Leeds GATE

Working to improve the quality of life for Gypsies and Travellers

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As easy as ABCD! (Asset Based Community Development)

Helen Jones's picture
By Helen Jones |  October 7, 2013 |

Asset Based Community DevelopmentFlourishing communities are those where everyone has someone to talk to, neighbours look out for each other, people have pride and satisfaction with where they live and feel able to influence decisions about their area. Residents are able to access green and open space, feel safe going out and there are places and opportunities that bring people together. –from A Glass Half Full – How an asset approach can improve community health and wellbeing (I&DEA)

What strikes me most about this quote is how much it sounds like a description of life for Gypsies and Travellers on roadside (unauthorised) encampments, especially ones where the camp is able to stay in one place for a month or more.  It might not appear so from the outside and in light of all the dreadful perceptions of roadside people that is daily pushed in the newspapers.  However in comparison to other circumstances that Gypsies and Travellers live in, ie in housing or on authorised permanent sites, it seems to me, that in terms of community assets, camp life is the best.

Of course if you take a needs based view of camp life you might see things very differently.  Lack of access to water, toilets, waste disposal, and constant forced movement are definitely not good for your health. For example forced movement definitely leads families in a hurry to eat more takeaways than they might otherwise.  Women without privacy and toilets can land up not emptying their bladders for hours on end which is definitely not good for you.

But, when the pace of movement slows down and some basic facilities are available, there is an atmosphere that develops amongst families on the camps which has been described to me as ‘being a community’.  The author of an email I have previously quoted said to me that he observed a community on a nearby unauthorised camp looking after each other in very practical ways that were lacking in his own experience.

It’s possible to imagine that families living on their own privately owned, family sized sites would be better off, and in some ways (facilities, access to local services) many are, but,  families living on privately owned family sites can suffer isolation from community.  Those on the camps act as a community, not necessarily because of who they are, more because of ‘how’ they are.  Camp life develops a sense of shared enterprise (where are we going to move to next?) which is hard to replicate elsewhere.

So what?

Gypsies and Travellers are not just a problem. They are a part of our community with much to share and, though some won’t like to hear it, to teach others. Asset based community development recognises us as whole people. 

If we only identify people as ‘problems’ we are going to struggle to find solutions.  But if we identify assets, describe what is good about us, what already works well, we can use that good to create ‘even better’. If you want to know more about Asset Based Community Development thisthis and this  are good places to start.

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