Growing up on the east side of Northampton, Billing Aquadrome was something we generally associated with as fun. Over the years the park has changed in a number of different ways with increasing numbers of people choosing to live full time. For some it is being seen by some as a route to having stable housing. But the thing is it just isn’t. I was on the site yesterday, the day before it was shutting down for a month. With residents required to be off site for four weeks of the year, the stability is limited. A couple of years back my daughter took in a pensioner who’s family had said that they had saved for a hotel for the four weeks break. When push came to shove, when the money wasn’t there, the family went to a range of alternatives including sofa’s of friends and tents. Unwilling to see a pensioner living in a tent over January, my daughter took her in for the four weeks.
Over the four week break, the site seems increasingly prone to flooding. Over the weekend much of the areas around the paths and community facilities on site seemed waterlogged. The burden on home makers and care givers increase in such conditions, particularly when making a move for four weeks. A far cry from the summer fun of the fair.
People talk about the advantages in only having to pay for ground rent rather than Council tax but this in itself goes into the thousands. Coupled to the fact that fuel has to be purchased from the camp management and gas is about twice the cost of that off site. There are other hidden costs such as the requirement for Gas safety certifications which have to purchased from the site management and any improvements to pitches (decking or fencing) having to be again be purchased from site management at inflated costs.
The concern is that people living in these environments are disconnected from the rest of the community. With no access to postal services and a long walk to most other facilities, it’s easy to see why people living on the site have no voice. As just a market opportunity to be exploited, the human cost of which is hidden. It is after all somebody else’s business, somebody else’s choice. Of the people that I know living on this site many have taken the option as a result of broken relationships, and with the leading cause of homelessness being the cessation of private sector tenancies, the option of living in a caravan park is increasingly an option. Much less of a choice than, an potion on an every reducing list of options.
Part of the reason for the voicelessness is the disconnect from the rest of the system. This includes electorally with few if any being registered to vote. With Tory Councillors on the borough and County Council having responsibility for the area for the last fourteen years, (with the notable interlude of a Tory councillor who defected to labour in 2011) there is no interest in addressing these issues.
Over the Christmas new year period, the has been quite rightly focus on the number of people sleeping rough on the streets, but homelessness is so much more complex than that. With at least one woman saying to me that the ones on the street are the only genuinely homeless people there seems to be a reticence to deal with the wider aspiration of affordable housing in the town that is available for all.