'Housing organisations must call out prejudice directed at gypsies and travellers.'
Housing organisations must play a central role in tackling prejudice directed at Gypsies and Travellers and provide more sites, says Rooftop Housing chief executive Boris Worrall.
At the end of last year I decided to explore the idea of bringing together housing associations involved in providing homes for Gypsy and Traveller communities.
Seeing negative social media comments about an “influx” of travellers into my home town of Walsall reminded me how far we still have to go as a society to tackle injustice and prejudice. I had first experienced this first hand as a child while my father was involved in Gypsy education in the 1970s.
Today, have we really moved on that much?
This month the housing minister announced a government consultation to review the powers councils and others have to deal with unauthorised sites. While it is important to prevent inappropriate use of land and to ensure all community members can share and enjoy open spaces; there should be a change in frame of focus to resolve the issue.
We know that the cost of moving on encampments is expensive (both financially for councils, and socially for all residents concerned). We also know there are insufficient sites and stopping places. Rather than looking at measures to stop people being accommodated, we should put our efforts into examining how to provide sufficient planned and sustainable sites.
But how do we provide sites when plans are often turned down, partly because of fear and prejudice? What we really need to do, as housing providers is to challenge the perceptions and call out the prejudice – while finding ways to ensure Gypsies and Travellers are included in plans for appropriate council and housing association sites as part of the wider community.
Working with Jo Richardson at De Montfort University in Leicester, housing associations, Cornwall, Elim, Teign and Teignbridge District Council, and input from experts including arc4 and Matt Bagley of the National Association of Gypsy and Traveller Officers, we are now exploring the issue. Our starting point is to build on Jo’s work with Janie Codona MBE for the JRF - more information can be found on this here.
Together we are collaborating to produce a short film exploring, with Gypsies and Travellers through their photographic images and voices, what home means to them in the modern world. Our starting point is to think about what we have in common by exploring the human stories of what binds us together as humans - needing a home – rather than focusing on that which is different. Gypsy and Traveller communities need social housing too, even if it is delivered in a slightly different context.
So, our first step will be to capture that sense of home, and then explore the idea of exemplar sites as well as engaging local and national government from a housing delivery perspective.
I am delighted that the Chartered Institute of Housing has agreed to launch our film on the Fringe at the Housing conference in June where we plan to use a range of media, potentially including poetry, photography and interviews to bring this hugely important topic to life.
Boris Worrall is chief executive of Rooftop Housing Group.