‘We are planned out of the area’: the Gypsy Travellers in Scotland opposing a proposed brewery and taproom

<span>Roseanna McPhee, whose Gypsy Traveller family was forcibly settled near Pitlochry, Scotland, in the 1940s.</span><span>Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose/the Observer</span>
Roseanna McPhee, whose Gypsy Traveller family was forcibly settled near Pitlochry, Scotland, in the 1940s.Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose/the Observer

The village of Pitlochry, in Perth and Kinross, Scotland, is best known for picturesque views and Victorian architecture, and as a base for idyllic holidays spent hillwalking, fishing and exploring the nearby Highlands.

Brothers Jack and Connall Low hope that visitors and locals will also soon be able to enjoy a cold beer at the new brewery and taproom which they are planning to build in their home town.

But just a short walk up a steep brae in dense woodland, their neighbours at Bobbin Mill are not so keen on the project. The McPhee family – part of the Gypsy Traveller community that was once forcibly settled there – has lived on the site for more than 70 years, and they feel the new taproom puts them at risk of discrimination and threatens local wildlife.

The brewing company, Wasted Degrees, had plans approved for a new site by Perth and Kinross council this month, despite official objections from the McPhee family, and expects to open late next year.

At Bobbin Mill’s horseshoe of dark wood chalets and caravans, Shamus McPhee, her brother, points out four broken windows on his worn white caravan, smashed during the night by vandals who threatened him with a knife when confronted. “We already get people coming up here shouting names, launching missiles through our windows,” he said. “Having so many drinkers just down there is too close for comfort.”

Jack Low, who joined Connall to work at Wasted Degrees after the latter founded it in 2016, said: “We are keen to be on friendly terms with our new neighbours and we’ve worked hard to speak directly with the community at Bobbin Mill.” He said he sent letters to all immediate neighbours, alongside submitting the plans, to ensure people who couldn’t access it digitally were not excluded. The site will be covered by CCTV, and “our own values and the law” require them to prevent public disorder, nuisance and harm, Jack said. The brothers currently run their business from Blair Atholl, about 10 miles away.

“This is two local lads growing their grassroots business, as opposed to a faceless corporation … This is home for us – it’s where we grew up, where our parents still live, and where my wife and I are raising our family too. We have skin in the game here, so we want the best outcomes from the development of the new brewery site.”

Bobbin Mill has a difficult history. In the 1940s, it was the first site for Scotland’s “tinker experiment” – a government programme lasting four decades which saw Gypsy Traveller communities forcibly settled in substandard housing in an attempt to integrate them into mainstream society.

The McPhee family was among those first placed on the site in the 1940s and has lived there ever since. Roseanna and Shamus, now in their 50s, have been active in campaigning for an official government apology for the “tinker experiment”.

For Roseanna, there is a bigger picture in which communities like hers are being “planned out of the area. There are undercurrents of racism you can’t specifically pinpoint. People who don’t want Gypsy Travellers in the area will jump on anything that will get rid of you.

“Placemaking is meant to be about local people making things better, but they’re making it better for those that have big wads of cash, and it doesn’t matter if they make it worse for us,” she said.

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The McPhees also claim the brewery plans entail the felling of trees listed on historic maps, making them ancient woodland, a category recognised in Scottish planning policy as irreplaceable and in need of protection, though they have never been officially registered as such. The land is home to wildlife including deer, swifts, goshawks and bats; birds can be seen nesting in the trees, and a rare albino red squirrel has been spotted in recent weeks, Shamus said.

The Low brothers dispute the claim that the trees are ancient woodland and say they are offsetting any felled trees by planting elsewhere, as well as voluntarily installing bat, bird and red squirrel boxes on to the building.

Perth and Kinross council told the Observer it was committed to treating residents with dignity and respect and to opposing discrimination, and that it worked closely with community groups, including Gypsy Travellers.

“In making this decision, it was not considered that there would be any unacceptable impacts on nearby property or people,” a spokesperson said.