I am a Romany Gypsy and this is my home...
'Home to me, is living on a caravan site. This is what a normal day looks like for me....'
I wake up in the morning to the sound of the men getting ready for work. The children go off to school, except the teenagers. The teenage boys normally go to work with their dads. The teenage girls stay home to help mum with the elderly and the younger children. When everyone is out, you change the beds – the bunks go back to sofas, the dining table stops being a bed.
You stop to pay the rent, get the electricity on the meter; you pay the gasman, who comes with the gas bottles. We clean from top to bottom. The women and older girls are cleaning the rooves, the walls, outside of the pitch, cleaning the shed (the dayroom). The younger girls are playing with the babies. Everyone stops for lunch. Two women come over, they have been arguing about what the Bible says – they can’t read, so they ask me who’s right.
The women get washed; we sit down and have a coffee before putting food on for the men coming home. Women who drive will take those who don’t, to the shops. The elderly are taken care of, or if a young mum is having a hard day, someone will take care of her, or take care of her baby for her. The men get home, have their dinner and congregate outside. The site is full. There are no more spaces. The site is overcrowded. To get a pitch, you have to wait for neighbours to die.
In some cities, there are no permanent sites, no transit sites and they don’t do negotiated stopping. There’s me, living by the side of a house with broken windows and a broken door, scared to go out to clean my caravan in case they smash it more. Local leaders do not always support us in the local community when an unauthorised encampment comes to town. Families with nowhere to go, families with poor mental health, our families have the highest rates of suicide, the highest rate of infant mortality, poor access to GPs, barriers to education and word. The children on roadside camps ask ‘why do they hate us, why do they want rid of us?’ How do you answer that?
Two places come up at a site in Dorset. They go to old people who were roadside. A place comes up in Wakefield, because someone has died. There are hundreds of applicants. Human rights are supposed to protect us, but local authorities and the Police don't often see British Romany Gypsies, Irish and Scottish Travellers as a priority . There are no laws for local authorities to build sites, but there is Government funding available to them – I say they should use it more and build more sites. I believe it is possible to create good relationships between us and local residents.
The next day, you wake up early and instead of cleaning, you travel to the Fair. You set up, you get your stall ready (my stall is horse tack). The music is playing, and the field is full of sellers. Men are selling horses, boys are playing together and girls are wearing their best. Babies are wearing frilly dresses, with ice cream dripping down it. It’s hustle and bustle, excitement and fun. No drama. We head off to the next Fair, leaving the field spotless.
Walsall for All with thanks to Abiline McShane, A British Romany Gypsy and a spokesperson for rights of Gypsies, Travellers and Roma in West Midlands and UK.