Travelling Ahead : A Welsh project working with young people from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

An open letter to St Asaph

Author Archives: Trudy Aspinwall

  1. An open letter to St Asaph

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    Last week Denbighshire County Council published a consultation on  their proposals to develop two Gypsy and Traveller sites, one residential  and one transit site, in line with their statutory duty under the Housing ( Wales) Act 2014 to provide accommodation for Gypsy and Traveller families.  We have watched with the usual dismay as the predictable  opposition swings into action – as a dedicated Facebook page has been set up to oppose the development, a petition has gained over a 1000 signatures and is available to sign  along with prominent ‘No to Gypsy Site’ posters in numerous community facilities and businesses across the city of St Asaph, an opposition meeting has been hosted by the local St Asaph city council and local press have reported on the ‘ dream shattering’ impact of the proposed site for a family living close by.

    Last year, St. Asaph hosted the event ‘Refugees: Reflections in Words and Music’ in partnership with Amnesty International UK. This was to deliver a message to refugees that they would receive a positive and total welcome in St. Asaph, as well as other areas in Denbighshire. Where many counties and areas said, “not in my town”, St Asaph residents put their head above the pulpit in the name of justice and decency for fellow human beings.

    Here we are, one year later and we wish we could say the same about the response to the proposed residential and transit Gypsy and Traveller sites in St Asaph.

    Comments that display a polar opposite in equal and welcoming mentality regarding these proposals are easily found on social media and even petition websites, such as:

    • “Outsiders” and “Homes are needed for local people first”,
    • “Great way to ruin DCC” and St. Asaph is my home town… and I for one don’t want it ruined”,
    • “I’m signing because we really don’t want them joining our lovely community and more would follow!!”
    • “They are no benefit to my community”
    • and “I don’t want this on my door step!!”

    With over 2,000 signatures and hundreds of discriminatory comments, which when applied to any other community would be considered outright racism and hate speech. Yet, this ‘NIMBY-ism’ (Not in My Back Yard) towards the Traveller and Gypsy community, whilst unacceptable, is still unfortunately wide-spread. Conversely, a group of people who did reflect the values of equality challenged a post on social media, accusing the campaign of  having a prejudiced agenda, and that the GRT community, like any ethnicity, have a right to live according to their customs and traditions. This small showing of support for a minority who are accustomed to reading hateful comments, was a huge example of what a welcoming community looks like and was a breath of fresh air especially for GRT community members. Unfortunately, the post was promptly taken down following even more comments shows support for the GRT community in St Asaph.

    The social media comments we have seen are the familiar statements and ‘myths’ about Gypsies and Travellers. Each one accusing the potential residents of tax evasion, or increased crime levels, and the idea that Gypsy and Traveller families are somehow ‘other’ and not part of our communities, are being given additional special treatment to ‘local’ families…..

    We wonder how many of those in opposition have considered that the sites proposed are for local families? Welsh Romany families in particular have been a part of north Wales for hundreds of years with their own Welsh Romani language still regularly spoken up until the 1950s. These are local families who have also been waiting many years for a home, local families with connections going back generations, local families who were born and grew up in the area speaking Welsh, local families who work, study, bring up their families and are already part of the community, your neighbours,  attending schools, churches and using services in the St Aspah area like any other citizen.

    The transit site ( part of a network planned across north Wales) will provide decent facilities to provide an alternative to the roadside for the many families who have traditionally travelled for work and cultural purposes within and through north Wales. Being nomadic in the United Kingdom is not a crime – traditional stopping places have been closed,  built on and made unavailable increasingly over the last generation. Transit sites are needed, indeed required by the law here in Wales, to provide some security for Gypsies and Travellers rather than being moved on amidst community hostility over and over again, and bringing benefits for the whole community in reducing community tensions, improving access to health and education on a temporary basis when needed, and any clear up and eviction costs.

    A senior police officer  recently spoke at a police summit on the need for transit sites across the UK and addressed accusations of encampments and links with increased crime saying

    There is no statistical evidence of rises in crime when an unauthorised site arrives in an area” – Jeanette McCormick, Acting Chief Constable Cheshire Constabulary.

    Denbighshire County Councils own ‘Myth Buster’ leaflet sets the record straight about tax paying and the notion of increased crime levels:


    ‘Do Gypsies & Travellers pay taxes and rent?’

    •      All Gypsies and Travellers living on a local authority or privately-owned sites pay council tax, rent, gas, electricity, and all other charges measured in the same way as other houses.
      ·      Those living on unauthorised encampments, generally speaking, do not pay council tax, but they also do not generally receive services. There are occasions when basic services, such as a toilet or a wheelie bin, are provided and the Gypsies and Travellers might make payment for this service direct to the appropriate local authority.
      ·      All residents within the UK pay tax on their purchases, petrol & road tax as do Gypsies & Travellers

    It is very easy to believe these myths, but communities that do spread these beliefs as fact, can create a very hostile and unsafe environment for Gypsy and Traveller communities. Imagine how children from Gypsy and Traveller communities in Denbighshire feel right now picking up comments on social media about their families and walking past No Gypsy Site  posters on their way to school?   Imagine walking in to a pub or restaurant to see a petition gathering signatures against you or families like you because you share that ethnicity?

    Our request to you. When you make comments about Travellers or Gypsies, stop and think. Would you make these assumptions or comments about refugees or any other minority community? It does not need festivals, or celebrity speakers to imbue equal values within a welcoming community, it needs fellow citizens to challenge the status quo, and those who are not afraid to challenge the mistruths, or ‘fake news’ and discriminatory discourse

    In the coming weeks and months, every attack that’s aimed at the proposal of these sites, will be an attack on a local family, who have resided in Denbighshire for years. If you are a fellow local resident, a local business owner or a locally elected member of a council please think of them, their families and their rights, as you continue your path to create a ‘welcoming’ city.

  2. Enter the Traveller Education Service – a lifeline……

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    Caramia Rafferty explains why the Traveller Education Services are so important to her, her family and community and asks her local council and Welsh Government to keep the funding for the services across Wales

     

    To whom this may concern,

    My name is Caramia Rafferty. I’m a 15 year old English Romany Gypsy. I am writing to you to discuss the possible dismemberment of the travelling education services.

    To be quite honest I was not shocked by this news, but I was disgusted. In this letter I aim to address the deep need for these incredible women and service from the perspective of a young Gypsy child such as myself that was aimed for them to help.

    Many boys and girls apart of the travelling community have left school without any qualifications, also leaving with a poor standard of education along with it. But with this service and the people along with it who were there to understand our complex lives; many of us were able increase our standards of education and feel confident enough to enter higher education. All through my own life and others there was a traveller support system put in place for us. They understand our fluctuating attendance and lifestyle and helped us catch up with our missed schooling. They also explained our culture to teachers who may not have fully understood us. It is deeply concerning to be informed that this service will no longer be put in place, and I will continue to explain the negatives of having this service cut off.

    One of the main problems facing our community is the thick barrier between the settled community and our own. Many people today still have a strong prejudice, ignorance and lack of understanding towards our culture. This service had people who were there to understand and represent us. It is clear that many of us are not that educated and aimed to be more educated. But the previous generation find themselves confused with trying to understand what exactly teachers are conversing about and vice versa with the teachers. Enter the traveller education service. They were able to break down these barriers between, with explaining and translating our lives to them. Without these women we will return back to isolation and miscommunication.

    Now from looking from a perspective of my own and many other Traveller and Gypsy kids. These people working in this service are like a lifeline to us. One of the main things you may ask is why? Why aren’t we going to school? To be honest without these women I was never encouraged in school, I was never defended nor was I understood. My people have be discriminated against for hundreds of years and still racism is very popular today. The BBC has identified the travelling community as the most discriminated against people in the UK. Due to this many travellers and non-travellers have a barrier between each other. We are a tight knitted group of people, many Travellers and Gypsies share prejudice just as some black people may share against white people for the suffering they have endured. But we are not just to blame for us not having an education. Would you want be in a place where you’re not understood or cared for? I understand times are changing and are becoming more accepting, but still a thick fog of bad stigma, stereotypes and lack of knowledge and care shadows the travelling community.

    Millions are spent on removing travellers from illegal sites instead of being put into our education. Do you think we would be living on illegal grounds if we were educated? If the government chose to invest money into us? Instead of being a labelled a ‘tramp’, ‘Gypo’, ‘pikey’ and ‘thief’ before you even know us and try to understand.

    This is why we need this service. They were able to understand and help us with issues. I’ve experienced constant discrimination in and out of school, but while I was in school these women were able to help me. They fought for my justice even if it never actually came. My ethnicity is constantly misunderstood and misrepresented among people, but this service was able to be a part of a change we’re trying to drive forward. Without it we will be at square one. The barrier between our community and the settled will not be knocked down only strengthen once again.

    In not only school but life we are expected to learn and respect everyone else’s race, traditions and backgrounds. How come when it comes to ours it’s pushed aside and isolated? It’s disgusting. No one should ever feel ashamed for the way that they are born. They shouldn’t have to hide just to be accepted, and this service and these woman were some of the few that fought for that.

    Please consider my request to keep this service alive. Without it I am certain teachers wouldn’t cope, neither would our community. My brother is due to seek secondary education this year, however due to this news my mother is now too afraid to enrol him without the support. This obviously reflects how the rest of the community feels. They help with a lot more other than just keeping us in school, and sooner you understand the better.

    Thank you for reading,

    Caramia Rafferty

    15 years old

    June 2018

  3. “You look very clean for a Gypsy…”

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    So last week was ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ and to continue the trend, this week is ‘Hate Crime Awareness Week‘. For anyone who knows me or has read any recent posts, you’ll know that I believe that hate crime/discrimination/prejudice is directly linked to the mental health issues found in the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. GRT children learn at a young age that a lot of people won’t like them because they are different. I first realised this in primary school in London, where I’d be embarrassed to get a dropped off in a pick-up truck, (I’ve no idea why, I was a charmer and had like five girlfriends before I was 10 years old, #ladykiller) but I was.

    I realised the extent of how we were disliked, whilst watching my dad play in a pool team that visited different pubs each week for their league matches, and most of those weeks when they were playing away, landlords and bouncers wouldn’t let my dad and I in. The team had to argue that he had done nothing wrong as was there to play pool. We’d be watched, and sometimes kicked out as soon as my dad played his match. All of those pubs in London always had the huge “NO DOGS or NO TRAVELLERS ALLOWED (*BECAUSE I’M A RACIST IDIOT)” sign, and I always thought we were breaking a law by entering these pubs, just turns out those landlords were.

    So, anyway, let me point you back to the post title, “You Look Very Clean for a Gypsy” for a second. I would love to know where your own minds take you when you read that quote. For those who are still curious, let me blow your minds.

    Three years ago, my wife and I had the idea to start a charity to help Gypsies, Roma and Travellers with things like advocacy, advice and basic skills try to have a more significant relationship with their councils and MPs. So off my wife and I went to an organisation that supports start-ups to meet an officer from a well-known charity, who would be able to help with starting up this idea. The meeting was what you would expect at a professional meeting, up until he asked me how our idea would be relevant and link in with the community the charity was aimed for. I told him that I am an Irish Traveller, and I also have ties with the local community and have lived in the area for over a decade or so.

    So, are you ready for this bit?

    He just looked at me and said, “You look very clean for a gypsy”.

    As you probably could imagine, I was busy re-attaching my jaw back to my face and trying not to jump over the table and throw him in the bin.

    ***

    Note: I was intending for this post to be on the lighter side, but it had to have a change of direction as I received a call from someone asking if the police would do anything about a 15-year-old who was shouting at their kids, (aged between 5-9) that they are “smelly gypsies and they should f*** off back to their caravan” in front of the children’s friends.

    Yep, we know people don’t like us. We read, see or hear about it every day in a million different ways. But when young children hear things like this before they can even understand the differences that people in the world have, how can we be expected to even want to integrate with people like that scumbag teenager and the people they learned this mentality from and the other adults that influence their societal views? Why would we even want to?

    I’m glad you can see my point.

    I firmly believe that scenarios like this can have an effect on children’s anxieties, worries and things that develop into mental health issues and a negative outlook on the society they live in. How could it not, when teenagers feel they are able to racially abuse a child as young as five years old.

    This then asks questions of all people fighting for equality, the feminists, the LGBT equality groups and the other ‘social justice warriors’ who are allowing the MPs, the TV personalities and people in everyday life to racially abuse and discriminate this protected ethnicity in every which way, quite regularly:

    Why aren’t there more people fighting for Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller equal rights?
    Are we not as important as other communities?
    Does the fight for equality just stop at certain characteristics?

    Equality will never, ever exist until all people have the same treatment as every other minority group. Our voice is the most silenced and our views are met with racial stereotyping and myths, essentially undermining any fight for equality we are trying to win. Until we have more support, more children will want to retreat to our families and communities just to get some respite from the daily vitriol and hate that goes unchallenged.

    If you are being threatened or attacked because of your race/ethnicity, sexuality, disability or any other protected characteristicsplease make sure you call 999 if you are in immediate danger.

    Gypsies, Roma and Irish Travellers have specialist services that you can report any hate crimes, get advice on how to report them, such as:

    Thanks for reading, don’t stand by and let inequality grow, help out your fellow humans, whoever they may be.

    Martin

    P.S. *I WISH IT DID SAY THAT. IT DEFINITELY SHOULD DO FOR ALL RACIST IDIOTS.

    Martin Gallagher is an Engagement Officer with the Travelling Ahead Advice and Advocacy Service ( part of the Tros Gynnal Plant Wales-wide charity)

  4. Roma Inclusion?

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    brigitta (2)My name is Brigitta Balogh and I am currently a second-year law student at the University of South Wales.I am on a work experience placement with the Wales Migration Partnership  and the  Travelling Ahead Project until September 2014.

    My task is to carry out a situational analysis/mapping exercise on the access to rights and entitlements for Roma children and young people in the South Wales area,  examining the international, European, national and devolved policy context as it applies to this group of children. I am also examining possibilities for children and young people’s views to contribute to the exercise though linking in with a group of young people who meet as part of a local youth forum.

    This piece of work will feed into Travelling Ahead’s ongoing advocacy work to influence policy and service delivery which we will undertake alongside the Wales Migration Partnership to ensure that all Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children can access their rights in Wales. My work will also support the development in Wales of the EU Roma Social Inclusion Framework  by analysing the current situation in Wales.

    I made a speech on this subject at a  seminar  sponsored by Julie Morgan AM at the National Assembly for Wales  on Roma Inclusion  in March 2014. You can read my full speech  HERE.

  5. Response to the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee inquiry into the general principles of the Housing (Wales) Bill – January 2014

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    Response to the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee inquiry into the general principles of the Housing (Wales) Bill. January 2014

    Introduction

    1.1          The Travelling Ahead project, hosted by Save the Children, was established in 2009 with the aims of supporting and promoting the participation and rights of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children and young people to have say in decision making and influence services, policy and legislation which affect their day to day lives.

    1.2          The project has supported the development of local Gypsy, Roma and Traveller youth forums and groups around Wales and hosts a twice yearly national forum for these young people to meet and work together on issues of shared concern alongside policy, training and advocacy work.  For more information see our website www.travellingahead.org.uk

    1.3          We are pleased to provide a response to this inquiry by the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee into the general principles of the Housing (Wales) Bill.

    1.4          Our comments relate specifically to those new duties set out in Part Three of the Bill dealing with meeting the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers in Wales.

    To read the full response, click this PDF document: Travelling Ahead response Stage 1 Housing Wales Bill Jan 2014

  6. We Need Your Views!

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    We here at Travelling Ahead are looking to improve our website, so you can get the most up-to-date information and a better user experience.  We have two surveys available to help us get your views.

    If you’re a young person, please click the following link to give your feedback: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RMQJZLV

    If you’re a professional who uses our website, please click this link to give your feedback: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RXBJ9G5

    We’ll keep you updated on all the developments!

  7. Policy and Law Updates

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    There have been a number of important developments over the past few weeks which impact upon the lives of the gypsy, Roma and traveller communities, including the Control of Horses Bill and The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013.

    To read more about these developments and their impact, please click HERE to read our comprehensive policy and law update.

  8. We are human beings, just like them

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    photo

    On Thursday 6th June, the Travelling Ahead team made our way to Wrexham to meet with the Wrexham and Flintshire young peoples’ forums and Huw Lewis, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty. A very bright young person from the Wrexham forum opened the event with a presentation and a film was shown that was developed to improve the transition between primary and secondary school for young people. The film was aimed at young people and provided information to relieve the fears about making friends, settling in and getting help, which is really useful.

    The minister was very friendly, encouraging and supportive and the young people responded to him well. He was keen to learn more about the culture and pledged his support for tackling discrimination in the media. The new minister explained that he was new in post and was looking to learn more about the culture and the challenges, prejudices and discrimination they face on a daily basis. Topics discussed included “why do we have to go to school?” and “why don’t boys go to school?” which fuelled questions around education, welfare, home schooling and improved choices that education can open.

    One of the biggest subjects put on the map was about prejudice faced by the settled community. If we had a pound for every time a Gypsy Traveller young person said “We are human beings, just like them”, there would bags to fill! This general lack of awareness and understanding is really difficult to hear, and is unfortunately the basis of nasty name calling and bullying in school. Programmes like “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” has only made this worse. This is why the young people made the film Travellers’ Tales which can be viewed here [vimeo http://vimeo.com/65775336]and why we at Travelling Ahead spend so much time building awareness on what hate crime and racism is.

    So we were very pleased to see that the young people had made an impression on the minister in regards to this point. At the Welsh Government Plenary session at the Senedd on Wednesday 19th June, Minister Huw Lewis was asked some questions about the sites duty and Gypsy and Travellers, and also a question about negative stereotyping by A.M Julie Morgan. As part of his answer he mentioned his meeting with ‘Wrexham Youth Forum’.

    This is what Huw Lewis AM for Communities and Tackling Poverty said:
    “I have recently met with the Wrexham forum for young Gypsies and Travellers—a remarkable group of young people who explained to me the difficulties they face from young people in particular from the settled community. All members of the Welsh political class would benefit from such a conversation. It was quite an eye opener for me to realise that a lot of the negative attitudes and stereotyping that their community had faced for many generations was now migrating onto the internet, and as young people, they were being exposed to these attitudes from a wholly new direction. It was an eye-opener for me, and I recommend that any Member here who has a Gypsy and Traveller community within their constituency spends some time having a conversation like that one.”
    (Source: http://www.assemblywales.org/docs/rop_xml/130619_plenary_bilingual.xml, 19/06/13, accessed 21/06/13)

    It is great to see that the young people obviously made an impact on him. Now how do we change those attitudes…?