Pigeon men will not be moved

An army of pigeon fancying pensioners are bracing themselves for a fight tomorrow when bailiffs could move in to turf them out.

And the community is gearing up to back their campaign to save their beloved pigeon crees – with "half of Ryhope" expected to show up at the allotments if needed to defend them.

The lease for the land, which is home to the world's only listed pigeon cree, expires at midnight and landowner WorkTalent Ltd has earmarked the site for development.

In spite of being kept in the dark about the company's next move, the pigeon men are taking no chances and have vowed to spend New Year's Day at the allotments, in case the bailiffs arrive.

Maurice Surtees, owner of the Grade II listed cree, said: "The people of Ryhope would never let them stop us from seeing the pigeons. They just wouldn't let that happen."

He added: "We don't know what is happening tomorrow. We're waiting for a phone call telling us but we'll be down at the allotments – us and half of Ryhope.

"We've had no notification from the bailiffs so we're in the dark really. We just want to live happily ever after. We don't want any trouble. We just want to continue doing what we've done for years."

The men remain optimistic they will not be evicted tomorrow, but just in case they have people from across the country on stand-by after their plight went global.

Pal and fellow pigeon fancier, Lewis Llewellyn, 65, said: "We will all be here. There's plenty of support.

"People have written to us from all over the country who want to be here tomorrow, but we don't know if the bailiffs will be coming so we didn't want them to waste their time getting here."

The pigeon fanciers this month rejected a deal to move to a new base at Tunstall Bank, along with a pay-off of about 2,000 each.

But on Friday, gentoo Ventures announced it had started talks with WorkTalent to try and broker a deal to save the Back Ryhope Street site and keep the land as working allotments and pigeon crees for the benefit of the community.

Stewart Allen, managing director said: "We have now spoken to the developer and opened discussions with them about the future of these allotments."

Fraser Kemp, MP for the area, has also fought the men's corner in Parliament.

"The landowners need to realise that they are being offered a very attractive deal," he said. "It's a very frustrating situation."