Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in London demand City Hall voice

Last month an organisation supporting Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities in London launched a campaign to amplify their voices in the capital.

London Gypsies and Travellers (LGT) created a tool for writing to Assembly Members demanding better representation in London’s City Hall in Southwark.

As Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Assembly Members begin a new term following last month’s elections, LGT wants to see action in response to these letters and the manifesto they presented back in March.

TIME FOR CHANGE: The LGT Forum manifesto for 2021. Credit: London Gypsies and Travellers

LGT Community Engagement Officer and Irish Traveller Mena Mongan, 52, said: “In the last five years GRT representation in City Hall could have been better.

“There’s not a lot of politicians having our back, so I’d like to see more of them speak up and reach out to our community.

“Representation in politics has slowly started to take place as the first ever Roma candidate, Nicu Ion, was elected in the May local elections in Newcastle, but I would like to see more of that coming through into City Hall.

“We’ve had a good response from the London Assembly to our manifesto so far, the emails keep popping through from all parties, but following this through is another thing.

“I know Sadiq Khan has backed us around Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month and he’s tweeted and posted on Instagram, but I believe a lot more speaking out still needs to be done.”

LGT also host the London Gypsy and Traveller Forum, which has been running since 2004 and usually meets at City Hall so members and politicians can learn about the work that they do and get to know one another better.

Mongan added: “Londoners can support us by getting to know the community more, engage with us, don’t be afraid to ask questions, make friends with us because the best way to get to know more about something is to ask questions.

“They say London’s greatest strength is its diversity, so include Gypsies and Travellers in that, we don’t feel that sometimes, we don’t feel it.”

Gypsies, Roma and Travellers have a rich and long history of living and working in London, making unique contributions to the city’s social, economic and cultural life.

Yet still they are often viewed as outsiders with little voice or representation within society.

A report in December 2020 highlighted that the vast majority of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers have experienced hate incidents, and this was most common within services like policing, hospitals and schools, often because of negative stereotypical views held and perpetuated by the media.

Mongan said: “GRT people’s mental health is affected by this, people take their lives over this, because you’re trying to fit in and then you’re treated as a totally different person than who you actually are.

“Just reach out and ask to learn more about us directly from us, it’s not so hard to do that.”

MENA MONGAN: “We are people, we need to be heard and our needs should be addressed”. Credit: London Gypsies and Travellers.

Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member Hina Bokhari, 45, has worked with Roma children as a teacher and is keen to bring GRT issues forward in City Hall.

Bokhari said: “The school I taught at in Chessington was nearby to a Roma community and so I had the opportunity to learn here as many children from that community came to our school.

“I received training through a dedicated person from Kingston Council whose job was to work with GRT communities and talk to teachers about what to expect when teaching their children, things like their culture and the right kind of language to use, things there are often real societal misunderstandings about.

“Similarly, I think this kind of training for police would be useful, although I’m sure that there’s challenges for the police and pressures on their daily budget cuts.

“There needs to be more trust between the police and GRT people that can only happen if they feel listened to and respected, so we need to make sure that the police have the same kind of excellent training I had as a teacher when it comes to understanding minority groups.”

Though Bokhari is keen to make GRT issues prevalent within City Hall, she is concerned the Government is not making this a priority.

She added: “There was a plan written recently by the Assembly and the Mayor of London to bring in a wider definition of the GRT community, but it was deleted by the Secretary of State, which makes it very difficult for the London boroughs to follow up.

“There needs to be more collaboration between the London Assembly and the Government when it comes to how we define GRT communities.

“A lot of GRT issues apply to other minority groups too and a way of pushing the GRT campaign forward could be to join up thinking with other minority groups.

“For example, when it comes to the issue of hate crime towards the GRT community, the Muslim community, the Black community, the Chinese community, we need to not be talking about each of these groups as separate entities but as groups who face similar challenges.

“It’s about us all learning, understanding each other’s culture and background and having respect for one another.”

Labour London Assembly Member Elly Baker, 44, also responded to LGT’s manifesto and the call for an amplified voice in City Hall.

She said: “The manifesto highlights the combination of practical things that need to be done to support GRT communities, so it was very helpful for us to see that and is something that I can absolutely commit to.

“Anything that requires serious structural change is often shied away from, so I think the practical steps that need to be taken to combat discrimination of all kinds, both economic and day to day marginalisation, need to be backed up with funding and commitment and be at the centre of planning.”

Baker highlighted the capital funding being made available through the Mayor’s Affordable Homes Programme to help remodel existing Gypsy and Traveller sites and pitches in need of refurbishment or build new sites.

She added that Labour are committed to scrutinising the delivery of the commitments that have come out from the election and being held accountable for that scrutiny.

You can add your voice to LGT’s campaign and hold power to account here.

Featured image credit: London Gypsies and Travellers

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