It’s taken 1,085 days, £90,000 and 20 legal battles – but campaigners who opposed a gypsy camp in Meriden have finally won the day.
The last caravan from the camp set up illegally on green-belt land in Warwickshire in 2010 left on Saturday afternoon.
And members of Residents Against Inappropriate Development (RAID), who mounted a round-the-clock vigil at the site, spoke of their overwhelming relief.
The end of the astonishing three-year stand-off between the gypsies and the community came just 24 hours before a final court ordered deadline – which said the gypsies, led by landowner Noah Burton, had to leave.
In recent days the number of caravans dwindled and rubbish fires were set on the land off Eaves Green Lane.
But the RAID protest camp remained manned until the last caravan had gone.The brazier, around which villagers have huddled for warmth for around 26,000 hours, finally fell cold as the quiet Solihull village returned to normality.
David McGrath, chairman of RAID, said: “I received a call from the protest camp at 2pm on Saturday saying the last caravan had left the site. This was a moment of immense relief.
Since then my phone has not stopped ringing with people sending messages of congratulations for the campaign.
”It’s a campaign that started when the gypsies arrived on the site during a May Bank Holiday in 2010.
Incensed villagers rallied to block the way onto the land to stop the illegal camp grow and their vigil began.
Since that day residents have taken shifts guarding the site, whatever the weather, in a small caravan and awning for shelter and the brazier for heat.“We’ve sat in the protest camp in -12°C temperatures when the Coca Cola cans were popping because of the cold,” said David.
“It’s created an incredible legacy of community unity and I want to keep that going.”But despite the bond forged in the hours around the brazier, David said everybody would be glad to see the back of the protest camp.
“Everyone has their way of moving on.“But I don’t think anyone would have chosen to spend days under a flimsy awning and the freezing cold in a situation of community stress.
“We want to do what normal people do and enjoy each other’s company socially.”David, who lives with partner Annette less than 10 feet from the illegal camp, said the campaign had taken a personal toll.
“I’ve not been able to spend much time with my father who’s 82-years-old,” said David, “and that’s something I hope to put right now.”In coming weeks the field occupied by the travellers will be returned to its natural state.
While on Monday a memorial will be held for four campaigners who died before they could see the day they fought for – when the gypsies moved out.During memorial the protest camp will be demolished – as ordered by the court – leaving no evidence of the three year struggle.
David said: “What will be left of our campaign will be the countryside, and that’s the way it should be.”And what of the brazier, the centrepiece of the 1,085 day protest?
“The brazier has been quite iconic,” David said, “I’ll be looking after it for a while. If any of the community want to have a barbecue, they know it’s a good source of heat.”