Leeds GATE

Working to improve the quality of life for Gypsies and Travellers

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Our new conversation about Gypsy and Traveller encampments is picking up speed!

Helen Jones's picture
By Helen Jones |  November 20, 2016 |

We are delighted that the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation has agreed to support our work to influence change in our national approach to ‘unauthorised’ encampment by Gypsy and Traveller people.  Leeds GATE have been working on improving the situation around camps for everyone, Gypsy and Traveller people, local residents, local authorities and the public purse, for nearly 14 years.  In the last five years we have called this work ‘negotiated stopping’ and happily have found Leeds City Council amenable to investing in this approach.  It has taken great courage, and, recently it has begun to significantly reduce cost to local budgets, has slowed down the rate of eviction, and in some regards at least, improved life for local residents and Gypsy Traveller people themselves.

The new funding is enabling us to keep on sharing and promoting our local innovation to a national audience.  Our work over the past few months has focussed on meeting people in different areas, talking about the wide range of views and concerns that we group under this word encampment. What is clear when talking to people involved in some way with matters to do with encampment is that everyone wants change.  From the national legislative and policy sphere, to the local one-to-one interactions between people, there is always at least one thing or another that is quite troubling to people.

It’s not that there aren’t plenty of things said about unauthorised encampments already.  Indeed although the issue involves less than 700 caravans across England, and 100 in Wales (data for Scotland and Northern Ireland is harder to find), a disproportionate amount of time is spent talking about the subject.  A review of newspaper headlines over several decades indicates strong public interest, but very little variation, if any, in the public narratives on the issue.  Every single year for decades there has been at least one parliamentary debate and a plethora of written parliamentary questions.  All saying exactly the same things!

Perhaps this lack of progress is not really surprising.  After all, the whole point about camps is that they are transitory.  The camp moves, everyone calms down and some other local issue takes centre stage.  We usually see a little flurry at election time but apart from that no single residents group, or MP or ward councillor maintains their interest for long.

But change can happen, we have seen that in Leeds alone where the cost savings from our new ‘negotiated stopping’ approach have been really significant, especially at a time when surely every authority would rather be keeping care homes or libraries open than throwing cash at a never ending merry-go-around.  We want to share our innovation. Not least selfishly because we believe it will work better the more that people join in with developing new practice.  But there is no one size fits all solution.  Gypsy and Traveller families have a wide range of views about what ‘should’ happen, and so does everyone else.  Certainly in the first place there may be a great deal that it is difficult for all parties to agree on.  But, we can start from the fact that everyone wants change to happen, and that surely is the best starting point for solutions.

The next step in our Esmee Fairbairn funded project is to convene a national advisory group to help to guide our work over the coming years. What is important to us is that all viewpoints have an opportunity to be heard and to hear from others.  Happily an excellent cross section of people have agreed to join us for an initial discussion in November. We’ll be joined by civil servants, Police and Local Authority officials, politicians, local residents groups and Gypsy and Traveller people and we will update you here about how that discussion goes.

Have you got something to say about camps?  Especially if you have a viewpoint that you think might not be being heard, or a new idea about how positive change, for everyone, can happen.  Please do get in touch with Leeds GATE.  We can help to bring you into a new and different conversation.

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