Dale Farm victory for third St Christopher's

Ustiben report
By Grattan Puxon

The decision forcefully to demolish the Saint Christopher Centre at the beleagured Dale Farm Travellers' village in south east England has been legally quashed - for the time being.
Apparantly bowing to new financial restraints, Tory leader Malcolm Buckley has announced that Basildon will not contest the judicial review into his council's vote earlier this month to take direct action against the school and community centre.

However, solicitors acting for the community are likely to apply for the costs of the judicial review to be met by Basildon. This will further dent the original four million euro budget set up by Buckley to pursue his anti-Gypsy policies. More than a million has already been spent.

"This is our third Saint Christopher's," said Richard Sheridan, president of the Gypsy Council, with reference to two earlier schools named after Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travellers. "The credit crunch may yet save this one."

Roots of civil rights

The early days of the Travellers' civil rights movement, linked intimately to the later Northern Ireland civil rights' campaign, are currently highlighted in a photographic exhibition in the Irish capital. It shows Saint Christopher's 1 and 2, built at squatter encampments near Ballyfermot.

Artist Sean Lynch illustrates how the construction of Saint Christopher's 2 at Cherry Orchard settlement, where Travellers made their initial stand back in the l960s, was connected to the filming in Dublin of John Le Carre's The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

A while after the opening of the second Saint Christopher's on 4 January 1965, just a year since Dublin Corporation had burned down Saint Christopher's 1, part of the film's replica Berlin Wall was carted to Cherry Orchard and incorporated into the building.

Despite its ramshakle appearance, the school was an innovation. For the first time in Ireland, the Montessori teaching system was here adopted to help the most underpriviledged children. The stand at Cherry Orchard, led by the late Joe Donohue, Larry Ward and Pop's Johnny Connors, resulted in the provision of a municipal caravan site and a longer-term Montessori school in the city.

Today that quest for innovation is being repeated at Dale Farm, where Travellers are once more making a crucial stand for their rights. Thanks to the initiative of educational pioneer Prof. Stephen Heppell, of Anglia Rankin University, Saint Christopher's 3 plans in the new year to start a programme of computer-based courses, adapted to Gypsy Traveller culture.

Unfortunately, Malcolm Buckley has not yet warmed to the idea that Basildon could gain merit by allowing this trail-blazing school to flourish within the district. He still aims to crush Saint Christopher's, albeit the log cabin structure was paid for through Essex County Council and belongs to the Government.

On 11 November a Basildon District Council committee is formally reconsidering options in relation to enforcement at Dale Farm. But Buckley has already told the local press that following the Court of Appeal hearing on December 5 the council expects to be in a position to clear all unauthorized development, including Saint Christopher's.

7 pm 11 November 2008 For details email: or phone 01206 523528

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