Time for re-think on Gypsies and Travellers?

Do we need a re-think about how we strike a balance between Gypsies and Travellers living their traditional lifestyle, without the settled communities (the vast majority of us) having to cope with illegal campsites?

Gypsies and Travellers have pursued their non-settled way of life in this country for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. While it may often seem out of place in our modern society it is undoubtedly a very traditional way of life. But the friction between settled and itinerant isn’t a new issue.

In 1530 the passing of the Egyptians Act aimed at ridding the country of all Egyptians or Gypsies, by banning immigration and ‘voluntarily’ requiring Gypsies to leave the country within sixteen days. The punishment for those who did not conform was the confiscation of their goods and property and the threat of imprisonment and deportation.

This law was further amended in 1554 when the carrot and very big stick approach was taken. If Gypsies abandoned their ‘naughty, idle and ungodly life and company’ and adopted a sedentary way of life with a settled occupation, they would not be punished. But the punishment for failing to settle down was extended to include execution for those not complying.

Many Gypsies were executed by the state up right up until the 1660s and although the state executions stopped in the latter half of the seventeenth century the punitive and restrictive laws continued.

It seems that Gypsies were tolerated when they were useful as farm labour, entertainers or blacksmiths, and were made to move on once they’d outlived that use. Gypsies survived thus on the margins of society until the outbreak of World War II. The outbreak of war and subsequent conscription, meant that Gypsies became a useful source of labour for the war effort.

The darker side of those war years is that along with Jewish people, gay people, trade unionists and disabled people, Gypsies were targetted victims of the Nazi regime.

I have a keen interest in this issue due to my own families Romany gypsy roots. My Nana was brought up in a Romany Community in a horse pulled Caravan and despite what people may think about Gypsies – many of my own morals have been from her influence, including treating others how you want to be treated, respect for your elders and basic good manners.

Many used to buy land and pitch on their own land years ago but they still faced persecution when pitching, as land got more expensive that option became less viable.

It’s unfortunate that the bad in the community are always remembered over the good, which leads to many Gypsies and Travellers deciding to settle down in houses and moving away from the traditional ways of their families.

I have often wondered about how this way of life can exist in modern day Britain. The more I think about it, the more I think I might have an answer.

If a serious commitment were to be set in law, drawing up new legislation for ALL local councils to offer short term stop off sites in various locations within their jurisdiction and that these sites may consist of parking for cars and caravans, a place for waste disposal and cleaning facilities, this could offer a solid way forward.

This of course will lead to many other questions and here are a few I think might come up.

Who will pay for it? For me this is simple – each council would have a permit that can be bought online (very few don’t have a smartphone these days). The price of the permits should cover the costs related to the sites – not make a profit.

Where would the sites be? This of course would be a tough call, but it must be done in consultation with local residents and with the gypsy and traveller communities also. The consultation process should have an emphasis on bringing the communities together. It’s important that everyone’s voice is heard to make it work.

Won’t Gypsies and Travellers just pitch elsewhere to avoid paying? I suspect the good in the community will be more than happy to pay their way, but rightly so – some won’t care. To combat this I feel that New Legislation would be needed to make Trespass a criminal offence, but only once these sites are in place.

I am sure that this idea is probably too simple and there is much more to do on it, but it has to be a basis to work around surely? There must be an answer that allows everyone to live their lives in cohesion.

What do you think?


This post was written by Wayne Dixon

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7 Replies to “Time for re-think on Gypsies and Travellers?”

  1. There is supposed to be provision made by every Local Authority for travellers to have sites and with provision of required facilities. Where did all the “common land” disappear to?

  2. Provision of temporary and permanent stopping sites, where people can stay or pause for a few days on their travelling, is ALREADY a duty of the local authority. It is one which is not being done well by local councillors. More efforts should be made asap to open up new bits of land… or perhaps open up those bits that are fenced off by contractors for years on end – like the bare brownfield land that sat empty for years around The Tetley area. Such spaces could be used, perhaps, in addition to the local authority meeting its obligations to Travelling citizens of Leeds.

    I disagree with ‘criminalising’ a nomadic way of life. I was with Wayne in a lot of his thoughts until he said this. That’s like making all your own Travelling ancestors criminals simply because they used to live in caravans and move around?! Criminalising a people helps no one, least of all families travelling who are already struggling to get by and just live a quiet life. Provide more spaces for them and leave them be.

  3. Recently the people I was with were asked twice if they would like to move onto a site permanently and when asked the availability of grass for the horses was an immediate problem, also the distance from one another of any proposed stopping places, a vehicle and trailer can obviously travel a reasonable distance from one stopping place to the next. Horse drawn you are restricted by the distance a horse can be expected to move you I venture to say that in most cases that is 10 to 20 miles, the horse drawn community seem to leave all the places they stop very clean and tidy a ring from where the fire has been and circles where the horses have grazed are all you can usually see, In this case I feel that it should be accepted that they stop on verges and the public does need to be made aware that the longest time they will be on any one verge is dictated by the amount of grass once this has been eaten then they have to move on.

  4. Few would want to criminalise a lifestyle, but one that is too often associated with criminal and anti-social behaviour will inevitably be stigmatised.

    It’s a rights versus responsibilities thing. Respect is a two-way street and ‘freedom’ cannot be unlimited. What positive contributions do motorised travellers make to society? Over a lot of years I’ve never been aware of any.

    1. I’m not aware of any positive contributions to society that *you* have made, Graham Barker. But then I wouldn’t be, would I? Because I don’t know you from Adam and you’re a stranger – a stranger I wouldn’t be so lazy as to generalise about since I don’t even know you.
      Your statement is like asking ‘what positive contribution to society have people who drive Minis made?’ ie. it’s a frankly ridiculous generalisation about thousands of different individuals and families, who you don’t even know.

    2. Additionally I see and read about many Beeston criminals living here in our community almost every week of the year. By your reasoning that makes you a criminal as well, does it…? I imagine you’re not. And nor am I.

  5. There is always a mixture of people in any community, some who break or/and bend the rules and laws, and others that don’t. This is true regardless of whether you are a traveller or live in a house.

    If you live in a community that isn’t part of a static community, but is still in the same country, the same rules, regulations and laws apply. Which brings me back to the mixtures in communities. Some people do not recognise or follow the laws of the country. They want to do as they please and live in a way that they feel meets their needs regardless. It is this minority of people that have caused issues over the years within local boroughs. Static or travelling, they have made things difficult for those who wish to live as good a life as possible with their families and friends.

    I believe it is completely wrong to tar an entire community with the same brush because of a minority. You can’t judge a book because you don’t like the cover or some of the characters in it.

    For those who wish to live as they have always done with honour, ethics, honesty and community, I believe they should be given the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, when dealing with councils nothing is ever simple. For example, someone will need to be paid to find the land that is suitable as a travellers rest, someone will need to be paid to plan for and set up the site, someone will need to be paid for supplying and transporting things to the site (The list goes on). This means that the council will need to ensure that the site conforms to regulations, is in regular use and that they can recoup the money spent. Like most councils, they will also need to make a profit from it.

    I’m sure there was a time when things were much more straight forward, and people had more faith in one another. A time when people were not conditioned by society to be defensive, react more primitively or judge others. It’s a shame. Hopefully, ways of doing things and ways of thinking will come full circle and bring back methods that actually work better and are more beneficial.

    I hope that someone somewhere can come up with a solution that satisfies all sides involved. After all, people just want to live the best lives that they can with what they have.

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