints of blocked pavements, fires, littering, human waste, double parking and a rising number of vehicles.

Residents are also unable to ‘instruct or encourage any other person’ to contact ‘either directly or indirectly’ the residents of Greenbank View.

This would stop supporters or legal teams from messaging people on the road.

Van dwellers have today labeled the rules ‘prejudiced’. Dexter Shallcross, 24, a sociology student at the University of the West of England, has lived on the street in his yellow Mercedes Benz Sprinter since September.

He said: ‘There is clearly high-level prejudice in the council. They presume that rowdy behaviour, general drug use and disturbance must be the van people.

‘I’m sure some cases are but not all of them. Although in some ways it’s a bit scruffy and not ideal, getting rid of us doesn’t stop addiction, it doesn’t stop homelessness and it doesn’t stop disturbances.’

A note left by one van dweller 

The community has deemed the new regulations ‘prejudiced’

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