Young gypsies and travellers share their experiences at Brighton event

The panel at the meeting
The panel at the meeting

Young gypsies and travellers spoke about facing racism ‘on a daily basis’ in school at an event held by a Brighton based organisation.

Bullying at school was one of the most dominant issues raised by panellists at the Young Gypsy and Travellers’ Issues meeting, which took place at Community Base, in Queens Road, Brighton, on Tuesday (September 26).

The event was organised by the charity Friends, Families and Travellers as part of The World Transformed, a fringe festival which ran alongside the four day Labour party conference.

Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston and co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gypsy Roma Travellers, chaired the event and told the audience: “It’s exciting to hear the voices of the future leaders and future champions of the community,”

She said it was ‘really shocking, really outrageous’ to hear of the problems faced by young members of the community and promised to feedback their concerns at a House of Commons debate titled Gypsies and Travellers, which will be held on Monday, October 9.

The audience heard from Ruby-Leigh Smith, a 14-year-old Romany Gypsy who spoke of her dream of being an oncologist and her love of Harry Potter.

She told the meeting: “Racism affects my education, socially and mentally.

“It’s hard to make friends and it makes me paranoid.”

She said she had initially tried to hide her ethnicity at school and that – when it became known – she had stopped being invited to her friends’ houses.

“I’m sure it is down to ignorance,” she said. “Teachers and pupils should have training sessions.”

Rosie Toohey, a 19-year-old Irish traveller who recently started a degree in child psychology, agreed that more needed to be done to tackle racist bullying in school.

She said she was forced to move between five different schools to achieve her GCSE’s because of bullying.

Scarlett Betsy-Smith, a 13-year-old Romany gypsy who attends school in Hertfordshire, said she was frequently called racist names at school – but just told by teachers to ignore it.

“Why are they getting away with it?” she said.

“Most people would never dream of being racist, but it seems it’s ok when they do it to us.”

She spoke of two trips she has taken to Auschwitz to remember the Roma who were killed in the holocaust.

“It’s incredible to be there with people just like you,” she said.

“It amazes and upsets me that for gypsies, not much has changed.

“I really want to help bring change for all of us.”

Lisa Smith, a journalist at The Traveller Times, called for Gypsy and Traveller history month to be reinstated in schools.

“We have more than 600 years of rich cultural history and have made a huge contribution to society, but this is hugely ignored in the education system,” she said.

“It would give young people a sense of pride in their identity and their schools and improve social cohesion.”

Ben Bennet, 14, told the audience: “Life is different for me because of a label that has been fixed for me.

“This label is meant to restrict me and bully me, so that I go away and hide myself.

“But my label has given me strength, ambition and pride.”

Mark Willers, a trustee of the charity Friends, Families and Travellers, said the young people’s stories of their school lives had been ‘pretty harrowing’.

“Attainment levels have gone down – that is horrific,” he said.

“It’s a complete waste of a generation.

“It’s so vital that teachers understand the impacts of bullying.”

Friends, Families and Travellers, based at Community Based, Brighton, is the only national charity that works on behalf of all Gypsies, Travellers and Roma.

Find out more about the organisation here