A church leader who brought together 2,500 travellers and gypsies on a seafront camp has said they have no plans to return to Seaham - but hasn’t ruled out making another visit either.
Around 1,000 caravans moved off the site on Thursday and during yesterday, with the field off the B1257 between Ryhope and Seaham cleared by 3.30pm.
Police put road closures in place from East Shore Village, Ryhope and on Lord
Bryon’s Walk, to allow the campers quick access to the A19, leaving some other motorists angry, but officers said the measures were the best way to clear the field with a minimum of disruption.
Members of the Light and Life Mission, an evangelical church for gypsies and travellers, arrived on Sunday, after making contact with the landowner two weeks’ earlier - police had no prior notice of the event.
Residents in Seaham have been vocal in their upset and support for the visitors, with the Crow’s Nest among those to shut due to concerns.
Seaham is really nice and it’s had a lot of money spent on it. The state of it now, it’s absolutely disgusting.A 34-year-old man from Easington Colliery
However, senior pastor Jackie Boyd, who is based in Slough, said people’s prejudices against travellers caused upset before services had got under way, but admitted it was difficult to control people’s behaviour off the site.
He said: “We’re used to people saying things before we come. They’ve never seen us and we have no chance.
“We just get in with it.
“Obviously, if you’ve got 2,500 people, we don’t know 90% of them, but any event of this size with thousands of people, if you had a pop festival, it would be similar.
“You can’t know and see what people are doing all the time.
“This was a national conference and we try to go to different areas, it would be an odd time we went somewhere again, it’s happened once or twice, but it’s rare.”
The church has paid to have the coast road cleared of mud and a donation made in return for using the land is to be gifted to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at the Freeman Hospital, in Newcastle, by its owner Colin Snowdon.
Mr Snowdon, who owns the land usually used to host weekend car boot sales through Noble Promotions, said the event showed a caravan park could benefit the area.
He added: “They have left this site immaculate.
“There are areas of the ground which have been churned up, but there has been a litter pick and you couldn’t find as much as a cigarette packet.
“I don’t think they expected as many people and it’s been fantastic.”
Most of the travellers headed south after leaving the field for another church gathering in Essex.
Tonia Schofield, who owns Tonia’s Cafe based in the neighbouring Seaham Hall Car Park, said: “The people themselves have been lovely.
“I think half a dozen kids have been a nuisance and they have brought in mud with them, but apart from that, I’ve had no issue.
“I’ve not seen any change in business. I think some people have been funny and there have been rumours.”
A 34-year-old man from Easington Colliery, who did not want to be named, watched on as the caravans left.
He told the Echo: “I think people have been wary of them.
“Seaham is really nice and it’s had a lot of money spent on it.
“The state of it now, it’s absolutely disgusting.”