Fears over traveller festival plan for Overton

Keith Sowden.
Keith Sowden.

More than 100 residents packed into a heated meeting amid concerns at a mass gathering for travellers set for their village.

Around 2,500 members of the travelling community will descend on Overton in July as part of a religious festival, if it goes ahead.

It is speculated the event is the Light and Life Gypsy Church’s annual Christian convention, which is held in a different village every year.

But there are mounting fears the gathering could overwhelm the small village - home to around 1,500 people - after it emerged there had been issues with similar festivals in the past.

One villager, who did not wish to be named, said: “From previous events I have looked up, villages have been on lockdown.

“The lack of information has been a problem. It’s caused speculation that there could be trouble.”

Light and Life Gypsy Church pastor Jackie Boyd told The Visitor he was unaware of any firm arrangements but said members had been asked to look for land on which to stage the festival. He also said North West members could be planning their own event.

Overton Parish Council chairman Keith Sowden said more than 100 people attended Monday night’s parish meeting to voice their concerns.

It went on 90 minutes longer than scheduled.

Coun Sowden, also the village’s district councillor, said Sergeant Adrian Knowles told the meeting that an event for travellers was taking place.

He added: “You couldn’t get a seat at last night’s meeting - people were standing at the back and passions were inflamed.

“Religious events are never a problem with regard to the law, but I think if it’s more like the Appleby Horse Fair that’s a different matter because they have a lot of problems with people breaking the law. People are worried to death.”

It is understood the event will take place on privately-owned fields between Kevin Grove and Overton Saint Helen’s CE Primary School, so may not require a council licence.

The resident went on: “There’s a lot of worry about access. We don’t have shops so they’re going to be in and out of Heysham. It will be mayhem.

“There’s one lane into the village to get to those shops.

“We need to know how close it will be to the school, how many people are coming, what is going to be happening and if it’s going to be policed.”

The four-day Light and Life Gypsy Church festival centres on a large big-top tent featuring bible classes, prayer meetings and gospel sessions.

Last year’s event was held at Hewish, Somerset, when fields were taken over by 700 caravans and around 3,000 gypsies and police dealt with calls about antisocial behaviour, people fouling and litter being tossed into hedgerows.

About 5,000 travellers attended the 2012 event at Carlton, North Yorkshire, when one local councillor said residents were intimidated and bins ended up over-flowing.