Leeds GATE

Working to improve the quality of life for Gypsies and Travellers

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Crown Point House,
167-169 Cross Green Lane,
Leeds LS9 0BD

Accommodating History in Practice

Helen Jones's picture
By Helen Jones |  May 28, 2014 |

Painted milk churnsAs we approach Gypsy Roma Traveller History month it is naturally a time to be optimistic about the opportunities such an occasion provides to tell positive stories. Just this week we had a call from a prison the other side of the country seeking support in what sounds like an already ambitious project to raise awareness of Gypsy and Traveller culture for their inmates, staff and visitors. We note happily that schools, Councils and other bodies are taking steps to ensure that such history is recognised and celebrated.

This is of course all positive but it is worth reflecting that day to day rules and laws, from police to Councils, make it increasingly difficult for Gypsies and Travellers to continue with the same practices which are purportedly being celebrated. Take horses as an example. The trading, riding, raising and keeping of horses has a long and well established history in Gypsy and Traveller history; rightly a source of pride. In practice however, it is clear that it has become increasingly difficult to find appropriate land to safety, legally or affordably keep horses.

Despite efforts from both GATE staff and many of our members over the years, in seems that the options for obtaining grazing licences in Leeds are greatly limited. This leaves members who keep, or wish to keep, horses and ponies with the option of paying large fees to private landowners or using public land with all the risks of removal and animal safety that entails.  It is a similar story in nearby authorities whereby if there are any public grazing licences available at all these are greatly limited and particularly difficult for the Gypsy and Traveller community to obtain. Put simply, this cultural practice and indeed livelihood for many, purportedly so admired and treasured by the wider public, is accommodated in such a limited fashion, if not actively prohibited.

There are other fundamental issues, most notably that of keeping trailers. Of course, such a practice is fairly well accommodated for on sites, whether council or private. Where we encounter problems is when members move to bricks and mortar. For understandable reasons, many people wish to bring at least one trailer when moving from roadside or site.  This is not merely a desire to retain a key part of one’s life but often a practicality of needing more space in overcrowded accommodation. Again though, many members have had to fight hard with the Council or landlord for permission to keep a trailer in the drive, even when there is clearly adequate space.

As a final thought, it was perhaps most upsetting when one family were unable to keep their caravan in their drive because the Council feared it would draw attention to their Traveller heritage and lead to community tensions. If we are serious about truly celebrating essential aspects of Gypsy and Traveller history, whether relating to horses or trailers, then it is vital to do more than pay lip service. Indeed it would be of greater value, both to the community’s everyday lives and indeed the preservation of such customs, if there was better accommodation in practice. That would truly be a positive way to celebrate Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month.

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