Gypsy and Traveller Support
Gypsies and Travellers have lived in Torfaen for generations. Census records from 1871 show families residing in Pontypool and personal family histories tells of a much longer association with the area.
Working with Young People in the Gypsy & Traveller Community
In 2009 the charity Save the Children approached some of the young Gypsies and Travellers in the Torfaen area and asked them what they thought would help them to have their voices heard. The young people suggested that a forum is used to build their confidence and skills.
Young people from West Monmouthshire School developed the online forum in Torfaen. This allows the children the space to discuss issues that are important to them and help them to develop their aspirations.
The Equal Voice project has developed homework and out of school clubs for the children on the Torfaen Gypsy and Traveller site.
Some Common Myths
There is no one ‘blueprint’ for the Gypsy and Traveller culture or community, any more than there is for the diverse British culture. Having said that, most Gypsies and Travellers do have certain cultural things in common which may have evolved from the needs of a life on the road. As a result they face many of the same negative myths.
Myth: ‘Gypsies & Travellers are dirty’
Truth: Gypsy culture is built upon strict laws of cleanliness passed down over centuries. For example conventions such as mokkadi and mahrime (pollution and cleanliness rules) place strict guidelines on what objects can be washed in what bowls. Even generally accepted norms such as pet ownership fall under these rules; most Gypsies and Travellers do not allow family pets inside their homes, because they believe them to be unclean and carriers of disease.
Myth: ‘Gypsies & Travellers are criminal’
Truth: Gypsy and Traveller society mirrors society in general, some Gypsies and Travellers are involved in crime, but the vast majority live within the law. There is absolutely no evidence to support greater criminal activity by Gypsies and Travellers either nationally or locally.
Myth: ‘Gypsies and Travellers have become rich through avoiding paying tax’
Truth: Gypsies and Travellers pay VAT, council tax and utility costs etc. in the same way as the settled population. Where some of this misunderstanding arises is that Gypsy and Traveller wealth is more visible and by necessity portable unlike non-Gypsy culture. A Gypsy family with a new car and caravan may look flashy, but their wealth is just more visible. The amount of capital invested in a (rapidly depreciating) caravan is worth far less than the equity many non-Gypsies have in their houses. Many Gypsies and Travellers do not even own their caravans/chalets, as renting from private companies is not uncommon.
Myth: ‘the children don’t go to school, and if they do they run around out of control’
Truth: As the Gypsy and Traveller lifestyle has changed, so has the need (recognised by the community) for full engagement in education. Being resident in one area affords more continuity of access to local schools and all the benefits that this brings to the community. Unlike many young people who now find their free time filled with electronic distractions, Gypsy and Traveller young people are still able to imaginatively fill their spare time out in the elements. Something which is often bemoaned by adults as being absent for the young people of the wider community.
Myth: Gypsies & Travellers flout planning laws
Truth: In 1994 the government argued that Gypsies and Travellers should set up their own sites. However planning guidance actually made it much harder to obtain planning permission. Although local authorities were expected to make provision for sites in development plans, positive action was rare, and there were very restrictive criteria for site proposals (ACERT 1998, Morris and Clements 1999).
Only 10% of initial planning applications by Gypsies and Travellers succeed compared to 80% of applications from the settled population. For those who, despite these odds, have achieved a family site, the process has been very protracted with numerous different hearings (Johnson and Willers 2004). This greatly increases the stress for families who may need a stable place to live because of serious health problems or to access education.
Last Modified: 05/12/2018
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