I Met Lucky People by Yaron Matras – review Sukhdev Sandhu

Romanian Roma people

The Roma movement is often political, a series of displacements and exoduses triggered by prejudice and social panics. Photograph: Mihai Barbu/EPA

Here they come: swarming and noisy, dirty and barely civilised – stories about the Roma. Talk-radio gobmeisters, custodians of mass-market morality belching out bellicose headlines and editorials, on-the-make politicos eager to show they’re in touch with what the public is “really” thinking: in recent months they’ve all united in a chorus of hate aimed at Romanians or Bulgarians who have the temerity to step foot in Britain. Their accusations are as horrendous as they are hackneyed: the Roma are pickpockets, baby thieves, spongers, beggars, tax-shirkers, doorstep-defecators. Worst of all, they bring down house values.

On the periphery even of the liberal imagination, Romani people have long oscillated between being invisibles and folk devils. Hardly homogeneous (those living in present-day Britain are a mixed bunch, including Irish Travellers, Hungarian Romani who arrived after the failed uprising in 1956, and the Kale of north Wales), they have been labelled and relabelled ever since they migrated from India in the middle ages: Saracens, Bohemians, Egyptians, all terms signifying vagabond otherness, dangerous mobility. As early as 1496, the legislative council of the holy Roman empire, meeting in Bavaria, declared them “enemy agents”.

Yaron Matras’s I Met Lucky People, a historical and linguistic survey of the Roma, tells how many European territories soon followed suit. In 1530, King Henry VIII passed an Act expelling “outlandish people” prone to palm-reading and fortune-telling. In 1541 they were blamed for fires in Prague and kicked out of Czech lands. In 1548, the German diet in Augsburg ruled that their murder was not a prosecutable offence. By the early 18th century, those living in parts of Austria might have their backs branded.

Time and again over the last millennium, Roma movement has been more than purely cultural; it is as likely to be political, a series of displacements and exoduses triggered by prejudice and social panics. Like the Jews, another group repeatedly castigated and cast out through history, the Roma were targeted by Nazis. They were sterilised and, during a period they refer to as the “Great Devouring”, at least 100,000 (some estimates claim 1.5 million) were exterminated. Matras calls this “genocide”, but also points out that not one German implicated in it has been brought to justice.

Relatively little scholarship on these people exist. No doubt this has something to do with stories often being passed down orally rather than textually. But given how consistently harassed and persecuted the Roma have been, that they’ve been described as “the first blacks in Europe”, and to this day use words such as “pani” (water) and “sap” (snake) that are identical to similar words in Hindi and Punjabi, it’s surprising that they’re so little studied.

Perhaps it’s because, in some eyes, they can pass for white, and therefore aren’t the “right” kind of minority. Certainly, they don’t easily fit within the schema of postcolonial analysis; their history precedes that of European imperialism, and the polemical claim “We’re here, because you were there,” often used by pro-immigrant activists, has little force. Besides, many Roma, if they’re not living in rural landscapes, are found in edgelands that are terra incognita to many scholars.

I Met Lucky People is expository, describing its subjects in almost anthropological prose. At its best, though, it homes in on the possibility that the Roma problem has nothing to do with the Roma, but with the “paradigmatic dilemma” they raise: “The identity of the Roms as a people is difficult to conceptualise if one’s understanding of nationhood is bound to territory, national sovereignty and formal institutions. We tend to think of a nation as having a land, a state, an official language and a recorded history.”

Matras rightly debunks the idea that the Roma are in constant motion; some settlements go back decades, while it’s often pushy local authorities, or grand projects such as the 2012 Olympics, that perturb and unanchor inhabitants. No doubt he’d agree that it’s odd, if not downright hypocritical, for them to be so routinely talked about in the language of pandemics or military conquest (“swarms”, “invasions”), or that they should be damned for their perceived nomadism when non-Roma society fetishises speed and circulation, weekend breaks and EasyJet getaways.

No less strange is how European society discusses the Roma relationship to work. Often it’s assumed there is no relation: they’re portrayed as being indolent and like “chavs” (a Romani word). Specific histories – such as the number of Roma who served as snipers for Britain during the first world war or who laboured in munitions factories during the second world war – are conveniently overlooked. At the same time, the extravagant and voyeuristic attention given to the tiny number of Roma families who have lavish mansions feeds suspicions that “they” are getting rich at “our” expense.

Matras points out that most Roma live below the poverty line. This may be the price they pay for cleaving, in his words, “to independence and flexibility in earning their livelihood”. There’s not a vast amount of money to be made in hawking carpets, shifting deckchairs, repairing roofs, selling trinkets. Working seasonally rather than for steady wages is tough, but it’s neither illogical nor reprehensible. It may even be preferable to the forms of psychic servitude and clocked-on torment that capitalism inflicts on so many people.

Perhaps on one level we suspect that already. Matras draws attention to the many novels (including ones by DH Lawrence and Virginia Woolf) that celebrate the Roma for their perceived transgressions, as well as the hundreds of songs – by jazzbos, metal bands and folk chanteuses – that, however hokey and sentimental, fantasise about exercising Gypsy freedoms.

He might also have mentioned Ewan MacColl who, when speaking of his experiences recording The Travelling People (1964), the final episode in his widely revered Radio Ballads series, recalled: “There were occasions when it was easy to imagine that one had slipped through a time-warp and was in a place where automobiles and television and supermarket were still in the future. To sit in the dark in a bow-tent made by throwing a tarpaulin over bent sycamore saplings and to listen to a disembodied voice telling the story of the firebird was to experience a special kind of enchantment.”

To some that kind of reverie is as worthy of scorn as situationist Guy Debord championing the Roma as fork‑tongued rebels, rhetorical refuseniks whose dialects helped them avoid capture by straight society: “The Gypsies rightly contend that one is never obliged to speak the truth except in one’s own language; in the enemy’s language the lie must reign.”

But both MacColl and Debord are, in their different ways, expressing their shared belief that what gets called civilisation all too often feels like enclosure. Perhaps today’s hatred of the Roma springs mostly from hatred of ourselves – our complicity in a deformed social system that few of us can imagine opting out of.

Originally published in The Guardian 29 January 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/29/i-met-lucky-people-review


A Roma reality check by Yaron Matras

Gypsies in Cumbria

Last week a friend told me about a conversation he overheard at a hairdressers in Birmingham. The barber complained about the competition, which kept rates low by employing immigrant staff. “They’re probably Romanian, you can tell from the caravans outside,” he joked, then added hastily: “But I shouldn’t say that.” In the weeks leading up to 1 January, Romanians and Bulgarians were said to be queuing up to take advantage of the lifting of employment restrictions in the UK. Several weeks on we know that the panic was unjustified and the warnings were pure scaremongering. But the hairdresser revealed something about the public’s perception of the debate. Romanians are equated with Roma – hence the association with caravans and the shyness to appear politically incorrect.

“Roma” does sound a bit like “Romanian”, so you can’t blame people for getting confused. But the similarity is coincidental. Many Roma live in Romania, but there are also Roma communities in Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary and many other countries. Most Roma don’t live in caravans, either; in south-eastern and central Europe they have been settled since the 15 century, often segregated on the outskirts of towns and villages.

It is the image of Roma on our streets that triggers an emotional reaction, more so than the thought of just any citizen from new EU member states arriving at a job centre in Basingstoke or Leeds. It was the Roma who were singled out last November by the deputy prime minister as “intimidating” and “offensive” in their behaviour. Unfounded allegations that Roma were kidnapping children in Greece and Ireland didn’t help either.

Why is the presence of Roma in Britain perceived as a challenge? There is, to some extent, the reality on the ground: Roma organise their lives in extended families and rely on their family structures for support. When they migrate they do so in large groups and not as individuals. This makes them more conspicuous, as they require clusters of rented homes in close proximity; they are often seen socialising outdoors because their houses cannot accommodate large groups.

But this does not explain entirely these reactions. Our perception of Roma is shaped by fictional images of Gypsies that are deeply entrenched in our culture. This fictional image represents the opposite of our own values: our society restrains the way it expresses emotion, so we envy the passion that Gypsies express through their music and colourful appearance. We feel trapped by the routines of our daily lives, so we romanticise Gypsy life as free and spontaneous, but we also resent it as lawless and uncontrolled. Roma organise their work in families and are usually self-employed, but we think of them as work-shy. They have no country of their own, so we regard them as rootless.

Perception and prejudice stand in the way of a rational assessment of the real problems on the ground faced by Roma migrants. But if we put them aside, we find that there are more opportunities than challenges. Compared with their neighbours in the deprived urban districts in which they tend to settle, Roma are more likely than others to find work and their children are more likely to attend school regularly. Allegations of a propensity to crime among Roma migrants have repeatedly been dismissed by local police as baseless.

Rather than change their behaviour or their culture, the challenge facing Roma migrants is how to make use of opportunities to settle, gain skills and participate in community life while protecting their own identity and values just like any other ethnic minority. The bigger challenge is how to change majority society’s attitudes to Roma.

By definition, social inclusion can only take place if exclusionary practices are eradicated. Instead of blaming the Roma for our fears and fantasies, we should reach out to them and allow ourselves to be inspired by their generosity, flexibility and their commitment to mutual support.

Article originally appeared in the Guardian on Wednesday, 12 February – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/12/roma-reality-check

Meet the Gypsy entrepreneurs

Travelling people are putting their business skills to increasingly impressive use
 24 August 2013
Travellers Attend The Annual Appleby Horse Fair

Ask anyone from the settled community (known as ‘gorgias’ to Romani Gypsies and as ‘country people’ to Irish Travellers) what Gypsies do for money and the list would be short: tarmacking, roofing, scrap-metal dealing, hawking or maybe horse dealing.

This picture, of course, has a germ of truth in it. Many Gypsies still work as skilled labourers — but what’s remarkable is just how entrepreneurial they are, too. These are trading peoples, with a global attitude towards seeking work that would impress even Iain Duncan Smith. I’ve been astonished to discover that many English and Scottish Romani Gypsies are enthusiastic Freemasons. Away from evictions such as Dale Farm, in October 2011, most Romani Gypsies and Travellers get on with life — trading both inside their communities in what one Irish Traveller entrepreneur, the antiques dealer Candy Sheridan, dubs a ‘parallel economy’ and, somewhat quietly, outside with the settled community too.

Traders are comfortable travelling abroad to find work. Many Gypsy men are not only fluent in English but also speak German, French and a smattering of Scandinavian languages. This is striking, since academics often bewail the fact that many can’t read or write — a relic of a nomadic lifestyle where they were often moved on every few days from stopping places and few attended schools. But their linguistic skills are very impressive. So is their lack of dependence on benefits, which many men in the cultures feel are shameful to obtain. They would rather travel across Europe to work.

Professions vary in the Gypsy and Traveller communities, but the more traditional unskilled jobs are disappearing fast. Many have turned themselves into tree surgeons or landscape gardeners, for instance, as casual work in the agricultural industry has dried up. More worryingly for the Gypsies, as of this year, regulation of the scrap-metal industry has tightened. Hard as this is in the short term, it is probable that the communities will adapt fast. The evangelical Gypsy Church Life and Light, which is spreading fast throughout the communities, holds Bible-reading classes for adults. These are boosting literacy rates, and that in turn makes it easier for adults to obtain professional certification for skilled work.

More traditional professions are respected abroad, if not here. The Gypsy cob, a powerfully built, quiet and handsome horse, usually of piebald or skewbald colouring, with feathered feet and a luxurious mane and tail, has become popular abroad, exported by British Gypsy dealers.

Two years ago, British dealers were selling cobs for tens of thousands of pounds as far afield as the US, Brazil, Australia and Russia. That market has shrunk since the recession but remains active. One such dealer, Loretta Rawlings, who alongside her husband has been exporting cobs since 1999, told me that the elders who dealt in horses were taken aback by the welcome they got when they went to the US, where the Gypsy Horse Registry of America maintains a DNA database of the breed. ‘The dealers are treated like royalty there. Funny that they have to travel 3,000 miles to get respect, and they are outcasts here.’

Despite the impression that Gypsy and Traveller culture is male-dominated, women are well-respected traders. Go to any horse fair and you’ll see Gypsy and Traveller women running stalls with considerable flair, trading traditional clothes, antiques, bedding and collectable china (Crown Derby being most coveted). The aforementioned Candy Sheridan, who rose to prominence when she challenged the eviction at Dale Farm, maintains that Gypsy and Traveller women are born entrepreneurs. ‘We are brought up to work. Most girls and women contribute to their fathers’ and husbands’ businesses. Women traders are popular at the markets and the fairs, and they like supporting their families. But perhaps we’ve been a parallel economy for a long time, so people haven’t known about it.’


She also points out that many do not advertise their identity when they sell to gorgias. ‘Go to any car-boot sale or to any market stall and you’ll see Gypsy and Traveller women selling alongside men. And we are good saleswomen, remember we have always sold, we would dukker [tell fortunes] around the houses of the settled people and hawk, selling lavender, heather, holly, pegs, paper flowers. I’ve still got my grandmother’s hawking baskets. It’s a great distortion when you see Gypsy girls sitting at home not working.’

Their entrepreneurial spirit is feeding their success in other fields. Tom Ewer, a chef with Welsh Romani roots, has cooked in the Oxo Brasserie and now cooks at Caravan in King’s Cross. He also writes a popular blog, where he features old Gypsy recipes, including foraged food, drawing on tradition. He attributes his strong work ethic — he gets up at 5.30 every morning — and his passion for cooking to his roots: ‘Through an understanding of the way my ancestors lived, worked and ate, I have built an ethos and cooking style that reflects that. For me, family, tradition and simple but flavoursome food made to share with others is paramount when thinking about my job.’

Billy Welch, a sherar rom or elder within the community, organises Appleby Horse Fair every year in Cumbria, which attracts about 10,000 from the community and a further 30,000 tourists. He told me that the links between entrepreneurial Gypsy men and the Freemasons are also helpful for business. Showing me his intricate masonic ring, he said: ‘This was my father’s ring, he was one too. Freemasons aren’t anti-Gypsy; the thing I like best about Freemasonry is that in it all men are equal.’

The links between Freemasonry and Romani Gypsies are thought to go back centuries. Cornelius van Paun, in his Philosophical Researches on The Egyptians and The Chinese, advanced the theory that Freemasonry was introduced to Europe by Romani Gypsies. James Simpson, in his History of the Gypsies, published in 1866, observed that there were many Gypsy Freemasons, including lodge masters. This link remains strong today. Billy Welch comes from Darlington, a town known as the ‘Gypsy capital’ of the UK, as it’s estimated that around a third of the population has Romani roots. Welch notes: ‘A couple of my cousins have even been in the chair, they’ve been quite high up.’

Damian Le Bas, editor of Travellers’ Times, explains the reasoning behind Freemason membership. ‘If it’s good for business, they will do it. If you think about it rationally, if you have got people who are part of the rural and urban economy for 500 years, it would be miraculous if they weren’t, especially a community that is so typically self-employed, fiercely entrepreneurial, where masculine identity is so tied up with making a living. Our identity is all about making good business contacts, being the boy who makes good, and that is the prototype of working-class people that Masons are looking to incorporate.’

But it’s not all plain sailing for Gypsy and Traveller businessmen, says Billy Welch. Such is the stigma of being a Gypsy that many successful businesspeople still hide their Romani or Traveller roots. Billy Welch told me: ‘I could take you to mansions, people who have houses worth millions, who drive Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, who have tennis courts, wine cellars and swimming pools. But they hide their roots because if they don’t people stop trading with them. I lost a lot of business when I started to organise Appleby. There are Gypsies and Travellers living in expensive apartments near Harrods, who spend half the year in Dubai. Then there are the 500, as we call them, who own skyscrapers in New York, who are all -originally English Gypsies. They turn up at our big weddings in limos, and they still pull on at Appleby, at least once in their lives.’

Some of the biggest businesses in the country are owned by Gypsies — shipyards, car dealerships, scrapyards, caravan suppliers, carpet shops and exporters, Welch says. ‘We are true business people, we are like Asians or Jewish people. We don’t just tarmac, or sell beds and windows. We do big business. We just keep quiet about it.’

Katharine Quarmby is author of No Place to Call Home: Inside the Real Lives of Gypsies and Travellers.


No place for Travellers says Badger and Batty.

Plans have been abandoned to create a 10 pitch Gypsy and Traveller site in Efford, Plymouth after council minutes from 30 years ago saying the site was unsuitable have been uncovered.

Cllr Brian Vincent, ward councillor for Efford and Lipson has acknowledged that there is a significant need for provisioned to be made in and around Plymouth for Gypsies and Travellers,  however he has helped conclude that as the site was not suitable for habitation 30 years ago when it was first used as a temporary site, it would be ‘unfair’ to continue plans as “People’s aspirations are far greater now.” Instead the £516,000 funding for the Efford site will be used to make improvements at The Ride, Plymouth’s only official site that in May 2012 proved to be an inadequate provision for Devon’s homeless Travellers looking for a legal place to live as it attracts more applications than it has pitches.

“We still have significant need for Gypsy and Traveller sites in Plymouth and finding suitable locations is essential. This will be an important part of the development of the Plymouth Plan and any detailed proposals will be the subject to thorough consultation.” – Cllr Brian Vincent


Plymouth City Council has decided that the brown field site would best serve as a ‘wildlife area’ where nature would be allowed to take control, hoping that £2,000 allocated from the community fund will help turn it into a new home for bats, foxes and badgers.

“We are looking to improve the ecosystem by breaking up the concrete bases of the old shower blocks to encourage a natural progression of wildflowers.” – Cllr Brian Vincent

A success for badgers and opposition group Horseshoe Residents’ Association, but a bleak day for Travellers as the charity Friends, Families and Travellers have been reported to have accused the council of making a short-sighted decision that would increase homelessness.

“It’s deeply disappointing, Homelessness in the travelling community is 25% higher than the fixed community. It’s a desperate situation because those without somewhere permanent to go face an endless cycle of eviction.” Emma Nuttall, Friends, Families and Travellers Advice and Policy manager (via BBC News)

Concerns have also been raised regarding the cost efficiency of the change in proposal with the council reporting to spend between £16,000 and £300,000 a year on  processing unauthorised encampments where homeless Travellers have been forced to settle. “We have nowhere else to go and no other choice but to camp on derelict sites” said a local Traveller seeking advice from Friends, Families and Travellers: “it’s impossible to get planning permission anywhere even when we own the land.”

In all toil there is profit

As the immigration of Roma to Western European states continues to cause media panic, Damian Le Basconsiders the history of Romani trades and the astonishing variety of jobs that Europe and Asia have relied on their “Gypsies” to do.

Picture: dental forceps, picture © The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. To find out the significance of this picture, please read on…

Picture: dental forceps, picture © The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. To find out the significance of this picture, please read on…

I’M a writer and a filmmaker: I write and make films for a living, and writing and films are what put food on my table. That might not strike some people as particularly surprising, but to me, it still is.

When I was younger I tried to think of myself as a writer, but it was hard to really believe it. It was a vague aspiration, not a sensible ambition. And the most sensible ambition I could have had wasn’t really an “ambition” anyway: it was to do what everyone else did, the work that had put food on the table for years.

When I was a kid, “what everyone else did” meant either selling flowers or doing building and roofing work. These were the sensible options, and even people in my family who had aspirations still had to do the sensible stuff. My mother and father were artists, but art didn’t pay the bills. They still sold flowers to make ends meet. So I guessed that once I grew up I’d sell flowers or do some kind of building. There were other options that seemed a bit more exotic but were still pretty close to home: selling horses, fixing motors, or buying and selling scrap; but the idea of selling words I’d actually written myself, or films I’d actually made, would have sounded about as realistic as thinking I could go and open a flower shop in outer space.

In Romani culture, the idea that you should do ‘our kind of work’, ‘Gypsy work’ or ‘Romani buki’ or whatever you happen to call it, is a powerful one. Why shouldn’t it be? We might think of how common it is in all cultures to establish a ‘family business’, a trade you and your vitsa are known and trusted for: fine. But setting up shop in a job that plays to your strengths is not the same thing as playing a role in the world of work because other people just expect you to, or because you don’t believe you can do anything different.

Outside Romani culture, the idea of ‘Gypsy jobs’ is probably even more powerful. So what jobs do we do? They could be classified in different ways I suppose. There are the jobs that are jobs, and are useful to society; the jobs that are jobs, and aren’t useful to society; and the jobs that aren’t actually jobs, but crimes. So, as examples, in the first group we have agricultural labour (farm work); in the second group, fortune telling; and in the third group, stealing. There’s one hypothetical, externally generated tri-partite paradigmatic prism for viewing Romani labour. Or- in English- an outsider’s way of looking at Romani work.

Why do views like this continue to prevail, when they clearly have a detrimental effect on Romani people’s view of themselves and their potential (as they would have on anyone’s) and also clearly fail to describe the variety of jobs we are doing and, also, the variety of jobs we have always done? Yes, you read that correctly: the variety of jobs we have always done.

In the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford University, my mother came across the pair of dental forceps shown in the picture above. The card attached reads:

Dental forceps made by local GYPSIES. Made of iron, with long, slender, curved handle: the small pincer jaws end in two teeth on each side. Length c.17cm. People:
Albanian Gypsies. Locality: Scutari, Albania. Collected by Miss M.E
Durham, 1911. How acquired: presented by her, 1933.”

This information is significant, but not as significant as what Professor Thomas Acton later unfolded about these forceps. The Romani people (“Albanian Gypsies”) who made them would not only have been blacksmiths talented enough to make medical instruments, but they were also doing the dentistry. This is at least 80 years ago, and these “Gypsies” were dentists.

This is but one example of the variety I mentioned above, but it’s a didactic example at least. I can’t fully explain why this discovery made me smile so much, but I’ll try to explain it in part. I smiled- as I did when I first read about Helios Gomez, the artist and political thinker who was also Gitano- because it made me realise that, coming from a Romani family and feeling that I have a good grasp of my cultural heritage, there is still so much I do not know, that most of us do not know, about the range of things our people have done to survive. Historical textbooks are at pains to point out that one reason why Roma people in the Islamic world were doing trades like dentistry is because they were considered unclean by others: this information is of secondary significance to me. The main thing is that the resourcefulness and skill of these Roma led them to take up this trade, and this history of flexibility, and of skill, is not being made enough of in the current political discourse around Romani immigration.

Above: the Gitano artist and leftist political thinker, Helios Gomez.

Above: the Gitano artist and leftist political thinker, Helios Gomez.

There is one other caveat to all this discussion, which thrives on the presumption of laziness and fecklessness among Romani people. Let’s keep it simple: in plenty of corners generally hidden from the selective eyes of well-known history, Europe has gotten rich by breaking the backs of Romani people who worked and worked for centuries, the problem being that they were neither paid, nor respected as humans. Vast, successful corporations (you know who you are) have been seeded in this way and continue to thrive from these roots, and the very least we can ask is that this be noted and respected as part of the history of our continent.

In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty:” so we are told by the biblical book of Proverbs. It’s a nice quotation with a bold simplicity to it, and you might even find yourself nodding along. I did. Then I thought about reality, and one reality in particular: slavery. It’s unlikely that the author (or compiler) of the book of Proverbs was a slave: literate slaves were few and far between in the ancient Near East. Anyway, in the toil of slavery there is indeed profit, it’s just that the profit doesn’t happen to go to the one who is toiling.

By Damian Le Bas

In all toil there is profit.


Return to Dale Farm – ‘Two years later, we’ve got nothing’

I usually don’t discuss Travellers but the Dale Farm eviction was a mess of gargantuan scale that made no economical or logical sense. A lot of money was wasted to make the area worse, nobody can be happy with this.


Return to Dale Farm – ‘Two years later, we’ve got nothing’

Travellers living in Dale Farm face a bleak winter. It is just over two years since Basildon council evicted them from their land and demolished their homes, reports Sadie Robinson

Dale Farm in 2013,  two years after bailiffs and bulldozers destroyed a vibrant and  long-standing community of Travellers

Dale Farm in 2013, two years after bailiffs and bulldozers destroyed a vibrant and long-standing community of Travellers (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Travellers living in Dale Farm face a bleak winter. It is just over two years since Basildon council evicted them from their land and demolished their homes, reports Sadie Robinson

For many Christmas is a time to celebrate. But for one group of families in Essex it will be just another day spent in cold caravans on a muddy roadside surrounded by rats.

It’s just over two years since Basildon council evicted 86 families from the Dale Farm Traveller site. Many are still living on the road just yards from the plots they were forced from—because they have nowhere else to go.

And shockingly, Basildon council’s new housing report said that evicted Dale Farm Travellers will not be housed for being a burden. The council admits that this decision is “political” (see below).

Mary Sheridan is one of those evicted in October 2011. She told Socialist Worker, “I’ve lived at Dale Farm for eight years. “I was happy living here. But look at how we have to live now. We’re living in filth.”

The road is covered in mud and potholes. Women are forever pouring soapy water outside their homes in an effort to keep things clean.

Brid, who has lived at the site for around six years, is one of them. She told Socialist Worker she cleaned the roads around every two hours. “I’ve got pains in my back now after lifting the water for cleaning the road,” she said.

Before the eviction Dale Farm was divided into legal and illegal plots. Travellers living on the illegal plots owned the land but had been repeatedly refused planning permission to live there.

Dale Farm residents are forced to live on the roadside

Dale Farm residents are forced to live on the roadside (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Now those stuck on the roadside have to rely on people living in legal plots to supply them with water and electricity. Cables run over the wall from chalets on the legal site to the caravans.

Brid said her main worry was for the children. “A lot of kids are getting sick here,” she said. “There’s a lot of sickness and diarrhoea. There are no toilets. If the council brought in disposable ones we would take care of them and clean them ourselves. They should try to do something about this. We’re living like rats.”

Living on the roadside means living next to a regular flow of traffic. “It’s worse when the snow and ice comes,” said Brid. “You’re scared that the cars will skid and come right into the caravan.”

The Environment Agency has confirmed that there is asbestos at Dale Farm. And the Red Cross reported concerns about “raw sewage” and the lack of toilets.

Martin O’Leary is another Traveller who was evicted from the site. He told Socialist Worker that the area he used to live on “is now a pothole, a swimming pool for rats”.

“You can hear them at night,” added John Fox, “If you throw a piece of food outside at night you can hear them rush for it.”

Basildon council leader Tony Ball led the eviction—at a cost of over £7 million. He then claimed the council would offer “housing assistance” to those made homeless. But as Mary put it, “Two years later, we’ve got nothing.”

Paddy said the treatment of Travellers have showed that Ball is “prejudiced”.

“Ball should’ve spent the money he spent evicting us on a new site,” said Paddy. “We would’ve loved to have moved out if there was a new site to go to. But he’s gone home to his big house and his big TV. Look how we’re living. We’re human beings. But they’re treating us like animals.”

Travellers at Dale Farm are used to racist scapegoating. As Martin put it, “This area has one of the lowest crime rates in Basildon. But whenever there’s a crime, they always blame the gypsies.”

Basildon council said it evicted Travellers from Dale Farm because it wanted to “return” the land to greenbelt. But before Travellers bought the land, it was a scrap yard.

And the former site was dug up by bulldozers during the eviction. Deep trenches that stop vehicles returning to the site have mixed up tarmac, soil and concrete.

Piles of bricks and wood litter the site with old furniture, children’s toys, a mattress, carpets and bags of sand. People have been forced to use the land as a toilet in the absence of anything else.

“We’re still not back to ourselves,” said Margaret Gammell. “It’s terrible stress.”

“It’s not fair,” added John. “We never stole the land—we bought it. All that money they spent on the eviction and we’re still here. But now we’re living in a health hazard.”

Some people ask why the Travellers don’t travel and go elsewhere. But changes in the law have made it harder for Travellers to move around. There are fewer legal sites for them to go to.

Some of those living at Dale Farm, such as Brid, ended up there after being evicted from other sites.And some Travellers wanted a permanent address to make it easier to access doctors and for children to go to school.

“If we go somewhere else,” said John, “the police just say it’s illegal to be there and move you on.”

For all the problems, Travellers have fought to make a home on the roadside. Many have doormats and pot plants outside their caravan doors. Washing hangs out to dry on a metal fence that keeps Travellers out of an adjacent field.

Festive decorations adorn the caravans and signs in the windows read, “Merry Christmas”. But many feel far from festive.

“We’re living like we were 40 years ago,” said Pat. “If we lived in a third world country we’d be treated better than this.

“To be treated like this is a joke.”

Building on greenbelt

Basildon council plans to build thousands of houses on nearly 500 hectares of greenbelt land—cutting 7 percent of its greenbelt. Councillors were set to discuss the plans at a meeting on Thursday of next week and a public consultation is set for the New Year.

The plan for 12,000 new homes would allow around 9,100 to be built on greenbelt land. Tory council leader Tony Ball claimed the plan to build on greenbelt was actually aimed at protecting it.

“Allocating a limited release of greenbelt protects the rest of it even more, without allocation the greenbelt is open season for developers,” he said.

‘It’s political’

There will be no provision for Travellers evicted from Dale Farm for “political reasons”, say Basildon council. The council’s new housing plan includes provision for 121 Traveller pitches over the next 20 years.

This is based on an assessment of Traveller needs in the borough—excluding those evicted from Dale Farm.

If they were included in the provision, the council would need to provide an extra 155 pitches. Tory council leader Tony Ball said, “We are not going to make provision for those formally moved from Dale Farm.”

When asked for the reason behind this, the council’s press office told Socialist Worker, “That is a political decision”.

The council produced a report on its housing plan this month.

It said, “Whilst the advice in ‘Planning Policy for Traveller Sites’ is that local authorities should plan for all those families wishing to reside in their areas, the Council considers that having to plan for 155 pitches as well as the 121 would place an unrealistic burden on the Council.

“Basildon has always argued that the provision of traveller sites is a regional and national issue and not one that should automatically be resolved by those authorities where the families happen to arrive and settle.”

If the council gets away with its plan, other councils can argue that it is too much of a “burden” to provide for Travellers.

It risks leaving more Travellers stranded on the road—where they will be moved on because they are living “illegally”.

Read on original site


Pat’s comment at the end amused me, no Pat if you lived in a third world country (so one not allied to America or the USSR???) you wouldn’t be treated any better… But then again you’re not Roma so maybe… but I highly doubt it.

Quick Response: “Gypsy” School in UK?

A new education centre has opened in Birmingham for children who do not have a school place or have been excluded from mainstream school.

Baverstock in the City targets Gypsy and traveller children, those for whom English is not their first language and pupils with challenging behaviour.

It is a Balsall Heath branch of The Baverstock Academy.

An application to turn it into a free school has been prepared, which would give it a capacity of 1,000 students.

‘No place for them’

Thomas Marshall, head teacher of The Baverstock Academy, said: “There are close to 900 Gypsy Romany traveller children without a school place at the moment.

“The number of students with English as a second language is growing and growing across the city as people move into Birmingham and they don’t have school places because they tend to move into the centre of the city where there aren’t enough secondary schools.”

He said his experience with teaching excluded students was developed at the academy which regularly made eight or nine permanent exclusions each year and had a very high number of fixed-term exclusions when he took over in September 2010.

“When they enjoy education they want to take part even further and achieve goals… The children want to be educated and there was no place for them,” he added.

‘Get on without bullying’

Damien Le Bas, editor of the Travellers’ Times, said Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers report problems with school that includes bullying and teachers that misunderstand their ethnicity.

He said: “People forget that in the 1960s lots of schools wouldn’t accept traveller children so there is an historic cultural problem and it’s no surprise we [Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers] have the worst educational attainment in the country over all indicators.”

He said traveller children can have an expectation they will take part in a family business, sometimes instead of school, from a young age.

“I welcome this focus on traveller education, though am not sure about separating students,” he added.

“I benefitted enormously through being in a mixed school with people with high expectations, but I know some who wish they’d been able to be in a school just with travellers so they could get on without the bullying and other problems they faced.”

About 30 students will be inducted to the centre at the Friends Institute on Moseley Road later and a further 50 are expected to start this academic year. – BBC NEWS


The concept is really big in Europe and they’re really disgusting places to be, they’re basically sanatoriums, and forced enrolment has nothing to do with performance it’s based purely on ethnicity, topped up with ‘excluded pupils and others without a school place’. I’m sure nothing like that would happen here…
But you never know it might be a good thing but to group a group of ethnicities together with excluded pupils (side note: then shame the excluded pupils by calling it a “Gypsy” school, they’re not really going to like that) is pretty damning, you haven’t even arrived yet and you’re a ‘trouble maker’. A ‘drop in centre’ style thing would be pretty useful, not really viable but I would see people suggesting it, but it occurs to me that if you are already settled in Birmingham (or wherever), then you’re settled enough to apply for a ‘normal’ school place. But as Damien says, to have somewhere you can just ‘get on with it’ would be a welcome thing, assuming of course the ‘trouble’ children don’t hold them back, but continuing to segregate people isn’t going to promote inclusion, if we can’t get children of different cultures to play together how are we to expect them to play nicely as adults – both sides need to learn that the other isn’t “dirty, violent or stupid”. Settled people have jut as much of an image problem in Travelling communities as Travellers have in settled communities.
The idea of including speaks of foreign languages (umm good luck with that because I doubt many Europeans will be pleased about sending their children to the ‘”Gypsy” school’. Polish, Romanian, Bulgarian, Czech, good luck with that) is an interesting one, it would be interesting to see if the demand is high enough to bring in teachers that speak, at least a passing level, of Romani to accommodate for the increasing number of Roma refugees and immigrants. Most English Romany now use English as their first language (as do the Irish), the old chib is broken, but there are plenty of Roma children that require the additional support (but once again they’re from, or have family in, these countries with specialist Roma schools…).
It would be interesting, if the government is going to open a “Gypsy” school to open a “Gypsy” school, not just one for troubled children but an actual good quality school comparable to that of Jewish schools, providing high quality education whilst promoting cultural values (but whose culture? there isn’t but one), and some teachers who are themselves Romani and Pavee/Irish Travellers. Make it a place for, not a place to put. It’s never going to happen but equally why not? Forced inclusion doesn’t work, forced exclusion doesn’t work, to move forward we have to work with people.