Since its creation two years ago, Stable Way TRA has had remarkable success strengthening the community's relationships with the police, health services and Kensington and Chelsea council, as well as helping to improve residents' education and cutting crime. Police call-outs have dropped by almost half, from 80 in 2007-08 to 47 in 2011-12, and primary school attendance has reached 100%. All families are now registered with GPs and dentists. When a measles outbreak hit the wider Traveller community last year only two children were affected on Stable Way, thanks to the success of an immunisation programme arranged through the TRA. But the TRA's pioneering work is now threatened by cuts to funding for community and voluntary sector groups...Can I just point out that this ‘remarkable improvement’ is merely all the things that normal people simply do, without needing to be being bribed, cajoled and watched over?
The association's efforts to improve its residents' lives had been aided by having a constitution, which has allowed it increased access to charitable funds.Oh, superb! No doubt many of them of the fakecharity variety?
"Travellers don't want to be seen as if we were asking people for money," says TRA chair Patrick O'Donnell. "A lot of people at first were thinking we would be seen as if we were begging until it was explained that the money is there for residents' associations to apply for."Ah. See, it’s perfectly OK to ask for money if everyone else is doing it too! So what vital improvements to the lives of these poor unfortunates has this free money secured?
So far it has helped secure £25,000 to help families hook up to the internet in a project that combines digital literacy lessons with cookery. Residents were taught how to email, search for recipes online, and take and send pictures of what they had prepared.… … Umm… OK, what else?
A further £2,400 has put young residents through driving theory tests. Phil Regan, a research and development officer for Westway Development Trust, which helped get the TRA off the ground, says: "One of the first points of contact between the criminal justice system and young male travellers has been persistent driving without a licence. The underlying reason is about different levels of literacy, some of them not being able to read or write enough to do the theory test."Maybe they can’t read or write, but they sure don’t lack for intelligence if they’ve found out how to get other people to pay for their theory tests!
Regular police attendance at TRA meetings has also improved relationships between police and residents. Travellers' dogs are now regularly checked and tagged, and police officers make greater efforts to act on residents' complaints.Such as?
"People sometimes throw abuse and objects like bottles down from the Westway," says Regan. "At the last meeting, three officers from the transport police came along and said they really wanted to help. Now all incidents are fully recorded by the site manager and passed on to the police so they can follow them up."Ah, right. Would I be classed as ‘unnecessarily suspicious’ if I pondered whether this visit occurred during a BTP ‘Gypsy And Traveller Awareness Week’?
The Irish Traveller Movement strongly supports the creation of residents' associations on Traveller sites. "What's happening on Stable Way is very important," says Yvonne MacNamara, its chief executive. "Traveller tenants' associations or residents' groups need to become legally constituted. This gives the Travellers involved a voice and more power. If a residents' group is legally constituted, then, by law, a local authority has to engage with them."Getting local authorities to ‘engage’ with travellers isn’t as hard as you might imagine it to be. Unless it’s to get them moved off illegal settlements, that is!
But MacNamara fears Traveller TRAs will suffer from council funding cuts.We’re all in it together, remember?
Report author Andrew Ryder, who acts as an adviser to the all-party parliamentary group for Traveller law reform, wants to see the few Traveller TRA success stories replicated across the UK, but he warns this could prove to be a huge challenge. "What is lacking is the financial support," he says. The big society rhetoric has not really helped those at the margins who need intensive support to get going, he explains. "We are talking about people who have been very disempowered."No, we’re talking about people who have a whole cadre of hangers-on, social workers and outreach workers trying to find ways to spend other people’s money on them. I think you’ll find that’s the very antithesis of ‘disempowered’…
Oh. I forgot the best bit. They are also annoyed at the proposed building of a regeneration scheme next to them:
The Travellers were sent a letter inviting them to consult about the planning proposals and they will be making their views known through the TRA, but O'Donnell believes its powers to influence decision-making are pretty slim. "The reason we set up the residents' association was to have a bigger say in the running of the site, but the council still seems to have the final word," he says. "If you look out there you can see daylight, but if they build those high rises it is going to be like we are indoors all the time."You’re upset? Well, gosh, the irony of travellers complaining about an unwanted development next to them that they can’t seem to stop is just about killing me…