‘I’m a Roma Gypsy - and a proud and responsible Loiner - and I’m fed up of all the negativity about my community’

Helen Jones, chief executive officer at Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange talks to youngsters at the new permanent travellers site in Bath Road, Leeds.
9 August 2012.  Picture Bruce Rollins
Helen Jones, chief executive officer at Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange talks to youngsters at the new permanent travellers site in Bath Road, Leeds. 9 August 2012. Picture Bruce Rollins

After the YEP revealed last month that Leeds City Council is to introduce a new 28-day amnesty period for Gypsy and Traveller encampments, we were inundated with letters and online comments on the issue.

Some of the negative backlash prompted one young member of the Leeds Romany Gypsy community - Teresa Birtle, 22 - to write a passionate response.

As a Romany Gypsy who has lived in Leeds much of my life, I am upset by recent letters regarding Travellers and Gypsies.

Leeds is a very diverse place with many different ethnicities and identities.

Surely it’s obvious that within those different identities people are not all the same - yet things are said about Travellers as if we are.

Leeds does not have enough permanent or transit sites so we have to camp wherever we can.

We are making the best of a bad situation and often, due to lack of adequate provision, we are forced to live alongside people on the camp who have very different values to us.

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From the outside perhaps we do look similar but we are not.

I find it difficult and demoralising to face constant slander along the lines that all Travellers are criminals who care nothing for our neighbours or for the rules of society.

Myself and my family have done our best to pay our way and lived in a respectful manner our whole lives. Does anyone care to notice?

Is anyone watching as I regularly attempt to clean up after my messy neighbours?

Do people in housing feel obliged to clean up after others? Does anyone notice, or bother to comment on, how clean a camp is left if our family has been there alone?

Like most people, I am living my life according to the way I was brought up, as best I can.

I am not on holiday and perhaps therefore a holiday campsite is not the most suitable place for me to be.

Not all caravan club site owners are the same and I can understand that prejudice might not be the only reason why owners of caravan club sites usually refuse to accept me on their facility regardless of my personal values.

I really hope that my fellow Leeds citizens will support the 28 day approach that Leeds is adopting, precisely because it will allow the council to recognise different behaviour and respond accordingly.

If people on the camps don’t ‘abide by the rules’ they will not be able to stay and they will soon learn the error of their ways. Unlike currently, when we are all evicted regardless of our individual actions.

Those of us who want to cooperate and live decently will be treated according to our behaviour. Surely this is what residents of Leeds would want.

BACKGROUND:

The YEP revealed last month that Leeds is to introduce a 28-day amnesty period for traveller convoys as city bosses bid to reduce the numbers of illegal encampments and the clean-up costs associated with them.

The pioneering scheme - thought to be the first of it kind in the country - will see nine temporary caravan sites created on a rolling basis on vacant pockets of land which are awaiting redevelopment.

Traveller families would be allowed to stay on the sites for up to 28 days with no fear of being evicted, but would have to sign a good behaviour contract with the council. The so-called “negotiated stopping sites” would be spread fairly across the city, it is claimed, and no one site would be used for the purpose more than once in any 12 month period. Skips and portaloos would also be provided by the local authority, and no single site would accommodate more than nine caravans at a time.

The idea - which follows a pilot project at Bath Road (pictured) - is part of Leeds’s wider strategy to provide traveller pitches as part of its Site Allocations Plan. The council has to provide 62 individual permanent pitches.

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