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.



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.

Reblog Pip Borev: An Open Letter to Carol Vorderman

Dear Carol Vorderman, 

I was somewhat shocked to discover that you still have a career after coming across your ignorant, vile and derogatory rant about Gypsy and Traveller communities in Closer magazine. This shock, however, was short lived when I remembered that, as you point out, there is one rule for us and one rule for the rest of society. Nonetheless, I am still rather bewildered as to why you feel so hard done by, thus, I would like to highlight to you the special privileges that you, as a rich, white and successful celebrity, are missing out on by not being part of a Gypsy or Traveller community. 

Under the Race Relations Act 1976, Gypsy and Traveller communities are recognised as ethnic minorities, thus, supposedly should be protected from discrimination. I guess you find this very unfair – why should a bunch of delinquents who decided to live in caravans be entitled to these extra rights that the hard working white tax payer doesn’t get? Maybe if you bought a caravan and became a Gypsy then you would also be able to bask in the privileges that the Race Relations Act supposedly brings, such as: being refused registration at your local GP surgery; being refused service from pubs and restaurants; being forced to deny your identity so you are not bullied at school or refused employment; and being refused planning permission whether it be on the green belt, a remote mountain peak or the moon. 
What more could Gypsy and Traveller communities want? All these extra privileges and still they have to snatch away the very few pleasures that the rest of society are given, such as cricket pitches, village greens, playing fields and the roadside. Of the19,413 Gypsy and Traveller caravans in England, 84% are on authorised sites while 16% on unauthorised sites. Under the Housing Act 1996, a person is considered homeless if they have accommodation but “there is no place where he is entitled or permitted both to place it and to reside in it”. Therefore, any Gypsy or Traveller living on an unauthorised site can be considered homeless. The Coalition government have withdrawn funding for and repealed targets to provide sites for Gypsy and Traveller communities whilst introducing greater powers for local authorities to challenge unauthorised developments. This was introduced in spite of the fact that there is a widely documented pitch shortage. In Preston, the home of the Hoghton Cricket Club whom you speak of so fondly of, there are an estimated 111 Gypsies and Travellers but just 14 pitches. The presence of unauthorised sites, thus, is hardly surprising. 
But what about the people “who pay their taxes and work hard to keep their homes and villages nice”? Why should they be subjected to the injustice of having homeless people living in their white middle class villages? Why can’t Gypsies and Traveller just live in houses like everyone else? Turns out, that around one half to two thirds of Gypsies and Travellers are living in bricks and mortar accommodation. If you would like the rest of us to join them then we will happily ditch centuries of nomadic tradition and move in next door to you and your hard working neighbours Carol. Oh wait, that’s right, you wouldn’t want the likes of me living next door to you would you? So where should we go? Should we only ‘invade’ the not so “pristine” parks situated in council estates, after all, as long as we’re not leaving behind “faeces” on the precious cricket pitches of middle class villages, does it really matter? Or do you simply want the “Gypsy problem” to disappear as Hitler advocated during WWII when he murdered 500,000 Romani Gypsies, including members of my own family.
The truth is that you are entirely correct. There is one rule for Gypsies and Travellers and one rule for everyone else, except it is your rule that comes crammed with extra privileges. Gypsies and Travellers are hated not because they ‘invade’ fields and cricket pitches, but because they have been a hugely maligned and despised minority since their arrival to Europe and the UK, centuries ago. They have been subjected to slavery, extermination, sterilisation, segregation both geographically and in education, evictions, poverty, hate crime, and the criminalisation of their entire culture. In spite of this, the rest of society wonders why we remain so resistant to assimilation. The sad truth is that despite Hitler’s attempted extermination of Europe’s Romani community, attitudes towards Gypsy and Traveller communities have not changed but instead have remained hostile and prejudiced. “Discrimination against gypsies and travellers appears to be the last ‘respectable’ form of racism” and goes without the same level of outrage that racism towards other ethnic minorities receives. Had your column included a similar article about any other ethnic minority, I am certain that you would be surrounded by shame and scandal. Perhaps then Carol, you are a very lucky that there is one rule for Gypsies and Travellers and one rule for everyone else, as if there wasn’t your career would certainly be over. 
Yours sincerely,
Pip Borev.

Reblogged from:

International Romani Day

For International Romani Day I’m thinking of doing a little bit of an International Romani Awareness Day by using my twitter account to post a series of questions, on the hour every hour, followed briefly by an answer. A kinda IQ style quiz.

As yet I’m not quite sure of exactly what questions I am planning on asking but I think I’m looking at basic categories

International Romani Day – History.

Romani Culture and History;

The Holocaust

Romani Culture Today

Situation in Europe

Situation in UK

Situation World Wide

The problem is I’m always worried about getting something wrong or misrepresenting something. This is so incredibly important I don’t want to misinform people.

Not enough drama for TV

Today I pitched an idea to BBC about professionals who are from Romany or Travelling background but who don’t feel comfortable revealing their culture and ethnicity to their colleagues or, in many cases. even their peers.

Now I completely and wholeheartedly agree with their feedback but I couldn’t help but feel a little bit stupid.

The idea that being Romany would matter to ones peers is absurd, why would anyone care (negatively) about their friend or work colleague being a Traveller? It seems strange and that’s why I felt stupid because the commissioner could not see the tension in the proposal and I agree but there is a feeling amongst Travellers (of all ethnicities) that we have to hide our ethnicities to be ‘successful’ and build status in mainstream society; this feeling is not ungrounded, we feel this way for a reason, we have experience it before (either personally or through our elders).

This might seem strange to someone who has not experienced this first hand but that doesn’t mean that it is not an issue that people have to face on a day-to-day basis.

These types of ideas are not yet ready to be brought to the eyes of a BBC audience but I can’t help but feel driven by this. I have a hypothesis, now I need to prove it one way or tother.

FAQ Gypsies and Travellers

Romany Gypsy and Traveller families have been an integral part of British society since before the time of King Henry VIII yet myths and misconceptions continue to be perpetrated in both the media and the public mind. At times it certainly seems that discrimination against Romany Gypsies and Travellers is the last acceptable form of racism.

Below are a series of FAQ and the truth on the matter.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers are thieves and criminals!

FACT – There is no evidence of higher crime rates amongst Gypsies and Travellers. Whilst some are involved in crime, just as in any other community, members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities are statistically underrepresented in the prison population.

Media reports and images are often inaccurate and discriminatory.

Some settled people engage in criminal activity, it is not assumed that this is a characteristic of all settled people.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers don’t pay tax!

FACT – Like everyone else Gypsies and Travellers pay road tax, VAT on goods and services, and income tax when working or self-employed. They also pay council tax and licence fees on their homes.

MYTH – Gypsies and Traveller live outside the law!

FACT – There is no evidence for above average crime rates amongst Gypsies and Travellers, likewise all taxes are paid.

Unfortunately housing is one of the biggest problems both Romany and Traveller families face.

Since 1994 councils have not be obliged to provide sites for Gypsy and Traveller families, this has lead to homeless Gypsies and Travellers having to stop in unsuitable, often dangerous locations. In 2002 Government research estimates that at least 4500 additional pitches are needed nationally.

As an alternative to this families who try to provide their own often find difficulties getting planning permission with only 10% of initial planning applications by Gypsies and Travellers succeeding compared to 80% of applications from the settled population. Subsequently continuing the cycle of eviction and homelessness.

The conflicts that can be generated are in nobody’s long-term interest.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers are dirty!

FACT – Gypsies and Travellers take pride in cleanliness in themselves and their homes, and have strict hygiene laws that govern their daily lives. For the Romani this is known as Marime (Mahrime) and dictates how food is prepared, clothes are washed and their homes are kept, at the very minimum different bowls are used for washing hands, food and different items of clothing.

Unfortunately, a quarter of Gypsies and Travellers are homeless without access to a legal site, limiting their availability to facilities such as running (tap) water or rubbish collection.

Between 1970 and 1994 under the Caravan Site Act 1966, when local authorities were obliged to provide sites many provided them in unsuitable locations far from local facilities, by motorways, rubbish tips or industrial activities.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers are work shy!

FACT – Gypsy and Traveller community members often start work young and traditional skills are passed down between generations. There is a strong work ethic within Gypsy and Traveller communities which is based simply on the need to survive and make a living.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers sites ruin neighbourhoods!

FACT – Research shows that relationships between Gypsies and Travellers and the settled community develop effectively where well-designed and well-managed sites are provided.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 1996 found that Gypsies and Travellers and settled neighbours have built up effective relationships once a site has been established.

MYTH – Can’t Gypsies and Travellers just live in houses!

The  courts  have confirmed that homeless  Gypsies  and Travellers should not be forced to accept conventional housing.

In 2003 a High Court the judge quoted European case law stating:

“In order to meet the requirements and accord respect, something more than taking account of an applicant’s Gypsy  culture is required…Respect includes the positive obligation to act so as to facilitate the Gypsy way of life.”

Although some Gypsies and Travellers are content with their brick-and-mortar homes others feel like they have been forced into them, accepting due to desperation at having nowhere else safe to go causing much difficulty and stress including isolated from their extended family. Romany culture developed alongside a travelling lifestyle making being ‘trapped’ in one place difficult for them, equally others may see the conventional positioning of the kitchen and bathroom in most houses as being incompatible with Romany hygiene laws.  Sometimes it is not simply not practical due to work commitments and business.

It is estimated that 50% of the UK’s Gypsies and Travellers now live in houses; however there are no accurate figures due to a lack of adequate surveying, including previously The National Census. This unknown can often lead to the needs of housed Gypsies and Travellers not being met.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers don’t pay tax!

FACT – Like everyone else Gypsies and Travellers pay road tax, VAT on goods and services, and income tax when working or self-employed. They also pay council tax and licence fees on their homes.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers are greedy!

Romani Gypsy and Irish Traveller culture often values portable wealth and unlike non-Gypsy culture this wealth is often highly visible but the amount of capital they might have in their homes is worth is far less than the equity many non-Gypsies have and in terms of caravans is constantly depreciating in value.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers don’t care about society!

FACT – Gypsies and Travellers are a part of society and not separate from it. They engaged in many paid and voluntary activities supporting local communities and national life.

Read More 

Leicestershire Together: Gypsies and Travellers – The Truth

Flintshire County Council: Gypsies and Travellers

Newark & Sherwood Community & Voluntary Service: Myths & Misconceptions