Working with Gypsy Traveller and Roma communities

Published in Post-event summaries on 20 Mar 2018

On 7 March, 2018, around 50 delegates joined Iriss for a day of discussion and talks. The theme of the day was to explore how co-production can equip social services with the cultural competency they need when working with Gypsy Traveller and Roma communities. It was a chance to identify the unique challenges facing these two distinct communities in Scotland and think about creative ways to overcome them.

Throughout the day we heard from Gypsy Traveller and Romani speakers who presented national projects that have used creative methods to achieving better outcomes for Gypsy Travellers and Roma People. We also heard from academics and researchers who have worked alongside these communities.

Guests arriving
Guests arriving

Kerry Musselbrook

The first speaker was Kerry from Iriss. She explored the meaning of cultural competency and set the scene for the day. Cultural competence is defined as the ability of providers and organisations to effectively deliver services that meet people’s social, cultural, and linguistic needs. It begins with self-awareness of one's own world view, recognition and appreciation of difference and developing new knowledge and skills - including ways to communicate, interact, balance and share power. Stemming from our recent work exploring the social worker’s role in protecting the human rights of Gypsy Travellers, we will explore how we can change cultures within organisations and support the creation of a culturally competent workforce, alongside the involvement of Scottish Gypsy Travellers and Roma people.

She shared Iriss' work - a video and information - exploring Human rights and social work’s role in working with Gypsy Traveller communities.

Remote video URL

The thing I found most useful was gaining a basic understanding of who the Gypsy, Roma and Travelling community are, the complexity of their communities and the level of racism they experience.

Shamus McPhee

Shamus followed with an interesting presentation examining his own experiences and the structural oppressions that continue to deny Gypsy Travellers in Scotland their basic Human Rights. Shamus is an Scottish Gypsy Traveller artist and activist. He is a founding member of the Scottish Gypsy Traveller Law Reform Coalition (SGTLRC), where he worked as Secretary in 2006–2007. He is also a member of the Scottish Gypsy Traveller Association (SGTA) and the Scottish Travellers Against Racism (STAR).

Together with his sister Roseanna McPhee, he was an expert witness in the landmark case establishing the legal ethnic status of Scottish Gypsy Travellers. Shamus’ talk really opened people's eyes to the need for change and much discussion followed.

shamus mcphee
Shamus Mcphee

Having speakers who were from the Gypsy Roma Traveller communities themselves was so eye-opening and rare

Isaac Blake

After exploring the Scottish context, Isaac Blake, Executive Director of the Romani Cultural and Arts Company in Cardiff presented on working with Gypsy, Roma andTraveller communities across the country. He offered some reflections on the Stories on Health and Wellness project led by NHS Centre for Equality and Human Rights and Romani Arts and Cultural Company. Isaac is a Romani Gypsy and has worked as a professional dancer and choreographer. He spoke about the process that the organisation went through to collect 100 stories from young parents and older carers, digitally recorded by members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community themselves. It was fantastic to hear first-hand about this ground-breaking work which will form the basis for an e-learning module. This module will be compulsory for all NHS Wales staff.

It was inspiring hearing about co-production in Wales. It was great to hear positive examples and high achieving GRT, this group is often ignored.

Remote video URL

Poster Presentation

A delicious lunch followed, where we all had a chance tor reflect on the speakers and meet other people who were interested in learning about this topic. A poster presentation showcased a short case study project exploring the potential of applying a co-production methodology in Govanhill in the style of the Welsh health and wellbeing project. Put together by Anna Pearce on behalf of Iriss, this case study will continue to inform Iriss’ future work alongside the evaluation and feedback from the event.

Case Study - The Roma Community in Govanhill
Case Study - The Roma Community in Govanhill

Geetha Marcus

After lunch we heard from Geetha Marcus. Geetha is a sociologist, feminist and teacher activist whose research and teaching interests focus on social inequalities within public education systems. In 2012, she was awarded a jointly funded Scottish Government/ESRC doctoral research into the educational experiences of Gypsy/Traveller girls in Scotland.

In the course of this research, she conducted an extensive range of in-depth interviews with young Traveller women about their racialised and gendered experiences within public spaces of school and private spaces of home. This research attempts to address a gap in the literature where Gypsy/Traveller girls’ experiences are mis-recognised and erased through non-recognition. The girls’ stories are highlighted and juxtaposed alongside the general problems encountered by Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland to reveal a complex narrative. Geetha shared her experiences of working as a researcher on this project and insights from the girls she worked with. It was followed by a lively and interesting discussion.

Geetha Marcus
Geetha Marcus

Josie Vallely

Josie from Iriss then took the floor to encourage people to take some time to think about the potential of co-production methodology in the development of cultural competency for social workers engaging with Scottish Gypsy Travellers and Romani communities in Scotland. She talked about the new Iriss co-production project planner, and the group discussed the questions deemed important around co-production methodology.

Co-production project planner
co-production project planner

Questions that the groups came up with:

  • Where can settled people and professionals access appropriate education and training – health, education, police etc?
  • What are the educators being educated to deliver?
  • How do we prioritise the next steps?
  • How do we strategically plan housing/accommodation to include Gypsy Travellers?
  • How can I engage Gypsy Travellers and Roma people - what are the barriers to break down first?

Thomas McCarthy

To finish, we were treated to some songs by Thomas McCarthy, who had also given insights throughout the day. Thomas comes from Birr in County Offaly in Ireland. His family are the McCarthys who settled there generations ago. He is an Irish Traveller and comes from a long line of old traditional singers and musicians who kept the tradition of singing strong. He sings wherever he is invited and has this to say of his songs:

These stories are too often forgotten, but are an important part of our heritage, kept alive by our ancestors. Stories are still so important, they can keep you grounded in a world where people have forgotten the art of communication and conversation and the kids are all on mobile phones and computers. These old stories are relevant to all people, adults and children, immaterial of ethnicity.

He shared some songs and reflected on the ways in which these stories can impact our understanding of one another.

Remote video URL

Overall the day was a great success. There was so much energy in the room and it was fantastic to hear from people form Gypsy Traveller communities across the UK.

After today I will live my daily life with more knowledge and awareness, especially in my community of Govanhill. I will challenge negative stereotypes and racism I see with more conviction.

There is a need for ever greater awareness and to ensure cultural competency in future work.

Gypsy, Roma and traveller history is rich and diverse and vital to learn about.

Working together we can make change- we are all different but all equal.

We would like to extend a huge thanks to everyone who came along to make the day such a success, and to the speakers who brought the issues alive with their dedication and insight. Please do sign up to the Iriss mailing list if you would like to hear of future events exploring these themes.

Slides from the day