I first visited the Dale Farm Travellers’ site in Essex, England in 2009. Travellers are a historically misunderstood community in the UK. They live in trailers as a community, and this way of life makes them the victims of prejudice.

By the time I arrived, the Dale Farm community had become notorious for the size of their trailer site, which the surrounding settled community saw as a threat. As it was not far from where I grew up, I went to see them, hoping to come away with a few photographs.

Although it wasn’t easy to gain access to this deeply private community—Travellers have faced a lifetime of prejudice from settled people—I was lucky enough to meet two extraordinary women and their families. These women introduced me to the Dale Farm Traveller community.

Barbara Sheridan and her husband John live together on the site with their three young children. In addition, I met Jean Sheridan. Jean has a young daughter, Viviana, and had just given birth to triplet sons—Richard, John Button, and David—two weeks before I met her.

After months of spending time together (drinking tea, helping out with reading and writing for the largely illiterate families, and more), we gradually developed a deep affection for one another.

Through seven (so far) bleak English winters and hundreds of long, hopeless days, I have documented Barbara, Jean, and the changing lives of their families. Their lives are a far cry from the media’s depiction of their community—Big Fat Gypsy Weddings [a television show] is a dramatized depiction in which Travellers are shown leading extravagant lives with vast amounts of money and cars. Instead, theirs is a life of prejudice, evictions, hard graft, tradition and their struggle to continue an age-old lifestyle in an increasingly fast-moving world.

These photographs are a portrait of the warm family life I witnessed during my conversations with the Dale Farm Travellers. The series also depicts the growth and germination of two unexpected friendships that have changed my life.

—Mary Turner