Aisha Iqbal: Is our attitude to traveller community the last taboo?

COMMON SENSE APPROACH?: Leeds City Council is trying some progressive ideas as it bids to provide for the Gypsy and Traveller communities, as it has to by law.
COMMON SENSE APPROACH?: Leeds City Council is trying some progressive ideas as it bids to provide for the Gypsy and Traveller communities, as it has to by law.

I have to admit I have never personally had a convoy of caravans suddenly pitch up in my back yard.

I like to think that if they did, I’d go and do the usual neigbourly thing and say hello. But I’ll admit I’m not sure if I would actually do it.

The reaction to the YEP’s revelation this week that a series of temporary Gypsy and Traveller sites would be created on vacant Leeds land pockets as part of what is effectively a 28-day amnesty has generated huge levels of reaction from our readers. It was a reminder that these two communities remain amongst the most demonised and misunderstood in the country.

And it also got me thinking about our collective, often pre-conceived ideas about neighbours and communities.

I was particularly affected by a letter from a member of the Gypsy and Traveller community, who was upset because they thought our coverage was offensive in tone.

We disagree on that, because no offense was ever intended – and this issue is one that HAS affected many existing, permanent communities in Leeds over the years. City taxpayers have also been landed with eye-watering legal and clean-up costs in the past when the behaviour of some of the newcomers has been LESS than neighbourly. That can’t be denied.

But every journey starts with a small step. And the council’s common-sense step of reaching out to the Gypsy and Traveller community – with huge input from the Gypsy and Traveller Exchange charity – has paid real dividends recently. Perhaps it’s time the rest of us took a similar small step towards mutual understanding?

Lemon Meringue
. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

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