Covid: Offshore workforce fell by more than a third after lockdown began

The number of people working offshore in the North Sea fell by more than a third at the start of the coronavirus lockdown, an industry body has said.

Figures from Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) say the average weekly workforce dropped from 11,000 to 7,000, during March.

A halt in drilling and engineering construction are being blamed for the sudden loss of 4,000 jobs.

Although numbers offshore have since risen steadily they only peaked at 9,000 in August.

OGUK said it would be next year before it could fully quantify the impact of Covid-19.

However initial indications are described as “worrying”.

The industry body has called on government, regulators and the industry to work together to protect jobs, which it says could be valuable for a transition to a lower carbon economy.

The Workforce Report 2020 says uptake of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme appears to be high, particularly in the oil and gas supply chain.

Low oil and gas prices on top of the lockdown added to the industry’s woes.

OGUK workforce engagement and skills manager Dr Alix Thom, said: “Our figures confirm the initial operational impact of the lockdown back in March this year, with the number of workers offshore decreasing considerably in the space of a month as companies reduced to minimum manning in a bid to control the spread.

“We continue to see some very worrying signs for employment in the sector, with the uptake of furlough and continued suppression of global energy demand impacting our industry like many others in the wider economy.”

She added: “The recruitment and retention of diverse and talented people will be essential as we work to support UK energy needs both now, and in a lower carbon context.”

Coronavirus: People rediscovering pleasure of reading, says Bloomsbury

People have “rediscovered the pleasure of reading” in lockdown, publisher Bloomsbury has said, after reporting its best half-year profits since 2008.

The firm, best known for publishing the Harry Potter books, said profits jumped 60% to £4m from February to August.

Online book sales and e-book revenues were both “significantly higher”.

It said bestsellers during the period included “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race” and “Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood”.

Other popular consumer books during the period included “White Rage”, “Humankind” and “Such A Fun Age”.

Nigel Newton, founder and chief executive of Bloomsbury, said the firm initially feared lockdown would batter the business after it shut all its shops in March.

But he told the BBC: “As we cycled through the month there became a real uptake in reading, perhaps people tired of watching streamed movies which they binged on to begin with and turned to books.”

He said people’s book choices had reflected the mood of the people throughout the past six months: “In June we published ‘Humankind’ by Rutger Bregman, people wanted hope and a positive view of humanity, which he gave, and in June itself the biggest social issue of our time, with ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race’.

“[That was] unpinned all the while by the desire to make good food, so the Dishoom cookbook and others really sold terrifically well.”

During the period total sales across the group rose by 10% to £78.3m.

Bloomsbury also said its digital resources division had seen a 47% rise in sales as academic institutions had switched to digital products to support remote learning.

Why Transport for Londons finances are far from healthy

Sadiq Khan has clashed with his mayoral predecessor Boris Johnson over claims made by the prime minister that Transport for London (TfL) was “effectively bankrupt” even before the Covid crisis. Mr Khan rejects this, and has called Mr Johnson a “liar”. He insists he was balancing the books until the UK was crippled by the coronavirus pandemic. What is the bigger picture?

Let’s start at the beginning, in 2000, when TfL was created. Over the past 20 years, TfL has been run by three mayors with differing ideas about how best to repair London’s Tube network and to build for the future.

Both of those things cost money. Over the past two decades, TfL has received a mixture of government grants, fare income, sponsorship and huge investment loans from banks in order to keep the Underground on the move.

Mr Johnson enjoyed two consecutive stints as mayor of London, between 2008 and 2016. A TfL report published a month before he left office showed TfL had a nominal £9.148bn of debt.

Three years later, about 12 months before coronavirus hit the UK, TfL published new accounts showing its nominal debt had increased to £11.175bn in real terms – stripping out the effect of rising prices or inflation.

What factors help to explain TfL’s current financial state?

TfL is dealing with financial pressures on several fronts – before coronavirus, arguably the biggest issue was the Crossrail project, which is overspent and late.

As sponsors of Crossrail, in October 2007 TfL and the Department for Transport (DfT) agreed funding of £15.9bn for the project.

However, more money was needed and so in 2009, in his first term as mayor, Mr Johnson announced he had “secured one of the largest loans ever for a transport project” – an extra £1bn from his “good friends at the European Investment Bank” for “the unstoppable force that is Crossrail”.

Fast-forward to 2020 and there still is no Crossrail running through central London.

In fact, in August it was announced that the central section of Crossrail, between Paddington and Abbey Wood, is not expected to open until the first half of 2022 – a further delay to the line since the previous planned summer 2021 delivery date and well beyond the initial intended opening date of 2018.

The escalating costs of Crossrail are huge for TfL and the DfT and, at the same time, TfL has been denied a source of income from fares, commercial advertising and retail units at stations.

In 2018 TfL’s then-transport commissioner Mike Brown said Crossrail’s initial delay would cost TfL about £20m in fare revenues.

Add another four years of lost income and it is easy to see the drain Crossrail continues to have on the accounts.

But, it gets murkier.

Crossrail CEO Mark Wild also said in August: “Work is ongoing to finalise the cost estimates” – effectively the actual final construction cost of Crossrail is not known.

Even as Mr Johnson and Mr Khan were exchanging harsh words last week, investment service Moody downgraded TfL’s long-term ratings to A1 from Aa3 and “changed the outlook to negative”.

Essentially, the lower the rating the tougher it is to borrow money cheaply in the future.

Moody’s said in a statement: “The downgrade to A1 from Aa3 reflects TfL’s vulnerability to a weaker economic climate and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which will continue to depress fare revenues and other income over the medium term.

“The negative impact on TfL’s budget has reversed its progress towards operational self-sufficiency, with TfL now reliant on continued support from the UK government.”

TfL documents show London is one of the only cities in the world that does not receive government funding to support the operating costs of its transport network – in comparison, fares on the Paris Metro make up only 38% of its income.

The UK’s capital city used to get grants from the government, amounting to £700m a year.

This all changed in 2015 when Mr Johnson, as London mayor in the final full year of his term, and then-Chancellor George Osborne agreed to phase out this government operating grant.

A report in November 2018 showed that TfL received only £55m in grants – a stark contrast to the help it received only a few years before.

It said: “The loss of the government operating grant within just a few years has been the single largest change to TfL’s income streams. Just four years ago, TfL received £876m in grants.”

Since then TfL has been heavily reliant on fares as a source of income.

In order for fare income to flourish, TfL needs passengers; over the years, the number of people using the Tube has always been expected to rise.

This is especially the case when you consider London’s population in 2000 was 7.5m, compared with 9.1m now.

However, in the past two decades, people’s habits have changed.

In 2017, a year after Mr Khan took office, there was a 5% drop in rail journeys in London and 13m fewer Tube journeys were made compared with the previous year.

It turns out bus travel activity in London reached its peak in 2014, and has been struggling ever since.

A City Hall source told the BBC “there are a lots of reasons” for this.

“It seems the big reason is the decline in bus travel for leisure and non-work reasons. Less people are getting on a bus to go shopping.”

If this does help to explain falling numbers of bus passengers, there was no such impact on Tube travel after 2017 – it had been increasing since 2018 until the middle of March of this year.

TfL has just come through the most challenging financial quarter in its 20-year history.

Bosses recently said the coronavirus pandemic had caused a “catastrophic impact” on the business. The most damaging consequence has been the calamitous drop in fare revenues.

In March, passengers were urged not to travel unless absolutely necessary and 40 Tube stations across London were closed in order to deal with staff absences.

Since the pandemic, TfL’s fare revenues have fallen by 90%. There has been the same drop in advertising revenues, as companies cancelled contracts to advertise on the London Underground network.

Significant health and safety changes to projects such as Crossrail and the Northern Line extension to Battersea also cost money.

In May, TfL bosses and the mayor had to come to an agreement with the government over a £1.6bn bailout deal to keep London moving.

The deal came with the imposition of strict conditions on the London transport network, such as the congestion charge rising from £11.50 to £15 and being enforced every day from 07:00-22:00, and the removal of free travel cards for children.

As lockdown measures eased, cleaning regimes across the Tube network were ramped up, also at a cost. Passenger numbers slowly rose during the summer months – but to nowhere near the level before the pandemic.

Figures from 8 September show 700,000 people used the Tube before 10:00 BST – which was up 10% on the previous week but represented only 32% of the number of passengers on the Tube before the March lockdown.

Now Londoners and commuters into the capital are again being urged to work from home, TfL commissioner Andy Byford admitted earlier this month that its finances were “right on the wire”.

Last week, the government said it would continue to abide by the terms of the £1.6bn bailout package until 31 October – an extra fortnight on the deal representing a sum roughly equivalent to £113m – but stricter conditions are being demanded by the government, as TfL seeks a £3bn package to last throughout 2021.

Prof Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics, said bankruptcy was “never quite the right word” when describing TfL’s finances.

“By law TfL is required to balance the books year on year,” he added.

“It can borrow for capital projects but it cannot borrow for day-to-day spending. If it can’t [balance the books] then by law it has to file a Section 114 order (the equivalent of a public company bankruptcy) that bans expenditure and would lead to mass redundancies and services stopping.

“TfL’s operating costs are about £6bn a year and its fare income is [usually] about £5bn. It would be amazing if it could get around £2bn this year, which means TfL is going to be £3bn down.”

Much has been made about Mr Khan’s flagship policy of freezing fares across the London Underground network for the duration of his four, now five-year, tenure as mayor (the term was extended due to the 2020 mayoral elections being postponed amid the coronavirus crisis).

Although controversial at the time, the fares freeze has been fully paid for through TfL’s efficiencies programme, outlined in its December 2016 Business Plan, according to City Hall.

In 2018, then-TfL commissioner Mike Brown, said the mayor’s TfL fare freeze had helped address the decline in passenger numbers overall.

The total forgone revenue of the fares freeze over the past four years is estimated to amount to £640m – the equivalent to roughly a year’s worth of the government grant that was axed a few years ago.

Nevertheless, after four years of frozen prices, Tube and bus fares are set to increase in 2021 after Mr Khan said this policy would come to an end.

How expensive these new fares will be is still very much up for negotiation between the government and the mayor.

For Caroline Pidgeon, the deputy chair of the London Assembly’s Transport Committee, Mr Johnson and Mr Khan need to stop squabbling over who has done what.

The Liberal Democrat assembly member said: “No-one is to blame for the devastating impact of Covid on TfL’s day-to-day finances, and petty party politics about meeting the gap in funding is helping no-one.

“However, the real elephant in the room is the true cost to Londoners from the huge delays in the opening of Crossrail, which have pushed TfL’s long-term borrowing to new heights.”

Prof Travers’s simple observation is that coronavirus has clearly been detrimental to TfL’s financial situation.

“By far the biggest impact on TfL’s finances is the loss of passenger income, which has been a direct response to government lockdown or the three tier policies.

“Against that backdrop of that scale, it is not something the mayor could have done anything about.”

Free school meals: How many children can claim them?

The row over extending free school meals over the school holidays has continued into its second week.

The UK government has defended not extending the scheme over the half-term holiday. It says it is supporting families through extra money for universal credit and additional funding for councils.

But how many pupils can claim free school meals, and which parts of the country have the highest rates?

In England, children living in households on income-related benefits (such as universal credit) are eligible for free school meals, as long as their annual household income does not exceed £7,400 after tax, not including welfare payments.

This is the same in Wales and Scotland, however in Northern Ireland the cap is set at £14,000 a year.

If a child is eligible, their parent or guardian can claim at any age – from pre-school to further education.

In England and Scotland, all infant state school pupils (those in Reception and in Years 1 and 2) can get free school meals during term time – regardless of their household income.

As of January 2020, excluding year groups where eligibility is universal, 1.4m children qualify for free school meals in England – or 17.3% of the student population.

This is the highest proportion of children eligible in at least a decade.

In Scotland, the equivalent figure is 89,000 primary and secondary pupils – or about 17% of pupils.

In Wales, 20% of pupils are eligible for free school meals and in Northern Ireland it is 28% of pupils.

The proportion of children eligible varies considerably across the country, but generally matches recognised trends surrounding regional deprivation and wealth.

For example, almost a quarter of pupils in the north-east of England are eligible compared with about 13% of pupils in the south-east.

The highest proportion of students eligible for free school meals – about a third – in England are in:

Meanwhile, the lowest proportion of pupils eligible – fewer than one in 10 – are in:

Some groups are more likely to be eligible than others, including some ethnic minorities.

For example, more than 60% of Irish Traveller pupils taking their GCSEs are eligible for free school meals.

Roma/Gypsy, Bangladeshi and black pupils also have disproportionately high eligibility.

Meanwhile, white, Indian and Chinese pupils are far less likely to be eligible for free school meals.

According to the Department for Work and Pensions, an estimated 4.1m children live in relative poverty in Great Britain.

However, fewer than two million pupils across Scotland, Wales and England are eligible for free school meals.

But these two numbers are ultimately showing two different things.

Relative poverty is calculated by taking the median income – that’s the income where half of all households earn more and half earn less – and then looking at how many children live in households earning less than 60% of this.

Meanwhile, free school meal eligibility is a measurement of how many school-age children are living in households claiming some form of employment-related welfare benefit.

Some households in relative poverty might not meet the financial threshold to claim certain benefits.

Both relative poverty and free school meal eligibility are measurements of income rather than food insecurity – although the two are closely linked.

In the UK, there is no single measurement for hunger.

However, a report by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee from 2019 looked at different measurements in a report on food insecurity.

This included:

None of these measurements are perfect, but shine some light on the scale of the problem.

This is likely – especially since it is based on those claiming welfare.

We know that in Great Britain, the number of households with children claiming universal credit increased by about 45% between January and May 2020.

However, not all of the additional 500,000 households with children claiming the benefit will be eligible for free school meals, due to the £7,400 cap.

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Covid: More than 50 Tory MPs call for road map out of lockdown

More than 50 Tory MPs have written to the PM calling for a “clear roadmap” out of lockdown restrictions in northern England, warning the region risks being “left behind”.

The letter from the Northern Research Group said the pandemic threatened Boris Johnson’s pledge to “level-up”.

They also called for an economic recovery plan for the region, arguing it had been hardest hit by the virus.

No 10 said it was “committed to levelling up across the country”.

All the areas under the strictest restrictions of the government’s three tier system for England are in the North or the Midlands.

Warrington has become the latest area to join the Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and South Yorkshire in the top tier, while Nottingham and parts of the surrounding county will move into the highest tier on Thursday.

This will mean about eight million people in England will be living under the toughest restrictions by the end of the week.

In areas under tier three rules, pubs and bars not serving substantial meals must close and households are not allowed to mix indoors or outdoors in hospitality venues or private gardens.

Some 40 Conservative MPs representing areas in the north of England, North Wales and the Scottish borders, have publicly signed the letter, including former cabinet ministers David Davis, David Mundell and Esther McVey, while a further 14 have had their names redacted.

The newly-formed Northern Research Group of Tory backbenchers is led by former Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry.

In their letter, the group called for the prime minister to set out “a clear roadmap down the tiering system and out of lockdown”, warning restrictions were “disproportionately” affecting people in the north of the country.

“The virus has exposed in sharp relief the deep structural and systemic disadvantage faced by our communities and it threatens to continue to increase the disparity between the North and South still further,” they said.

The letter urged the government to prioritise key infrastructure projects and accelerate job creation in the region.

The group welcomed the financial support already in place for businesses, such as the furlough scheme and extra funding for local authorities under the tightest coronavirus restrictions.

But they added: “We do however share concerns that the cost of Covid could be paid for by the downgrading of the levelling-up agenda, and northern constituencies like ours will be left behind.

“We believe this would threaten to undermine the government’s hard-won mandate in December, at a time when the political and economic case for the levelling-up agenda we have been elected to deliver, has never been more essential.”

Mr Johnson won a majority of 80 seats in December’s election, with many traditionally Labour constituencies in the so-called “Red Wall” turning Conservative blue.

A key part of his campaign was a pledge to “level-up” and reduce regional inequality across the country.

Mr Berry, who represents Rossendale and Darwen, said: “Our party’s return to government in December was won on the back of hard-working people in constituencies like ours who backed the Conservatives for the first time in a generation, and who did so on the promise that they would not be forgotten.

“We cannot forget that we must deliver on our commitments made during that election, to level-up northern communities and create opportunity across our region.”

He added that “the cost of Covid and the virus itself threatens to send the North into reverse”.

A Number 10 spokesperson said: “We are absolutely committed to levelling up across the country and building back better after coronavirus.

“We stood at the last election on a solemn promise that we would improve people’s lives, and although the pandemic has meant 2020 is not the year we all hoped it would be, our ambitions for the country are unchanged.”

Shadow Treasury minister Bridget Phillipson said the government had been “treating local communities with contempt”

She added that the decision not to extend free school meals over the half-term holiday “is the clearest sign yet that the Conservatives have the wrong priorities and are not on the side of British families”.

Victoria Derbyshire sorry for Christmas rule-breaking comments

Victoria Derbyshire has apologised after saying she would break the rule of six so her family could celebrate Christmas together.

The BBC presenter previously told the Radio Times her family of seven knew the risks and would be “sensible” but “we have to be together at Christmas”.

However, she later said her comments had been “wrong” and “hypothetical”.

She added that her family would “continue to follow whatever rules are in place” on 25 December.

In a tweet on Tuesday morning Derbyshire wrote: “I’m starting the day by saying I’m sorry: a few weeks ago the Radio Times asked me (amongst other things) what would potentially happen at Christmas with my own family if the rule of six was still in place.

“I talked about my mum, her partner and my dad-in-law spending it with us – making seven in our home in a Tier One area (medium). It was hypothetical – however I was totally wrong to say it and I’m sorry.”

Derbyshire has a family of four plus her mum, her mum’s partner and her husband’s dad. It is not clear if the rule of six will apply at Christmas.

The journalist previously told the Radio Times: “If the rule of six is still in place… we’re breaking it to have the rule of seven. We just are.”

“It’s fine. We’ll do it knowing what the risks are. We’re not stupid,” she added.

“We’re going to be sensible and buy a thermometer gun. But we have to be together at Christmas.

“It feels almost irresponsible saying that, but I don’t think we’re alone in feeling that way.

“We need to see my elderly mum and my husband’s elderly dad. We just do.”

She added that her mum lives in Bolton while she lives in London, so she hadn’t been able to see her regularly during the lockdown.

Bolton is currently under tier three coronavirus restrictions, while London moved from tier one to two on 17 October.

The rule of six makes it illegal for groups of more than six people to meet up in England.

It allows people to meet up in private homes, indoors and outdoors, and places such as pubs, restaurants, cafes and public outdoor spaces – but only in those areas in the tier one, medium alert level, category.

Variations of the rule of six apply in tier two and three areas where lockdown rules are tighter. For example, in areas in the very high tier three category people are only allowed to meet in outdoor public spaces, such as parks.

The rule does not apply to schools, universities and workplaces, or weddings, funerals and organised team sports, which have different rules on maximum numbers.

People who ignore police could be fined £100 – doubling with each offence to a maximum of £3,200.

Read more about the rule of six

It is Boris Johnson’s “ambition” for people to celebrate Christmas with their families, his spokesman said recently.

The prime minister is “hopeful” that “some aspects of our lives” could be “back to normal” by then, he added.

But a scientific adviser to the government warned that, without taking action, a normal Christmas was “wishful thinking in the extreme”.

The warning came after tougher rules were enforced for nearly six million Britons – including a lockdown in Wales.

The rule of six means that you cannot meet more than six people indoors or outdoors.

But the rules can be even stricter according to what tier you are in. For example, if you are in tier two in England or Wales, you cannot meet people socially indoors if you do not live with them, whether in private homes, pubs or restaurants.

Wales is under a national circuit-breaker lockdown until 9 November.

Scotland recently introduced a new five-tier system and Northern Ireland also have their own restrictions.

Derbyshire’s Bafta-winning current affairs show on the BBC was axed in March amid cuts.

In the summer, she fronted a Panorama programme to highlight domestic violence during the pandemic.

Family courts: Were treated with contempt

Many parents involved in family court hearings are having to participate by phone and some say they cannot follow what is happening, according to a survey. These hearings sometimes determine the future of their children, whether they are taken into care, which parent they live with. Since lockdown eased the Family Court has been holding remote or hybrid hearings, where only a handful of people are in court and the others join by phone or video link.

This summer, Elizabeth, not her real name, took part in a family court hearing by phone. For years her ex-partner had argued their two sons should live with him – but their permanent home had always been with her. This time, to her shock, the judge decided the two boys should move.

“I wasn’t able to speak to my barrister during the hearing,” she said. “My phone line was used up listening to the court.”

She believes it would have been different if she had been able to appear in person, to stand in court before the judge.

“A million per cent. A lot of communication is more than just hearing someone over the telephone – it’s visual, body language.”

We can’t see the evidence in family courts and no judgment has been published in Elizabeth’s case – so we don’t know why the judge made that decision, or whether appearing in person would have made a difference,

But her account worries Sir Andrew MacFarlane, the most senior judge in the Family Court.

“A major part of being a family judge is to empathise with the human beings at the centre of the case,” he says. “And it’s very difficult to do that even across a video link, very hard over a phone.”

Since lockdown, the family courts have ensured social distancing by having few people in court and allowing others to join by virtual link. A survey published by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory suggests most professionals, including lawyers and judges, believe the system is working relatively smoothly.

However, most of the parents who took part raised concerns. Most said they had had to participate via phone, like Elizabeth, and some said they couldn’t follow what was going on in the hearing.

More than 1,100 professionals were contacted – 132 family members.

Lisa Harker, director of the observatory, said parents reported being unable to fully participate in hearings, sometimes the technology broke down and at other times people had no support. She was worried about those who joined from home, and were left alone to absorb the court’s decision – which could be to take away their child forever.

Prof Andy Bilson, who interviewed many of the parents, said one mother had to phone in to a hearing about her child from a psychiatric hospital. “The situation of doing hearings by telephone is not just,” he said.

Sir Andrew believes the situation has been improving recently, and that for the most significant hearings parents are now able to appear before a judge. However he is concerned by some of the accounts logged by the observatory report, and says he will be working with the judiciary to find solutions.

Meanwhile the workload of the family courts has been growing. Cafcass, the court service, reported record numbers of child cases in England for September. In that month, there were 5,761 new cases (12.6% or 644 cases more cases than September 2019).

Most of these (4,262) were so-called private law, where parents cannot agree over their children, like Elizabeth’s dispute with her ex-partner.

I asked Sir Andrew if he knew why these numbers were rising. He explained it was partly because of a backlog in the system, partly because existing child arrangements for visits and residence had broken down, but also because of a rise in the number of domestic abuse cases.

“Sadly the number of domestic abuse cases has gone up, and there will be a necessary correlation in applications to protect children in those sad cases.”

Elizabeth is trying to appeal against the judge’s decision, but for now has no money to pay lawyers. She believes the process has been deeply unfair. Over the summer, just before her hearing, there was a much publicised libel case, which saw actor Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard give evidence to the High Court after Depp took legal action against the Sun newspaper.

“Johnny Depp can go to a court hearing in person, with Amber Heard, and be socially distanced, because they’re celebrities and have money. In the family courts we’re treated with contempt, deprived of our rights.”

Traveller families win court battle over living on land they own

Six Traveller families have won a High Court appeal against a decision which would stop them living on land they own in Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire.

Charlotte Smith and her five neighbours were told by the local council to move off the land because they didn’t have planning permission to live there.

The families initially appealed to the Planning Inspectorate – which sided with the local authority.

But that decision was quashed by the High Court earlier this month.

The families’ fight is not over and they still don’t have planning permission to live on the land but say they feel they “can relax a little bit now”.

“My first initial reaction at the result was I did have a little tear,” mum-of-four Charlotte tells me. “Even though we’ve still got a fight, it feels like a weight has been lifted.”

The families say they bought the land to give them “a place to call home” after previously living on the roadside.

But Newark and Sherwood District Council says the site isn’t suitable to live on because it’s at risk of flooding.

Local authorities in England are expected to have a five-year plan which sets out how they will deliver enough sites in the area for their Gypsy and Traveller communities.

Newark and Sherwood council doesn’t have one.

The families’ lawyers argued the Planning Inspectorate’s decision was flawed because it failed to treat the lack of plan as “a significant material consideration”.

The High Court agreed and quashed the original ruling at a hearing on 16 October.

Charlotte says the weeks leading up to the High Court hearing have been “emotional” for all of the families – as they didn’t know which way the decision would go.

She tells me how her daughter surprised her with a letter to read in the car as she travelled down to London for the hearing.

Addressed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, it read: “I am a 10-year-old girl in year five and I am a traveller. Can we live at Old Winthorpe Road Stable Yard? The council won’t let us live there and I live in Newark.”

She says her kids were “jumping for joy” when she returned home to tell them they’d won their appeal.

“I did tell my daughter it was because of her letter,” Charlotte laughs. “Obviously she doesn’t know the legal side of things and I just thought it would build her spirits.

“Everyone is just ecstatic. I can’t put into words how it actually makes me feel.”

Since I wrote about the families’ fight back in September I’ve had quite a few emails about it – and there’s been a mix of opinions.

“I admire their desire to give the children the stability they now have to enable them to receive full-time education without losing their cultural identity,” one reader said.

“We would all love to buy a field and build a home for our family on it, but for those of us that actually abide by the law, it’s not an option,” another wrote.

“Are they really integrating into the community? They sound just like our local site here in Kent,” one email read.

“Reality is they do what they like, don’t care about anybody else, steal what they like and generally are horrible people.”

I ask Charlotte how she feels about this.

“Just because you’ve had a bad experience with a couple of families that live locally, that doesn’t mean everybody’s the same,” she says.

“I’m happy to welcome anybody down and make them a cup of tea. You’ll find we’re actually lovely people, we’re working class people, we pay our taxes, we’re not sponging off the government.

“We didn’t break into a local park or anything like that, we bought our land. Yes we put in our planning application retrospectively but we’re trying our best, otherwise we’d still be on the roadside now. We want to be part of the community.”

The land is separated from the village of Winthorpe by the A1 road and Charlotte says the families have the backing of the Winthorpe Estate Residents’ Group – which has been posting messages of support on Twitter.

The Planning Inspectorate now has 28 days from the High Court ruling to appeal against the decision. If it doesn’t, the families’ original appeal will need to be reheard by the inspectorate again.

A spokesman said: “The quality and accuracy of our decisions is very important to the Planning Inspectorate. We have been informed of the judgement and are awaiting a copy of the court order before deciding whether to seek leave to appeal.”

Newark and Sherwood District Council has found it needs to deliver 77 sites for the Gypsy and Traveller community by 2024 – and 118 sites by 2033.

It says maintaining a deliverable five-year supply of Gypsy and Traveller sites is “challenging for many local authorities across England”.

“The council is working proactively to allocate land for future development, so these needs can be met,” it added.

It says local landowners are being asked to put their land forward for consideration as potential sites and it will continue to consider individual planning applications from all sections of the community.

Cherry Wilson is a proud northerner who lives in Stockport, Greater Manchester, where she grew up.

She studied journalism in Sheffield and was the first in her family to go to university. Her passion is telling the stories of the people and communities behind the headlines, exploring issues that matter to them. She has a great love for cups of tea, jerk chicken, chips and gravy and Coronation Street.

Follow Cherry on Twitter

Photos by Brandon Brown

Black history teaching needed in one of Englands whitest counties

A black history curriculum is needed in one of England’s whitest counties, says an anti-racism group.

Black Voices Cornwall has created a school curriculum celebrating black inspirational leaders.

“Because Cornwall is a 98.2% white county, people don’t have exposure to black people or to black culture,” said the group’s education director.

There are more than half a million people in Cornwall, and of those, fewer than 10,000 are non-white.

A head teacher using the curriculum designed for Black History Month said it “has inspired our children”.

Education director Helen Hutchinson said schools she previously taught at in Cornwall “didn’t really know about black history”.

She created the curriculum for everyone “to learn about black inspirational leaders” and to “incorporate” black history into the curriculum.

A teacher from St Issey Primary School said it was a “challenge” using the curriculum because they were teaching “to children in a very sheltered country school”.

The children have “learnt so much about black people in history that they have never even heard of before,” said Louise Roseveare.

There is a need for black history in the curriculum, said fellow teacher Hayley Lowry, “particularly in our little Cornish village where there isn’t much diversity”.

According to official statistics, the south-west region is the least diverse in England and the predominant ethnic group in Cornwall is “White” – amounting to 98.2% of the population.

Crowdfunder contacted Black Voices Cornwall, which started in June in response to the Black Lives Matter protests, to support the venture.

Ms Hutchinson said it was “amazing” to have so many supporters through Crowdfunder and felt the public was “saying well done and this is needed”.

She said she hoped the curriculum, which is free for all Cornish schools, would travel further than Black History Month.

A “lot of thought” was put into selecting which black inspirational figures would be included in the package, including household names, local figureheads, female representatives and recent inspirational leaders, she said.

The bitesize curriculum, which caters for pupils from five to aged 16, was sent to more than 160 schools in Cornwall, and Ms Hutchinson said a “good proportion” of them had engaged with the material.

The activities were “really engaging” and there was “an absolute need” for black history to be included in the curriculum, said the head teacher of Tregolls Primary School in Truro.

Lara Jeffries said the school had always had a diverse approach, but recent movements such as Black Lives Matter “have spurred us on to reflect on our curriculum and develop diversity much further”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said the curriculum in schools “offers pupils the opportunity to learn about significant figures from black and ethnic minority backgrounds”.

Teachers could include “black history” as a natural part of themes in their teaching – for example, at key stage two pupils should be taught about a non-European society, the DfE said.