History months are a way for schools and the media (and in previous years, libraries, museums and other public buildings) to introduce people to cultures and heritage that are otherwise overlooked and/or open to prejudice. June was recognised in 2008 as the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) History Month and a chance each year to disseminate positive information on the contributions to Britain that the traveller community brings.
2014 marked the 50th anniversary of a landmark 1964 BBC radio programme ‘The Travelling People’ which featured the songs of Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger. The broadcast portrayed the struggles and the culture of GRT people in a positive way to a BBC radio audience. To mark this anniversary, activist Mark Brown got together with Sarah Jewell and the Songlines Choir, and with the help of GRT community leaders they organised two London events – a joyful and poignant mix of songs, spoken word, art and images. The evenings featured Thomas McCarthy, Keely Mills, Damien Le Bas, Alex Etchart, The Gypsy Stars, Phien O’Phien, Sindy Czureja, Valdemar Kilinin, and the Romany Diamonds.
We’re now publishing this film of these 2014 celebrations in solidarity with the aims of GRT History Month.
The last remnants of common land in the UK continue to be seized for private gain, and media portrayal of GRT communities is often extremely negative and prejudiced.
Earlier this year, the Home Secretary Priti Patel ran a consultation with a view to strengthening trespass laws to introduce new criminal offences. A similar proposal in 2018 was abandoned after even the police said that new campsites should be made available as there simply were nowhere near enough.
Human rights groups are also against any criminalisation of trespass as this could be used to clampdown on legitimate protests and even rambling associations are fearful that new legislation may interfere with the ‘right to roam’.
Corporate media representation of travellers is overwhelmingly negative or ‘othering’, with C5’s ‘Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ and a recent C4 Dispatches programme being particularly egregious examples.
The plight of the travelling community has certainly not improved since the seminal 1964 broadcast, and it is important that this heritage is honoured and protected and that prejudice is challenged wherever it occurs, because the way our societies treat our minority communities is a measure of the way our societies can be expected to protect all of us, and currently that’s not looking good.