Committed to the education of Gypsy, Roma and Travellers of Irish Heritage, Fairground, Circus, New and Bargee children and young people

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Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities

General information

GRT-communities-coverThe information in this section is from information published by the then Department of Children, Schools and Families in January 2010.

The content is Crown Copyright and may only be reproduced for non-commercial research, education or training purposes. NATT+ members can download this information in its original document form from the members' area.

The definition of individual Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities can be complex.

The reasons for this include:

  • Gypsy, Roma and Travellers are not one homogenous group;
  • the identity of Gypsy, Roma and Travellers is often an imposed view informed by the settled population built on myths and stereotypes.

The term Gypsy, Roma and Traveller is a collective term used to describe a wide variety of cultural and ethnic groups. There are many ways in which ethnicity may be established: these include language, nomadic way of life, and crucially, self-identification. Defining a person as a Gypsy, Roma or Traveller is a matter of self-ascription and does not exclude those who are living in houses. Ethnic identity is not lost when members of the communities settle, but it continues and adapts to the new circumstances.

This article provides schools with a brief background to the history and culture of each of these groups. However, while it is important to understand the background, history and culture of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in order to appreciate more fully who the pupils are, it is simplistic to define them by this information alone. Like all pupils their identity is based on experiences and a wide range of influences, which may vary, not only, from the settled population but also from other people within the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities – terminology

A number of different groups are covered by the generic term Gypsy, Roma and Traveller: English and Welsh Gypsies, Irish and Scottish Travellers, showmen (fairground people) and circus people, bargees (occupational boat dwellers) and New Travellers. Most of these communities have a long tradition of a travelling lifestyle, although their history and customs vary.

The term Gypsy, Roma and Traveller is acceptable to most members of these groups but many English Gypsies prefer to be called Gypsies. However, Gypsy is a term that can be perceived as having negative connotations and is not acceptable to some. This is very much the case with families from Eastern and Central Europe and ‘Roma’ is the universally preferred term. Fairground people, who prefer to be called ‘Showmen’, have a separate traditional history that can be traced back to the Middle Ages when royal charters were granted for fairs and before this to the gatherings for trade in the Roman times.

Circus people have their own planned movement of travel and are fiercely proud of the family history associated with the traditional skills of the ‘big top’. Circuses tend to be owned by a single family who may hire a range of acts; these may have a variety of international backgrounds.

Bargee is a term used more appropriately in Europe where working on the canals is still an industry, particularly in the Netherlands. In the UK there are very few recorded families living on the waterways and few who would describe themselves as bargees, preferring the term boat dwellers. There is reported evidence that there are a small number of families living on sea-going coastal boats, which travel between small harbours and ports on the south coast during the summer months.

A large percentage of the total population of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities live in houses; they do not lose their ethnicity when they move into houses. Others live on local authority or privately owned caravan sites or are resident on their own plot of land. Approximately one-fifth of the non-housed Gypsy, Roma and Traveller population have no secure place to stay, and move between unauthorised encampments.

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