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Inside Denton Caravan Site off Dering Way and Shamrock Road in Gravesend

To passers-by, the tucked-away land off Dering Way and Shamrock Road could be anything.

But just down from a small industrial estate sits Denton Caravan site, run by Gravesham Borough Council and home to eight Roma and Traveller families.

Denton Caravan site off Dering Way and Shamrock Road in Gravesend
Denton Caravan site off Dering Way and Shamrock Road in Gravesend

Each plot consists of a static home, a shed for bathing facilities and space to keep trailers and caravans.

Priscilla has been living in Denton since she was 16, back when the site was first built nearly 50 years ago.

She said: “When this was run properly it was like a garden centre.”

But, the site today paints a very different picture.

Backed-up sewers omit foul smells from residents' plugholes, every few steps there are piles of litter and the street is plagued with rats daily.

There are piles of dirt on the roadside
There are piles of dirt on the roadside

Each time it rains, the ground floods as a result of blocked drains which have allegedly been filled with cement.

The council says it has tried to help the "challenging site" and that it has been a "hostile environment to enter for our own staff", making repairs difficult.

While agencies battle to find a resolution, the people living on the site continue to struggle.

Priscilla’s husband, George suffers from lung condition chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which has left him susceptible to falls and at times has passed out because of this.

On the state of the site, Priscilla said: “I’m frightened of him tripping and falling when walking down here.”

Drains are fully blocked causing the site to flood
Drains are fully blocked causing the site to flood

The 62-year-old struggles with her own health including issues with the veins in her legs which she is hoping to undergo surgery for soon.

With anticipated reduced mobility, she will not be able to use the bath in her shed for much longer and will need to rely on a shower to keep clean.

Priscilla already owns a shower in her mobile home - but it has no water.

For months she has been lobbying to have a boiler installed but has not had any success.

And that’s not all, the couple have also asked about having their fallen fences fixed and for the bulbs in the streetlights to be replaced after being out of service for years.

Plots are tightly next to each other, separated by fallen fences
Plots are tightly next to each other, separated by fallen fences

“People come here and look at the mess, the way we’re living - they think we’re dirty people but we’re not because it’s not us.

“I’ve given up, it’s distressing - we can’t live like this,” said Priscilla.

They are not alone in their frustrations.

Just a few plots down live husband and wife Betsy and Charlie, and one of their five daughters, Betsy Jr.

Their shed burnt down 14 months ago and they have been left without a place to bathe since.

Anyone who enters the roofless hut is at risk when rainwater seeps in and over the electrical wires dangling off the wall.

Betsy and Charlie's roof burned down 14 months ago
Betsy and Charlie's roof burned down 14 months ago

Betsy, 59 is the twin sister of George and also suffers from COPD - she has been living at the site for 40 years.

She told of how the site used to have 24 plots - now it has a third of that.

And the current conditions of Denton have seen rife mental health issues among its residents living in it.

Betsy Jr says everyone has had someone they know, whether family or friends, who they have lost to suicide.

Another resident, who does not wish to be named has experienced this first-hand - she is now widowed after the death of her husband.

She lives opposite her daughter and has been based in Denton for over 30 years.

She said: “It’s a s*******, I feel ashamed when people come here.

The current state of Betsy and Charlie's shed
The current state of Betsy and Charlie's shed

“This is the worst it has ever been - you’re better off in a prison.”

In parts of the site, there are fallen fences and electrical wires strewn across the floors and dangling from walls.

Scrap vehicles have been abandoned at the roadside along with fly-tipped items.

All of the residents say they have raised the issues with Gravesham council countless times, but have been left without any resolutions.

She continued: “We’re in a land time forgot.

“If you want something done you’ve got to do it yourself.

There are rats on the site daily
There are rats on the site daily

“There is zero maintenance - there’s no one, private contractors won’t come because it's council land.”

As well as the state of the site, residents have also complained about a lack of services.

Many do not have bins or lids for them, and as a result, foxes shred the rubbish bags across the land.

They say refuse collectors do not come down to collect their waste regularly either.

And, they receive no post as Royal Mail workmen do not enter the land to deliver items and letters addressed to residents.

Electrical wires strewn across the site pose dangerous risks
Electrical wires strewn across the site pose dangerous risks

Instead, they travel into the town centre and show ID at a post office to check if they have received anything.

One answer, would be to move into homes offered by the council.

But for many Gypsies and Travellers, living in a house is not an option - these sites are a way of holding onto their culture and way of life.

Over ten years ago, the families living in Denton were moved out for 18 months while the site was cleaned up amid contaminated land concerns.

Charlie says he suffered a nervous breakdown trying to adjust from a life he had always known.

Sites like these are rooted in family generations too - it's where parents would raise children, siblings and cousins would play outside together, and where they would eventually grow up and settle down with a family of their own.

Betsy said: “This is my home, it’s just about making life a little easier, a little bit bearable.”

Scrapped vehicles have been abandoned
Scrapped vehicles have been abandoned

A spokesman for Gravesham Borough Council said: “The Denton site is a challenging one to manage and maintain.

“It has a history of anti-social behaviour and criminal damage, which directly impacts the lives of those living there.

“It can be a hostile environment to enter for our own staff and outside contractors, making routine maintenance difficult and unnecessarily delaying emergency repairs when they are needed.

“Indeed, a number of agencies will not attend the site unless accompanied by the police due to previous instances of facing threats of violence and intimidation, which is the sole reason some of the issues raised by tenants remain outstanding.

“Ourselves and partner agencies have a duty of care to our own employees, and we will not send them into situations where we believe they may be at risk. We continue to work with the tenants to find ways we can carry out necessary work on-site.

“The actions connected to the site have repercussions beyond its boundaries and affect the lives and wellbeing of the neighbouring communities, an example being the lack of bus services to the area as operators are unwilling to put their drivers and vehicles at risk.

“Despite all of this, we take our responsibilities as a landlord seriously and are working together with partner agencies, including those concerned with the health and welfare of those on site, to find long-term solutions for the issues we face at Denton.

“However, there can be no shying away from the fact that the tenants have their own roles to play in improving living conditions there.”

A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “The safety of our staff is of the utmost importance to Royal Mail and the suspension of deliveries is always a last resort.”

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