Gypsies and Travellers – A tale of two events

26 Jun

I was going to focus purely on the Time To Think Seminar I was invited to by Sussex Police with two women telling us about their life and how it is to be respectively an Irish Traveller and a Gypsy. Stories of terrible discrimination and downright cruelty. Bullying, tolerated by teachers. Refusals to allow travellers to register with a GP. A refusal by every community and their local government to provide sites, so forced into houses where neighbours complain about the noise, visitors, parking. The early mortality, difficulty with accessing education and the resulting literacy issues, the hostility and fear that Gypsies and Travellers experience binding their community ever closer and ever more defensive of each other and their cultures and customs.But a continual fight to get any positive messages about Gypsies and Travellers occurs everywhere. Last year, representatives from the Gypsy community went to the Cenotaph to remember the Gypsy war dead, wearing the medals won by their families. Even there, where we remember a terrible war and the genocide of many, including Gypsies by the Nazi regime, they experienced abuse and harrassment.In the shadow of a terrible grief, more grief befalls Gypsies. I am not going to pretend I understand people’s fear and that behaviour on that day. To me, it is shameful and I condemn the hypocrisy and ignorance.

I remember going to the meeting organised by Mike Weatherly MP in Patcham about Council plans to extend the transit site. I fully understood the main thread of the complaints, about the plans to extend on the Downs, about the fact that other areas could be used and I quite believe that many of those objecting would have objected whoever the residential site was intending to house. There were issues about infrastructure which, in fairness, most developments raise questions about. I was impressed with the Chairing even though I had felt sick with anxiety about the meeting beforehand.

There was a contingent of people which represent a lot of the prejudice of the ‘settled population’ towards Gypsies and Travellers, which was born out by the life experiences of the two women who spoke today: A constant reference to the dirt, rubbish, urination, faeces in example after example of objection to having Gypsies and Travellers in the area. Viscerol words which express and convey disgust, less than humanity and a permission to hate. I know people will holler at me ‘ITS TRUE..YOU SHOULD SEE THIS PARK’ etc etc. You know what is my truth, I have seen a young man pee in the bushes in the childrens section of my local park before hopping over the wall and getting a bus. He wasn’t a Gypsy or a Traveller. I challenge any of you who troll me on this, to get up early on a Summer Sunday and patrol the streets of the city centre and our beach if you believe that urination, defecation in public space is a Gypsy/ Traveller thing. I will come with you if you like!? We can also tread carefully through the vomit and spit that also are splattered over the pavements. Those are our friends, neighbours, family and communities creating that mess.

When I first became Diversity Lead on Sussex Police Authority and discussed Gypsy & Traveller work with family, they told me I was being too idealistic, that SOME are terrible and I should understand that. My response? “Oh tell me about a Traveller experience you have had?” *tumbleweeds* Their answer, INVARIABLY: “Well a friend of mine…[insert own terrifying experience]” here.

I am not a Gypsy or a Traveller but I lived on a boat when a small child, with an even smaller sister. Someone waited until my parents had left the boat to go next door and, then placed gas cannisters either end and blew them up simultaneously with the intent to kill my sister and I. Because, they felt the world would be a better place if we were exterminated. My sister is an Occupational Therapist and I have worked in charities becoming Chief Executive of a national charity prior to having my baby.

I don’t think many, but the truly irredemable would do anything but condenm that man’s actions. To be fair, the villagers where we lived were really truamatised by that action. But my questions for you are:

-Would you have condemned him if he said that since we had been living there crime had risen?

– Would you have believed him if said he had seen me and my sister weeing on the tow-path?

– Would you have believed my teacher if she told you we were problematic and difficult to teach?

– Would you have believed your child’s best friends mum if she blamed an outbreak of nits on me?

– Would you have called me smelly?

– Would you have invited me round to play with your child?

Politicians have failed to tackle these inequalities for decades, because they don’t think you would vote for them if they insisted that Gypsies and Travellers had a site near your home, went to your kids schools, had proper protection from fear and loathing. I believe I live in a better country than that and that the dialogue is being distorted for political gain which is frankly shabby.


6 Responses to “Gypsies and Travellers – A tale of two events”

  1. Geoff Foster June 27, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    This is why you are who you are and why Shannon and I so enjoy the jobs we do.

  2. Christopher David Servante June 27, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    I am rather lucky to have two ‘real’ gypsies who have stopped travelling and now live in normal houses in mainstream society . And very nice people they are too ( loud yes but lovely) You have highlighted the plight of gypsies Lancing is built a small encampment at great expense to the tax payers, ( withy patch up byA27 shoreham airport) which hurriedly got taken over and is now full time residential rather than a stopping place as was really the original idea. This poses 2 questions in itself .. A) why should these people have had that land for free whilst everyone else has to buy houses and B) now where do the travellers stop ! You mention the kids don’t get schooling, but they are never anywhere long enough to integrate, and to be slightly unfair, in their circumstances it would be better if the parents taught them !
    But going back to my friends round the corner … They are actually very upset that travellers and gypsies are actually used in the same breath. Because real gypsies would not break into land causing criminal damage and would leave the site clean afterwards.
    So let us move along now to the ‘travellers’ the ones who break down barriers and turn up on private property ( shoreham by sea farmers land the other week) If that had been anyone else they would have been arrested , but for some reason the only person apparently offered to be arrested was the farmer! Not good PR for the police,
    Then now lets look at the current spate of ‘travelllers’ Lancing beach green, Hillbarn Park, Cissbury ring. In all cases ( and at lancing manor ) damage was done to gain access ( acknowledging the fact that a policeman did block the entrance to Lancing manor) Lancing beach green was entered last year, so all sorts of ugly blockages were
    put in place to stop them , so this time instead a few other parts of the beach were wrecked, This is what the people see, damage that the ratepayers have to pay to be repaired, ridiculous court costs ( approx £6000) to remove them and the blot on the landscape whilst they are there. The government need to decide exactly what are the rights of the people rather than keep giving rights to the travellers. And the police need to be seen to charge these travelers with criminal damage rather than just turn a blind eye ( which is what it seeems to the average person).
    Lets be slightly honest here, if these travellers didn’t cause so much hassle, and the police were seen to be making sure no laws were broken, maybe fewer members of the public would mind. And if the travellers were given a transit site they would just take it to live on. and another transit site would need to be found! In the meantime vast amounts of money is wasted on repairs and court cases.
    Brighton were discussing spending £1.7m on a site for travellers .. thats a lot of money and again why should the public finance this particular lifestyle ?

    • huxley06 June 27, 2012 at 5:46 pm #


      Thanks for this and I believe a lot of people feel this way. Just a few points to put what you say into perspective:
      One – being a Traveller is an ethnicity not a lifestyle.It isn’t up to you or me to fund anyone’s lifestyle as such, but we should not be excluding an ethnic group from services we all enjoy.
      Two – The national need is 25,000 pitches which may sound a lot…but in a population of 7 million + with housing pressures as they are, this is a tiny proportion of land to find.Until we do, this problem of people rocking up to unsuitable places persists.
      Three – Gypsies and Travellers are willing to pay for land: what they find is they are refused permission to dwell on it. And again, if you feel they get better treatment, compare successful retrospective planning permission granted to Travellers compared to settled communities. You will find the opposite is true.
      Four – Compare the amount spent moving people from unsuitable land to that spent on Gypsies and Traveller sites – pretty shocking and if public funds are being wasted I’d suggest this is where the waste lies.
      Five – I moved to 10 schools and was a high achiever, top stream at each and left uni with a degree in law – usually participating in plays/ sports etc for my school(s) too and I have never claimed benefit in my life – I am not sure that I am qualified to judge as to how much ‘trouble’ a Gypsy or Traveller child is for a school, but I do believe that the children are often unwelcome.
      Six – Crime/ trouble does not increase when Travellers move in, fear does! The fact is some Gypsies/ some Travellers probably commit crime and so do other people, we don’t say no families of people with someone in who has ever committed a crime is not entitled to services do we?
      We disagree, but I appreciate the dialogue and discussion you have entered into and I hope you have found it interesting?

      Best wishes

      • Tom Barrett (@TCBarrett) July 8, 2012 at 6:27 am #

        If they can afford to buy land, what stops them from buying it and doing what they want with it?

  3. Joe Turner (@thejoeturner) June 27, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    well said.

  4. Trucking July 9, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    Tom Barrett, read the article and comments – what stops nomadic people from doing what they want with their own land is the small matter of planning permission – very rarely granted to travellers, yet usually granted to settled folk. Land with planning permission for a Gypsy site is rare as rocking horse poo on account of the fact nobody wants to allow travellers to live pretty much anywhere. Society shoots itself in the foot time and again with this stubborn refusal to accomodate the nomadic population – how can society complain when people with nowhere else to go have to pole up on someone’s land if society routinely denies them anywhere legal to stop? There have been numerous attempts over generations to criminalise/de-legitimize a travelling way of life through successive laws which has led to the current situation. Gypsies and travellers are not now nor never going to stop being Gypsies and travellers because the Government decides to ‘outlaw’ nomadism. To outlaw nomadism is against everyone’s basic human rights, yours, mine, everyones – it also ignores the fact that human civilisation has been built on the back of both sedentary AND nomadic people – we have always had nomads and always will – the transient economy is a vitally important one.

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