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Celebration of Traveller Culture

This article first appeared on the Willesden & Brent Times website. It followed the Pavee CĂ©ilidh event on Friday 12th June at the Hammersmith Cultural Irish Centre. It is reproduced with their permission.

By Roxanne Blacklock

Flower Caravan

Helen Casey, florist, and Fion Gunn, artist, make a flower caravan

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month is now underway with projects, music and dance to celebrate the rich history of Travellers in the borough and nationally.

The month is designed to fight the destructive discrimination that still exists against their communities and educate people about their culture.

Irish Travellers from round the country went to the launch of a DVD made by The Irish Traveller Movement (ITM) last Friday at the Hammersmith Irish Cultural Centre in Blacks Road, Hammersmith.

Martina Coyle, 18, who was born in Hammersmith Hospital, is helping the ITM with its Oral History Project.

She said: "I've been interviewing people from the Travelling community, recording their history and the history of generations before them and collecting old photographs.

"My great, great-grandmother was born in a wagon. But we're not allowed to take to the road. I'd like to be able to tow a trailer but I'm not able to do that. It's not fair on the younger generation.

"There's so much talent within the Irish travelling community - singing, dancing and story telling - but they are held back because of discrimination. There are so many who could go on the X factor!

Things may have moved on from "No blacks, no dogs and no Irish" but Martina said:

"I don't let the discrimination get me down. The sky's my limit. I'm proud of who I am. My grandmother got married at 15 and my mum at 16, but things are changing. I was in full time education until 18.

"Many travellers don't go to school because they're abused and called names. It's not fair. No-one likes abuse, wherever they are. It's so hard when you're trying to better yourself and people keep putting you down. We have to speak up for ourselves."

Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Shepherd's Bush, who campaigns for the community in parliament, attended the launch and talked about the racism against Travellers that is still considered acceptable by many.

Agencies such as the Brent Irish Advisory Service, which helps Travellers with health, education and advocacy problems, was also there.