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Coronavirus Kent: Sheppey holiday park protest ends

A "Mexican stand-off" at a Kent holiday park ended when caravan owners finally agreed to leave.

All holiday sites were ordered to close as part of Boris Johnson's coronavirus lockdown. But nine protesters insisted on staying past yesterday's 5pm deadline at Elmhurst Holiday Park at Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey.

Caravan owners protesting at Elmhurst Holiday Park on the Isle of Sheppey
Caravan owners protesting at Elmhurst Holiday Park on the Isle of Sheppey

Retired newspaper photographer Bob Kitchen, 70, said: "I have no other home to go to. Kicking me out will leave me and others on this park homeless.

"It is the ideal place for people like us to self-isolate."

But at 6pm last night (Tuesday) he finally gave up his battle, packed his car and drove through the gates.

He said: "I was the last man standing. I was determined to make my point.

"But in the end I had to obey Boris. I couldn't defy the Government ruling and had to leave in the end.

Caravans at Elmhurst Caravan Park, Second Avenue, Eastchurch
Caravans at Elmhurst Caravan Park, Second Avenue, Eastchurch

"I spent a couple of hours in my car ringing round and finally found an apartment in Maidstone. But it is costing me £1,100 a month."

He said: "I am at the age when the virus is very frightening. Self-isolating in my caravan seemed the most sensible option. I can't stay with my daughter because she has young children.

"I want to get back to my caravan as soon as possible."

Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson initially said on Facebook he understood those without access to another residence would be permitted to stay.

But holiday park boss Henry Cooper insisted he had no choice, along with the Island's other sites.

New owner Henry Cooper at Elmhurst Caravan Park, Second Avenue, Eastchurch
New owner Henry Cooper at Elmhurst Caravan Park, Second Avenue, Eastchurch

He said: “I don’t want to make anyone homeless and feel terrible asking them. But I can’t let these people stay on the park on their own. My insurance won't cover me. The insurance company said if anything happened to them I would be liable."

Swale council is in the middle of a consultation to decide if some holiday parks can stay open all year. The sites are currently limited to 10 months.

Mr Cooper, who only bought the park last November, said: "Allowing people to stay on site all year has always been the elephant in the room. But it has been swept under the carpet for years.

"Personally, I think some parks should be designated for residential use. They are ideal for elderly people to downsize to and perhaps invite their grandchildren to visit. It would mean a bigger investment in facilities but it is probably the way to go."

The 'Eastchurch Nine' are not the only ones in the situation.

Parkdean holiday park at Camber Sands
Parkdean holiday park at Camber Sands

Marc Martirossi is from Dartford but living in self-isolation on a Parkdean caravan site at Camber Sands, Rye.

The 55-year-old said: "The government guidelines say access should be denied to people to come to park but not people currently at the park if they have nowhere else to go.

"My MP Sally Ann Hart agrees with me and is contacting the general manager to confirm government guidelines. I am self-isolating at the moment and in the perfect location.

"I was told to leave out of the blue. My registered address is in Dartford but my sister has small children and a friend staying. Effectively, I've been given no notice period and just told to make other arrangements.

"My GP practice is in Rye and I have underlying health issues. I am effectively being evicted and made homeless from somewhere I've already paid the rent to."

The widower added: "I'm at my wit's end. I suffer from depression and feel surely one person on his own can't make a difference."

"Financially I'm sound but where else can I go"

Marc has since been informed that he and 40 other residents can stay at the park, which has officially closed until May 1.

Parkdean Resorts said it was handling all requests to stay on site on a case-by-case basis.

It added it was fully complying with government’s guidance which allows for people to continue to stay in caravan parks temporarily if they are unable to return to their primary residence, in circumstances such as needing to self-isolate.

Steve Richards, chief executive officer of Parkdean Resorts, said: “We are dealing with an extraordinary and fast-moving situation, and our park teams are working round the clock to ensure our holiday home owners are kept abreast of the latest government information.

“The timing of the Prime Minister’s announcement late on Monday evening unfortunately gave our teams less than 24 hours to shut our 67 parks, and communicate with our 22,000 owners.

"Even though people have had to react quickly to a changing situation, the health, safety and wellbeing of our holiday home owners, and our people is our absolute priority, so it is important that people follow government instruction immediately and return to their homes if they can.

“Our holiday home owners can be assured that access to parks up and until May 1 will be denied to third parties and controlled by our grounds maintenance and 24 hour security teams.”

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, click here.

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