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Molly's Adventures with Travellers - Learning Lessons?

Ben Chastney's picture
By Ben Chastney |  November 17, 2016 |

About a year ago I released the last of a set of short illustrated stories.  These featured a precocious girl, Molly, and her observations of how Gypsies and Travellers are treated in various situations.  Her naïve but challenging questions hopefully brought out some of the hypocrisy and short-sightedness of racist attitudes and practices.  I thought a year later it was worth looking at them again and asking what would happen if nothing was learnt. 


If we learnt nothing from Episode 1 there would be no reflection as to why Travellers might settle on a roadside camp.  This year there have been positive instances of settled residents interacting well with roadside families, such as lending a trampoline for kids to play on or simply giving kind words.  Sadly though, there remains much misunderstanding and many barriers.  Hearing some local politicians or media, a prevalent negative attitude clearly remains, largely due to issues of poor site management.  Until we address that, attitudes to unauthorised encampments will not progress.   


Episode 2 explored similar misunderstandings and counter intuition, about site applications.  Molly correctly observed the flaws to many objections heard towards sites but sadly the picture in reality has not improved.  Indeed changes to Gypsy and Traveller planning law have only made it harder to obtain permission and increased the pressure to prove travelling practices.  This will do nothing to help the volume or frequency of unauthorised encampments; precisely what makes the settled community apprehensive, if not outright hostile, towards formal sites.   


We turned to education in Episode 3, with Molly querying the manner in which her Traveller school friend Brian is treated by the teacher.  At the time I was conscious of presenting a heavily pessimistic, but far from unrealistic, case study.  Sadly, we have heard of experiences the past year which are painfully similar.  Of course, problematic cases are more likely to be brought to our attention and these may not be universally illustrative.  It is sadly clear though that lessons, about people in authority promoting negative stereotypes, are too often not being learnt.       


And so it went on over the series, from store security guards, to the GP and TV docusoaps.  On these issues, It has not been a bad year in some respects.  There were landmark cases against Wetherspoons and Channel 4, hopefully setting both a legal and moral marker down for how Gypsies and Travellers are treated by various businesses or portrayed on TV.  GATE has itself provided cultural awareness training to GP surgeries this year; hopefully improving mutual understanding.  That is ultimately our aim; to assess but also promote progress on all these issues. 


These various stories pointed out, through asking simple but persistent questions, that Gypsies and Travellers face discrimination in many areas of life.  The adverse impact, on education, health, accommodation, must be recognised to be both unjustified but also problematic for all of society.  On so many of these topics, we have to ask whether those lessons have been learnt.  We also need to use every tool available to help change attitudes; from legal battles, to training, media campaigns, advocacy and, yes, telling stories. 


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