Paul Baker, Chairman, Chippingdale Cricket Club
As the 2012 cricket season beckoned, amateur and professional clubs put the finishing touches to their squares and outfields, ready for the rigours of summer play.
Preparations had been particularly tough this year, with first intense heat then perpetual deluge putting more than a dampener on opening fixtures.
This was all challenging enough for turfcare teams, but the last few years, in particular, have seen the spread of a new and, for some, deeply worrying threat.
We've seen them on television, glamourised in shows such as Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, but the reality is that the travelling community poses a tangible and still largely unsolved issue for many sportsgrounds - those wide open spaces that the army of caravans, panel vans and trailers needs to park up in as travellers march on, searching for fresh fields and summer work.
Space is the final frontier where club owners, councils and travellers must find common ground to resolve a highly sensitive dilemma that's impacting wide stretches of Britain. Smaller clubs could find themselves increasingly the first line of attack as local authorities gear up to protect their own land, leaving private sportsgrounds particularly exposed.
Particularly badly hit is the south coast. In Worthing and Lancing, West Sussex, for example, travellers were issued with legal notices to vacate grounds six times in the space of a fortnight in July.
One of the most notable victims of traveller trespass was Chippingdale Cricket Club in Worthing, whose Rotary Recreation Ground, rented from Worthing Borough Council, was once again targeted by unwelcome visitors this year, after first falling prey to them in 2011.
"Last year proved to be a most intimidating situation for all involved," states club chairman Paul Baker. "The travellers accessed the site and the council decided to open up the pavilion to accommodate them and allow use of the wash and toilet facilities. In hindsight, this was a terrible mistake as they completely wrecked the pavilion and damaged many of our facilities, meaning we had to seek funds to improve the facilities earlier this year."
After this initial upsetting encounter, the club was keen to ensure that history didn't repeat itself, so when staff were alerted to the danger this July, they were fast to act. "We were notified by locals that traveller children had been seen surveying the area, assessing our locks at the main entrance and scoping out possible alternative routes in," Paul continues. "We notified the council and suggested that a number of fluorescent jacketed security guards were positioned around the site, to prevent the travellers entering. Sadly, this action was not taken and we turned up the next morning to find they had gained illegal access to the site, leaving us in a position with little to do to remove the caravans."
Anxious, Paul felt like "an expectant father" as he awaited news on the travellers and what, if any, damage they had caused. Luckily, the damage was only minimal by the time the travellers had been given legal notice to vacate the site.
Chippingdale was fortunate this time, says Paul, but he believes the incident highlights a pressing need for more concrete procedures to be put in place, so that councils and private enterprises faced with travellers on their land can act quicker to prevent access.
"It could have been far worse for us," says Paul. "I heard horror stories from locals about quad bikes driven across wickets and all sorts. Luckily, none of our new facilities had been affected as, this year, the council chose to lock and secure the pavilion and machinery shed."
Clearly, the council had rethought its strategy, and it was fortunate that it had as the club had not long completed a £50,000 investment in new cricket nets, changing rooms, wash facilities, kitchen and cricket nets - money that was levied by the club itself, with no financial input from the local authority, which owns the land.
Funds were raised through a Sport England grant of £10,000, £15,000 from waste management giant Viridor, thanks to the proximity of the ground to a landfill site, and £21,500 (43%) was raised by the club, through various fund raising activities over a four-year period. The money funded purchase of the cricket nets, whilst the pavilion refurbishment cash came from NatWest Cricket Force - a volunteer-centred body that unites members of the community to carry out development projects - in this case to paint and redecorate the pavilion interior.
Chippingdale also received help from local firm, Manhattan Furniture, which donated new kitchen furniture, sink, taps and appliances. "The existing pavilion didn't have the facilities we needed for the amount of teams we run," explains Paul. "We only had one changing room for both men and women. The improvements gave us the space we needed, and the nets were a valuable new addition, so we were naturally concerned that these wouldn't be affected by travellers, and pleased that the council didn't make the same mistake as last year and open the facilities up for use," he adds.
It was, in Paul's view, the council's inaction, when suspicion was aroused, that gave the travellers the chance to break in. As the landlord, it is responsible for the integrity of the facilities, as well as other grounds within its boundary.
Clearly unhappy about the setbacks caused by the travellers, not to mention the media furore regionally following the illegal access to the site, Adur and Worthing Council's believe they are making the right moves to secure sportsgrounds.
"Summer is the migration period for travellers - so most of the trouble is over these months, when travellers come looking for work," explains Chris Bradley, Head of Parks and Foreshore at Worthing. "We're now expecting them to come here, so have put measures in place to help protect council-owned grounds."
This year, two traveller groups came together to create added havoc for the council, he adds. A Findon Valley group of around twenty caravans, which ended up at Northbrook Recreation Ground, and the Lancing contingent, which accessed the Hillbarn Rotary Recreation Grounds, Chippingdale's home. Once the Lancing group was moved on, it joined forces with that at Northbrook.
Offering purely football provision, and less contentious from a sporting point of view, Northbrook was, unfortunately, accessed from a side entrance, Chris points out. "They're coming in the side door now, rather in the front way."
Grass sites are usually targeted, but the staff mobilised to tackle travellers camped on council-owned and tenanted sites depends on the location, Chris explains. "If the site chosen is a car park, a different department will be involved from when sports and recreation grounds are affected, in which case the parking section will address the issue."
Recognising that travellers are regular visitors is helping councils prepare for their appearance and budget accordingly. Adur & Worthing undertakes a rolling programme of measures, setting aside "tens of thousands of pounds" annually to take steps to deter travellers. If such budgets are viewed nationally, millions of pounds may be being apportioned.
The council employs a battery of physical deterrents to put travellers off accessing a site. "We have installed height and low level barriers, and have undertaken landscaping measures such as a tight bund of soil and stone at the entrance to Hillbarn so that entry is at 90 degrees," Chris reports.
"This makes it very difficult for travellers' vans and trailers to drive in. "Of course," he laments, "they can always cut through perimeter fencing, which they did this year at Hillbarn. Sadly, we have to accept the fact that travellers come prepared to enter a site. They come armed with angle grinders and mini diggers, and will saw through barriers and dig through a bund or a bank. We have to place a variety of deterrents in their way in the hope that, added together, they achieve their objective."
Paul echoes this sentiment, as he relays some of the more serious problems the travellers caused the club in 2011. "It wasn't a nice experience at all last year. The traveller children would be very hostile to the groundstaff and steal things out of the back of vans. We had a particularly bad bunch."
He comments on the "balancing act" between ensuring a site is safe, but still making a ground attractive. "There's plenty of scope for creating banks and soil to stop travellers accessing, but it's important that these areas are landscaped and look attractive, with planting and flowers perhaps," he explains. "It needs a bit of thought, as fencing and gates, as we've seen, can easily be broken into."
Damage to property and wickets are arguably a cricket club's most pressing concern when falling victim to unlawful break-ins, but what shouldn't be forgotten is the impact such events have on those using the facilities week in week out - this proved the biggest bugbear this year.
"We were lucky in many ways that it didn't cost us money for repairs or replacements, but what it did do was push our fixtures back for two weeks," bemoans Paul. "We lost ten fixtures in total, with two weekends and six Colts games written off. From a council perspective, the longer the grounds were out of action the more money they were losing, and there was little that could be done as the legal process was going through," he continues.
"The police were limited with what they could do as well, as the law states that it's only classed as a criminal act if they're actually seen breaking in. The law is still quite confusing, and our case highlights the need for more clarity on what clubs can do if in a similar position." Prevention is better than cure, he insists, by properly securing a site to ensure access of vehicles is tricky for travellers.
That doesn't come cheaply, as Chris confirms. "It's a costly process, when you consider that a height barrier costs £3,000-£3,500, and a low level barrier around £2,500. Fixed metal posts filled with concrete, or movable posts that can be raised or lowered, can help prevent access to a site. It's the inconvenience factor that might tell in the end."
Traffic calming measures are a good idea too, he adds, ideally on a driveway into a ground. "Travellers loathe running their caravans over these, especially if they are angled to the line of the road. Curved bunds are also useful."
To ensure private grounds don't fall victim to break-ins, "vigilance is vital", he insists. "Equipment and machinery should be removed when not in use, even if it is kept in a pavilion, and we strongly advise clubs to fit a shrouding around locks to prevent a crowbar being used to force entry," he adds.
Once bitten, twice shy, Adur & Worthing has changed tack since last year. "We opened the Hillbarn ground pavilion so that travellers could use toilets and showers, but they trashed them when they left, so the council's attitude has hardened now. This year, we gave them no access to the facilities."
As councils increasingly stand firm and put deterrents in place, travellers will search for softer targets for encampments and that may well mean small, private clubs, without the staff and money to put up the barriers to keep unwanted visitors off their grounds. The next few years could prove a decisive time for them.
Adur & Worthing work closely with Sussex Police, necessary to present a multi-faceted approach to what is a complex and frustrating issue. Police and council traveller liaison officers are on full alert as summer approaches, Chris reports, while up to the minute information about traveller movements is posted on the council's website.
Parish council sites may be still more vulnerable, as they have fewer resources. "Travellers favour the Beach Green site," says Chris, "which comes under Lancing Parish Council. They use our legal section when necessary."
Previously, Adur & Worthing had acquired a court order banning groups from a site - applicable for three months. This year, it gained a possession order, which stands for six years. "We use a process server to act on our behalf. They are familiar with dealing with such cases. If we went in ourselves, we wouldn't be met in the best spirit," Chris says. "We want to avoid physical conflict. Travellers know we have to remove them - it's a process we have to go through. If travellers have not vacated the site within twenty-four hours, we have to go in - engaging a breakdown company for the work."
Private clubs that own their ground must pursue the legal route too, largely at their own expense. If they lease land from a council, the authority will handle the legal issues themselves, bringing their greater powers to bear.
Knowing what the law allows can be tricky and confusing, as Paul noted, and as with Chippingdale and other cases, clubs can be left in limbo, especially if it's their land.
As trespass is a civil matter, not a criminal offence, prevention of trespass and removal of trespassers are, therefore, the responsibilities of the landowner and not law enforcement agencies.
Police do have discretionary powers to direct travellers off land where activity contravenes legislation contained within Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. For this to happen though, specific criteria have to be met, for example, where travellers have with them six or more vehicles or damage has occurred to the property. Use of this power will only be considered in cases of more serious criminality, or where the encampment is on a very sensitive site that is likely to cause significant disruption to the local community. School playing fields, during term time, where the presence of an encampment severely disrupts daily activity of local schoolchildren, fall into this category.
More information about 'Gypsy Traveller Liaison Officers' and 'Unauthorised Encampments' is available on, in this case, the Sussex Police website, but guidance can also be found on other local police websites, especially if the area is one that receives regular traveller visitors.
Guidance from national sports bodies is patchy and may not yet reflect the emerging issue of traveller trespass. The ECB, for example, offers nothing by way of specific advice to help cricket clubs affected, although its website does explain how they can seek funding to replace facilities.
Paul Baker, though, is confident that at both local and national level, if support and advice is needed, help is at hand. "For us, I've always had excellent dialogue with the Sussex Cricket Board, who would likely be our first port of call, after the council, if facilities had been damaged."
The FA, meanwhile, can field enquiries on its legal helpline, set up a year ago, which can address traveller as well as other issues affecting Chartered Status clubs.
"This is a very sensitive area," confirms Mark Pover, its National Facilities and Investment Manager. "There are 125,000 teams playing on 38,000 pitches so, when something happens, it can have a significant impact. Our legal helpline offers up to thirty minutes of free advice from a solicitor. After that, they charge for the service, but at very competitive rates."
Local authorities usually deal with travellers and tell them which sites are best for them to use, Pover says. "They may say 'you can stay for two or three days but any longer and we move you on'. They'll use enforcement officers and injunctions or court orders."
He points out that 80% of pitches rest in education, parish council or local authority ownership, which presents private clubs renting land with another issue. "Local authorities are becoming better prepared to deal with travellers, some more than others, but where they operate a zero tolerance approach, the presence of travellers in an area could really have an impact."
"Under the asset transfer measures in the Localism Bill, councils can pass on responsibility for running sportgrounds to clubs under, say, a twenty-five or fifty year licence, but the ultimate onus of responsibility still rests with the landlord, in this case the local authority, not the tenant. Within the licence, there is the responsibility to remove travellers, but it is the council's job to do this, not the club's."
Facilities damage can hit clubs hard in the pocket, Pover says. "Any criminal damage should be reported to the police to gain a claim number, but usually only buildings are insured, not land or pitches. Reinstatement of pitches costs money and is not covered."
Visit www.thefa.com and search for 'Any Game' for more details.
Away from the south coast, break-ins have been reported most recently in Lancashire where, in mid-July, travellers set up a camp at a Burnley sports venue, the council-owned Prairie Playing Fields.
Dorset's Bournemouth and Poole councils have now formed a united front to enlist a government minister's help in tackling their traveller issues, as this year alone has witnessed sixteen separate unauthorised encampments on Bournemouth parks, playing fields, sports grounds, open spaces and car parks, whilst Poole has seen eight on council-owned land and three on privately-owned areas.
In Plymouth, Devon, the council has to deal with around twenty-five illegal encampments every year, in part because there are no organised transit sites in the city, which highlights not only the need for more concerted action, but for travellers to have designated sites to use in the summer months.
The current legal guidelines mean that each unauthorised encampment can take between ten days and four weeks to evict, which could have a drastic affect if heavily used sports grounds are out of action for that long.
When the police can get involved
Guidance has been set out by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) on when action can be taken by the police. This will give clarity to those who are unsure whether their case should be dealt with by police, the local authority or through the courts.
The lead role in the management of unauthorised encampments will be with local authorities. Forces will consider becoming involved in bringing about a prompt and lawful removal of unauthorised encampments, including the use of police powers under Section 61 or 62 of the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994 where: "Local amenities are deprived to communities or significant impact on the environment."
This could include, for example, forming an encampment on any part of a recreation ground, public park, school field, village green, or depriving the public use of car parks. The fact that other sections of the community are being deprived of the amenities must be evident before action is taken.
There is local disruption to the economy; This would include forming an encampment on a shopping centre car park, or in an industrial estate, if it disrupts workers or customers, or agricultural land, if this results in the loss of use of the land for its normal purpose.
There is other significant disruption to the local community or environment; This might include where other behaviour, which is directly related to those present at an encampment, is so significant that a prompt eviction by police becomes necessary, rather than by other means.
There is a danger to life; An example of this might be an encampment adjacent to a motorway, where there could be a danger of children or animals straying onto the carriageway.
There is a need to take preventative action; This might include where a group of trespassers have persistently displayed antisocial behaviour at previous sites and it is reasonably believed that such behaviour will be displayed at this newly established site. This reasoning will take on greater emphasis if the land occupied is privately owned, as the landowner will be responsible for the cleansing and repair of their property.
The mere presence of an encampment without any aggravating factors will not normally create an expectation that police will use eviction powers. This should be communicated to the public, landowners, local authorities, and other agencies.
In all cases, relevant human rights processes must be applied to all decisions made so that the elements of S61 are satisfied, and that it is necessary and proportionate to use the powers. Section 61 Criminal Justice & Public Order Act relies upon reasonable steps being taken, by or on behalf of the landowner, to ask trespassers to leave in every case before police powers can be used.
ACPO Code of Conduct for unauthorised encampments
Behaviour that may result in the eviction from a site includes the following:
- Camping on any land designated as a public amenity, such as parks, recreation areas, school fields and similar locations
- Interfering with the rights and freedoms of other members of the public, including interrupting the operation of legitimate businesses
- Forcing entry to land, by causing damage to any fixtures, fittings or landscaping (including planted areas). This includes digging away of earthwork defences, which have been placed at landowner's expense to prevent trespass
- Causing any other damage to the land itself, or property on it. Particular care should be taken not to cause damage to those features provided as public amenities
- Driving vehicles along any footpath, or other highway not specifically designed for road vehicles. This practice is not only unlawful but is also highly dangerous
- Parking vehicles or caravans on any road, footpath or other highway that causes an obstruction to other people wanting to pass by. This includes parking immediately next to footpaths
- Dumping or tipping rubbish, waste materials or trade waste such as tree cuttings, and rubble. It is travellers' responsibility to keep the site clean and tidy. Council Traveller Liaison Officers can direct them to civic amenity sites where they will be able to pay to dispose of trade waste
- Depositing or leaving human waste openly in public areas or abusing, intimidating or harassing anyone lawfully using the area
- Excessive noise or other forms of antisocial behaviour
- Animals that are not kept under control or that attack persons lawfully on the land, or nearby
- Interference with electrical, water or gas supplies. Anyone found abstracting electricity, or wasting quantities of water may be subject to criminal proceedings