The Rights and Traditions of the GRT Communities Come Further Under Threat

As part of The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, trespassing has changed from a non-arrestable civil offence to a criminal one – with much harsher sentences.
This means that the police can evict those present on ‘unauthorised land’ and seize their vehicles if they have caused ‘significant harm, disruption or distress’.
Guilty verdicts in court would result in fines of up to £2,500 and imprisonment for up to three months.

“The aim of the bill is clearly to take away people’s homes, their pets and property, imprisoning them and leaving their children parentless, in order to forcibly assimilate them into settled culture,” said Traveller Ann Marie Evans. “For us, that is just the first step of cultural annihilation.”

So on the one hand the GRT community’s nomadic lifestyle is being made illegal, and on the other…

Violet Cannon, a Romany Gypsy and the chief executive of York Travellers Trust, explained:
“Councils are really reluctant to build any new pitches or grant planning permission for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller caravan sites. So a large proportion of three ethnic minorities is officially homeless. And the government’s response is to make them criminals.”
The number of new affordable residential pitches in the UK, created on socially-rented traveller sites, dropped from 57 in 2019 to zero in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions. However since restrictions were lifted only two new sites were recorded in 2021, this is despite the number of traveller caravans increasing year on year.
Here in Cumbria a county wide Gypsy and Traveller Study was produced in January 2022. The initial findings identified a need for 12 Gypsy and Traveller pitches (space for 12 GRT caravans) in the borough of Copeland- which will now become a Cumberland issue with the introduction of the two new authorities. After receiving no offers for sites to be used, intensive investigations and consultations, two council owned sites were recommended. The Council has a responsibility to meet the housing needs of all its residents including those who identify as Gypsies, Travellers and Travelling Showpeople under the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and have a duty under the Planning Policy for Traveller Sites 2015 to ensure a rolling five-year supply of deliverable sites for travellers. In Barrow-in-Furness there is currently a consultation taking place for potential sites in the area, which under the new authority will be in Westmorland & Furness authority.
Yet in April Whitehaven town council ‘strongly opposed’ two proposed sites for gypsy and traveller accommodation in Whitehaven and are calling for ‘a more rural location’ to be considered.
“They would be more suited to a rural area. I think putting them in an urban area is not suitable. I think they would be more at home in a rural area. They would be better in the countryside.”
Representative for Whitehaven Town Council.
Planning is always contentious, but the discrimination and racism from some in the local area on this particular planning proposal was palpable – a Facebook group was set up entitled ‘Whitehaven Residents Against Gypsy Traveller Sites’, which has since been taken down due to the nature of the comments that were circulating in the group. There are even security firms who have whole sections of their website dedicated to “Getting Rid Of Gypsies And Travellers From A Site In Cumbria”.
The rights and traditions of the GRT communities are constantly under threat and are some of the most vilified communities in our county.
Appleby Horse Fair is held each year in Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria. It is the biggest traditional Gypsy Fair in Europe- it’s not ‘owned’ by any one party, it is more like a big community get together. This has happened here in Cumbria since the 1600’s.
Yet despite Cumbria Constabulary building a successful relationship with the GRT communities and reporting that the crime rate in Appleby and Upper Eden in fact decreases during the period of Appleby Fair, many locals have a very negative view of this event and use it to perpetuate false stereotypes and racism.
Anti Racist Cumbria are looking forward to being able to attend this year, and we will bring you more myth busting information about the fair at the time, which is in early June.
We want to take this opportunity to reiterate how important it is that we ALL stand together against racism, working together in the fight to eradicate racism, prejudice and discrimination in all its forms.