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Goodbye to Aunt Ada - An obituary from Peter Saunders

Helen Jones's picture
By Helen Jones |  October 14, 2012 |

Aunt Ada North
Aunt Ada North and her friend Mrs Anne Woodham sheltering from the rain under the bridge at Appleby

Ada North, (Born Alma Ada Kindon  29th March 1928)

I first met Ada in 1981, when she and Jack were camping with another few trailers on Gelderd road just down from the site on a bit of old ground. I had just got the job of teacher working with Travellers in Leeds.

Ada was great, welcoming me in for tea and cake and a chance to hear about life on the road, which was brilliant for me as a newcomer. She was an inspiration, then and always, with a great sense of humour and endless stories. She would clearly explain the highs and lows of life on the road, what it had been like for her as a child, as a mother and now as a grandmother, with her children grown up.

She became a great friend and adviser and I was fortunate to get to know her extended family and we were always made welcome and given sound advice, help and support. There were always family and close friends visiting and you were always welcomed in and treated like one of the family.

She knew everyone and had great respect for her traditions and her way of life and she was astute and had a great gift for talking, particularly in public. She could hold an audience spellbound with her stories and win them over to understand her way of life and how society as a whole had often left the Traveller communities without provision through neglect or prejudice, which she had often experienced at first hand.

Aunt Ada speaking‘We’ve been shifted at 3 o’clock in the morning – rain, snow, blow. We’ve been treat like dogs. I was in the field near the site and I had the bunks out, and they just fetched a bulldozer and bulldozed everything in and they were going to rip the trailer onto a council wagon, if Jimmy Lowther hadn’t come down and got me off.’

She supported our work in schools and the community by visiting and talking in schools and at meetings and raised awareness of Gypsy and Traveller culture and history by sharing her experiences and many skills. She attended conferences and convinced many of the need to make better provision and ensure that the Gypsy and Traveller communities were consulted and involved.

In 1985, Ada supported her family alongside many other families in Leeds in resisting evictions from unofficial camps to try and get some provision for roadside families.  This led to the creation of the new site at Cottingley Springs , which was built and opened in 1987, and was a great step forward, as there had been no extension in site provision since 1969, and so 20 more families had their own plot with proper facilities.

She spoke at the AGM of South Leeds health for All and so moved the audience that they made the Gypsy Traveller communities one of their targets groups to engage with and led to some excellent work being done with the communities. She visited Dublin to see all the progress that had been made there through Pavee Point and the Irish Traveller Movement and this led to further campaigning to form a Gypsy and Traveller organisation in Leeds.

She recounted her life in the book, ‘Gypsies and Travellers in their own words’, and vividly expressed her experiences.  

‘I come from a family of eleven and we lived in wagons. Me Mam used to go out hawking and get us a bit of bread every day, we used to wait for her bringing us a sweet home. If all the begged clothes and the begged bread was out of me. there’d be very little left of me today. I appreciate the way I was brought up, we were always taught to respect people.’ 

Ada loved going to Appleby Fair and also spoke Romanes well and helped with the translation of some of the text in the book into Romanes, but was keen for this not to be translated into English as it was for those, who could speak it, to share with others, if they wished.

Ada also encouraged her cousin, Bobby Lee, and his son, young Bobby, to also get involved and share their stories and through her commitment encouraged others to help make the book richer and reflect the rich traditions and stories of the Gypsy Traveller communities.

Ada was a great support and adviser to us all at the Gypsy Roma Traveller Achievement Service and also to the Gypsy and Traveller Exchange (GATE) in Leeds and helped that organisation develop and willingly gave her time to help create the communities own grass root organisation.

Ada was a great campaigner for the rights of the Gypsy and Traveller communities and made a great contribution to improvements in provision and raising awareness about their history and culture. She was a great inspiration for so many and it was a great honour to know her and have shared so many happy times with her and her family. Our condolences to all her family and many friends.

Peter Saunders (Gypsy Roma Traveller Education Service 1981 - 2010) 3rd October 2012

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