Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) History Month takes place in June each year. As the month comes to a close, we wanted to share some reflections on why it is so important to mark this month and share with you how we have worked with our Gypsy, Roma and Traveller partners over the past 2 years to celebrate.
When in early 2018 London Gypsies and Travellers suggested that the Mayor host an event to celebrate GRT History Month, it seemed an ideal opportunity for us to partner with key organisations to build deeper connections between City Hall policy makers and these communities in London.
This partnership has continued, with an event celebrating the month at City Hall last year. This year, in response to social distancing restrictions, we held our first online event to mark GRT History Month.
It has been a real pleasure to work with a group of organisations and individuals who work tirelessly to challenge prejudice and discrimination and to hold local, regional (including City Hall) and national governments to account.
Travelling communities are referred to as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (and in Europe as Roma) but there are several distinct groups of Travelling and nomadic peoples including Romany Gypsy, Irish Traveller, English Traveller, Scottish Traveller, Welsh Traveller, Showmen, Bargees and New Travellers. The Government estimates that there are between 100,000 to 300,000 Gypsy/Traveller people and up to 200,0001 Roma people living in the UK.
Although Gypsies, Roma and Travellers have lived, worked and travelled throughout Britain for over 500 years they are still largely absent from British history and in turn from the school curriculum. GRT History Month aims to address this absence and to encourage and support a much deeper understanding and knowledge of these communities by raising awareness of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller culture and heritage. It also seeks to challenge the deeply embedded prejudice and discrimination which these communities face.
This prejudice has a long history. In the sixteenth century a law was passed in England that allowed the state to imprison, execute or banish anyone that was perceived to be a Gypsy. In the Second World War, approximately 250 thousand Roma and Sinti, a quarter of the population of Europe, were exterminated by the Nazis in an act known as the ‘Porrajmos’ (the devouring)2. Today there are still reports from across Europe of hate crimes and attacks on Roma communities.3
In the UK, racism towards Gypsies and Travellers is common and often overt. A study from the National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups and Anglia Ruskin University showed that nine out of ten Gypsy, Traveller or Roma children in the UK have suffered racial abuse. Two thirds have also been bullied or physically attacked. Much of the racism they receive goes unreported.
It is essential that we continue to raise awareness of the history and culture of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities throughout the year and not just in June – if you feel that you don’t know much about these communities, we would encourage you to find out more. An ideal place to start is looking at the work of our partners, who include; London Gypsies and Travellers, Traveller Movement, Roma Support Group, Showmens Guild, Traveller Pride, ACERT and Southwark Travellers Action Group
If you want to investigate further then Travellers Times have some wonderful articles, films and videos looking at the history and the contemporary experience of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. Friends, Families and Travellers provide advice and support and contribute to research and policy making. If you are interested in the history of Fairgrounds and Circus there is the National Fairground and Circus Archive and Circus 250.