Where can we put them?
It seems this question is asked time and again by councils all over the UK and the governmental forces in charge of them. It isn’t just in continental Europe.
What can we do with the Gypsies?
When I was a kid in the UK, you could park your wagons anywhere – parking spots, temporary pitch-sites, common land (moors, “commons”, the edges of fallow fields). We could park by the beaches, woods, everywhere. Even land in the New Forest, considered “common land” isn’t that way anymore. They took away all our pitches because of “safety issues” or “complaints” or some other unexplained reason. They impounded our wagons as “unsafe” and “unsanitary” and said we were abusing our horses. My grandparents were forced into houses. Houses paid for by the council. Horse brasses hung on the hallway wall – a testament to “zurali” and “loli” our last horses. The houses were tiny, but spotlessly clean, ordered, and stereotypically “Roma”.
Our way of life was stripped from us. We’d still travel – cars, caravans, vans, trucks – whatever we could get a hold of. Every spring and summer. To the beach for fish, crabs, seaweed, and tourists; to the farms to pick raspberries, peas, strawberries, whatever-it-was-they-were-selling. We’d visit relatives in Southern England; in France (I remember my trip to Sara e Kali in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer like it was yesterday); in Slovakia and elsewhere if we could. Our stop-over spots got fewer and fewer and smaller and smaller. The large-pitch sites became ten-pitch or less. Not enough for our families to gather.
They called us Gypsies and Travellers. Attached each to our name – Roma Gypsy Travellers. Or Roma Travellers. Or Gypsy Travellers. Blurring and blending the demarcations of our cultures. Shoving us all in the same box. Easier to stuff us out of sight.
They wanted us gone. Hidden. Out of sight, out of mind. Our families couldn’t gather together. Our families couldn’t be together.
In fact, they wanted to stop our ways of life, culture, and languages altogether.
They’re still trying to do this. Arguing over where they can “put” us. Where we can “stay”. Where we can be seen and where we can’t be. Like we’re animals or worse.
From the Evening Chronicle, Blyth UK
PLANNING chiefs are having to look again at building a travellers’ site in Blyth after local opposition.
Fourteen sites were originally identified and examined by the county council for the £311,000, eight-pitch temporary facility for gypsy and Roma travellers. Land on the edge of an industrial estate in Ennerdale Road, Blyth, emerged as the preferred location, after it scored highest against a set of Government criteria.
Confirmation of the chosen site was expected to be given by the council’s executive two months ago – but a decision was deferred following requests to look more closely at other potential sites. The postponement followed the submission of a 677-name petition from people in the Cowpen and Kitty Brewster area of Blyth, opposing the Ennerdale Road site and calling for others to be considered more fully.
Now a group, chaired by Conservative county councillor Glen Sanderson, has met for the first time, and asked officers to re-evaluate prospective sites using a re-modelled set of criteria. Officers have also been asked to consult with other local authorities on best practice in providing transit sites for travellers, and report back to the task group with their findings in February. Coun Sanderson said: “The task group were not convinced that Ennerdale Road is the right site and not persuaded that the correct and fully criteria was considered.
“We asked the officers to re-look at the checklist and that might bring up other sites which are less controversial. “The last thing we want is to impose something on local people against their wishes.”
The re-modelled criteria to be used in re-assessing the sites includes proximity to an A-class road and accessibility, and proximity to public transport routes, health services, education and training. It also includes whether the site will allow “harmonious relations and integrated co-existence,” with the local community, and issues such as flood risk.