Roma Civil Rights movement

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Thomas Acton

Seven Ages of the Roma Civil Rights Movement in Great Britain

The beginnings after 1945

The Second World War, 1939-1945 was a time of shared hardship but social acceptance for the UK’s Romani and Traveller population. Men were accepted freely into the armed forces, serving with distinction, and women became part of the agricultural effort. The evangelical preacher, Gypsy Earnest Williams led recruitment drives, and negotiated arrangements whereby families with members serving either in the armed forces or agriculture could get safe camping places for their caravans for the duration of the war.1

In 1945 the country’s first majority Labour socialist government was elected in an overwhelming national desire to carry on the sense of co-operation and harmony achieved in wartime. Unfortunately, Gypsies quickly fell out of the niche acceptance they had achieved in the war. The new government saw small traders as anti-social ‘spivs’, and caravan sites as undesirable housing. They closed the war time caravan sites and introduced ever more stringent planning controls, trying to force Gypsies into houses at a time of massive housing shortage. Many ended up in shanty-towns on the edge of cities, denying their Romani heritage to try to escape the resurgent racism of the post-war years. Others were hunted round the country by repeated evictions as traditional stopping places closed.

It is in this period we see the beginnings the Roma Civil Rights movement in both radical resistance and reformist campaigning. The most radical resistance came from a group of families led by Wisdom Smith who lived on a tolerated war-time encampment on a Gloucestershire farm tenanted by Ellen Wilmot-Ware. From 1946 local authorities sought to close it down, repeatedly fining owner, tenant and the Smith family after they refused to move. Petitions to parliament and the Archbishop of Canterbury achieved nothing more than the award of honorary life membership of the Gypsy Lore Society for Ellen Wilmot-Ware. Wisdom Smith and his family had to flee the threat of arrest and confiscation of all their possessions, while Wilmot-Ware was evicted from her farm by her own family, made bankrupt, and imprisoned for a while in a mental hospital.2

Such outright resistance to the law was not approved by Gypsy Earnest Williams, or the Labour M.P. with whom he began to work, Norman Dodds in whose Dartford constituency many Gypsies lived illegally in caravans on the roadside or in woods. He campaigned in Parliament and arranged for Gypsy Earnest Williams to lead Romani delegations including ‘Cobbs’ Baker and his niece, nine-year-old Jane Baker3 to Parliament and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in May 1951. The government agreed to carry out a survey of conditions for Gypsies in Kent. Later in 1951, however, the Labour Government was defeated in an election, and the new Conservative Government accepted the racist argument put forward by Gypsy Lore Society Secretary Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald in the report from the survey4 that most of the Gypsies in Kent were not racially ‘True Romanies’ and therefore should not have any special accommodation.

unknown | Gypsies go to the House for talks | printed material | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1951 | rom_30050 Provided by: Thomas Acton – Private Archive

The living conditions of Gypsies did, however, improve in the 1950s, not because of the failed civil rights activities, but because of the Conservative government’s general easing of restrictions on small traders, and economic growth. The rise of the automobile industry created unprecedented opportunities for small Roma businessmen, both in running repair garages, and for those still nomadic, in scrap metal recycling. Caravans drawn by motors could go much further than horse-drawn caravans, lessening the need for nomadic stopping places. Wealthy Romanichals who wished to retain a nomadic lifestyle began to buy land on which to build their own caravan sites; the pioneer in this was Tom Smith of Bloxham,5 who built a caravan site next to his scrap-yard and started to help others to buy land.

Ioana Constantinescu | Interview with Tom Smith | Non Fiction | 2017 | rom_30046_1 Rights held by: Ionana Constantinescu / Thomas Acton | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive

Unfortunately, the Conservative government held the same anti-caravan views as the previous Labour Government, in part driven by the very unsanitary and exploited condition of gajo tenants on static non-Gypsy caravan sites, who were five times as numerous as Romanichal, Kale, Minceir and Nachin caravan-dwellers. The 1960 Caravan Sites Control of Development Act halted pretty well all legal development of new private caravan sites while giving local authorities a power (very rarely exercised) to build council sites for Gypsies (defined as people of nomadic habit of life), but without the new rights given to private tenants. At the same time, agricultural depression in the Irish Republic after 1960 led to migration of Minceir/Pavees (Irish Travellers) to Britain. The result in the early 1960s was a crisis of land shortage and evictions even more acute than the 1940s, accompanied by divisive inter-ethnic conflict and competition between Minceirs/Pavees and Romanichals in England. Dodds founded his own legal caravan site as a gesture of defiance in 1961 but was unable to keep it going past 1963.6

The classic period: the age of hope, 1963-1971

A new movement of non-violent resistance to evictions began in Ireland in 1963 and began to spread to England in 1965, encouraged by the Comité Internationale Tsigane.

Ioana Constantinescu | Interview Jeremy Harte with Grattopn Puxon | Non Fiction | 2017 | rom_30048 Rights held by: Ionana Constantinescu / Thomas Acton | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive

The resistance began on the outskirts of Dublin led by John Macdonald and Kevin Keanan, joined by a young public school-educated pacifist, Grattan Puxon, who had fled conscription in England. Puxon was a gajo who only discovered much later his own Romani descent. He was able to write on behalf of the illiterate Pavees/Minceirs to seek support abroad. Clement Le Cossec, founder of the International Evangelical Gypsy Mission (‘Vie et Lumière’) wrote to put him touch with Vanko Rouda, and Vaida Voevode7, President of the Communauté Mondiale Gitane visited from Paris to encourage the resistance to eviction. The Irish government responded by creating and offering concessions to a moderate Catholic organisation led by a priest, Father Fehilly, but arresting Grattan Puxon on a charge of storing weapons. It seems that the Irish security services persuaded a faction of the Irish Republican army to get Puxon to conceal a revolver, which was immediately discovered by the police.

Charges were eventually dropped, and Puxon was forced to go to England, where organisers of local struggles like Tom O’Doherty8. In the north, Jasper Smith, Leonard Cooper and Johnny Brazil welcomed the techniques of passive civil resistance he had developed in Ireland, in the struggles against largely extra-legal evictions in the UK then carried out by police and local authorities. The Gypsy Council was founded on 11th December 1966. Other leaders were Fred Wood, Jim Penfold, Johnny Connors9, Dennis Marriner, Brian Raywid and Derek Tipler. Many of these were living in houses, supporting the struggle of nomads out of ethnic solidarity, and giving the movement a more nationalist flavour. In 1968 a Caravan Sites Act giving local authorities a duty to provide caravan sites for nomadic Gypsies was passed, but the struggle to get it implemented became ever more bitter (it was never fully won), or extended to Scotland or Northern Ireland, where, however, local government pursued similar policies, and fostered Pavee and Nachin community organisations, such as that led by Charlie Douglas in Scotland. Growing international contacts culminated when the Gypsy Council hosted the First World Romani Congress (Interview Ian Hancock) in 1971, after which Grattan Puxon moved to be secretary of the International Movement, based in Yugoslavia10.

Reaction and Fragmentation: Different flowers bloom, 1971-1978

The hopes in the 1960s had been too high; when sites were slow to come, people started arguing and some of the non-Gypsy educationalists who had joined a National Gypsy Education Council (NGEC) founded in 1970, encouraged new more moderate organisations, like the Romani Guild founded by Tom Lee in 1972.

  • Romani Guild (UK) | Romani Guild Information | brochure | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1972 | rom_30016 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Tom Lee (Romani Guild) | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick – Private Archive
  • Romani Guild (UK) | Romani Guild Information | brochure | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1972 | rom_30016 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Tom Lee (Romani Guild) | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick – Private Archive
  • Romani Guild (UK) | Romani Guild Information | brochure | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1972 | rom_30016 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Tom Lee (Romani Guild) | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick – Private Archive
  • Romani Guild (UK) | Romani Guild Information | brochure | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1972 | rom_30016 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Tom Lee (Romani Guild) | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick – Private Archive
  • Romani Guild (UK) | Romani Guild Information | brochure | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1972 | rom_30016 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Tom Lee (Romani Guild) | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick – Private Archive

They left the NGEC in 1973, to establish the Advisory Council for the Education of Romanies and other Travellers (ACERT)11. In 1974, the Gypsy Council itself split into regional organisation, dominated by a Northern Gypsy Council led by Hughie Smith. After a family dispute between Gypsy Council Treasurer, Jim Penfold, and Roy Wells and Eddie Gentle of the Southern Gypsy Council, the Northern Gypsy Council declared itself the National Gypsy Council expelling all the opponents of Hughie Smith, who became President-for-life until his death, around 2013.

Donald Kenrick | A Record of a Meeting with a British Government, Environment Minister | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977 | rom_30014 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive

Other local organisations were founded such as the Romani Rights Association founded by Eli Frankham and the East Anglian Gypsy Council, founded by Peter Mercer. The main leaders keeping a radical voice alive in this period were Roy Wells, Elizabeth Easton and Eddie and Rose Gentle of the Southern Gypsy Council, who formed the Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, kept democracy alive in the NGEC, and Peter Mercer, John Day, and Dave Day of the East Anglian Gypsy Council, who joined both the NGEC and ACERT.12 At this period too, a Romani Site-Owner’s Guild was also founded by Uriah Burton of Partington13, a great maverick among the wealthy Romanichals who fought a long battle, alongside Rabbie Boswell of Newcastle, to get, in 1972, the first new private caravan sites for Romanichals for twelve years, on the grounds that the Local Authority sites promised by the 1968 Act were not materialising fast enough; and so Local authorities, themselves in breach of that law, could not use planning law to stop suitable private sites. Tom Smith of Bloxham became chair; but after his death in 1976, the organisation withered.

  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | “Towards Gypsy Power”: Policy Documents from Association of Gypsy and Romani Organisations, National Gypsy Education Council and the Romani Institute | document | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-08 | rom_30012 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick — Thomas Acton | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
Ioana Constantinescu | Interview with Tom Smith | Non Fiction | 2017 | rom_30046_2 Rights held by: Ionana Constantinescu / Thomas Acton | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive

The era of co-operation and Lobbying: the rainbow coalition 1978-1990

After a period of realignment, Peter Mercer became Chair of the NGEC for the first time and enabled it to become an umbrella organisation which included most of the Gypsy and Traveller organisations14. Roy Wells, Tom Lee, Eli Frankham, John Day, Dave Day, Tony Lee, Josie Lee alternated offices among them in what was clearly a federal organisation, which was able to achieve a much higher level of site provision after the 1977 government Report ‘Accommodation for Gypsies’ by Sir John Cripps, gave more central government finance for caravan sites.

  • Donald Kenrick | A Critical Review of the Cripps Report by the Association of Gypsy & Romani Organisations | report | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-06 | rom_30015 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Donald Kenrick | A Critical Review of the Cripps Report by the Association of Gypsy & Romani Organisations | report | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-06 | rom_30015 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Donald Kenrick | A Critical Review of the Cripps Report by the Association of Gypsy & Romani Organisations | report | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-06 | rom_30015 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive
  • Donald Kenrick | A Critical Review of the Cripps Report by the Association of Gypsy & Romani Organisations | report | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1977-06 | rom_30015 Rights held by: Donald S. Kenrick | Licensed by: Timna Kenrick I Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Timna Kenrick - Private Archive

In 1977, however, Croydon London Borough refused admission to school to a nomadic Pavee girl supported by the Southern Gypsy Council, Mary Delaney, on the grounds that being a Traveller, she did not belong to the area. The Education Secretary Shirley Williams promised legal reform, but the Labour Government did not deliver before it fell in 1979. The National Gypsy Education Council led by Peter Mercer, however, pursued the new Conservative government and persuaded the new schools minister, Rhodes Boyson, that this discrimination was morally unacceptable. Together, with the active support of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Education, Don Buckland HMI and Arthur Ivatts HMI, they wrote into the 1981 Education Act the right of even nomadic Romani and Traveller children to be admitted to any school with vacancies15. This was the first law to give nomadic children an unquestioned right to state education. Throughout the 1980s, the broad coalition led by Peter Mercer co-operated with local authorities to try to improve accommodation rights for nomads and education access for all Romanichals, Kale, Minceirs, Pavees, and Nachins and achieved considerable advances. Primary education for nomadic Roma became near universal in this time, and safe caravan site accommodation increased dramatically.

  • Thomas Acton | Association of Gypsy Organisations / National Gypsy Education Council Information Leaflet | leaflet | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1978 | rom_30013 Rights held by: Thomas Acton | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Thomas Acton - Private Archive
  • Thomas Acton | Association of Gypsy Organisations / National Gypsy Education Council Information Leaflet | leaflet | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1978 | rom_30013 Rights held by: Thomas Acton | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Thomas Acton - Private Archive

A period of professionalisation, 1990 – 2008

In 1990, a young Essex Gypsy activist, Charles Smith, determined to recapture the glory days of the Gypsy Council, defeated Peter Mercer for the chairmanship of the NGEC and persuaded it to re-name itself the Gypsy Council for Education, Welfare and Civil Rights. It was sued by the old National Gypsy Council, led by Hughie Smith, but won the case and was awarded £14,000 in costs. It became a limited company, actively sought grants, found a permanent office in Avely, Essex and employed secretarial help. Romani pop-singer, David Essex agreed to become its Patron16. Links with India were actively promoted by Veerendra Rishi, son of the diplomat W. R. Rishi who had founded the journal ROMA17. After 1989 when Roma from Europe began to immigrate in large numbers, the Gypsy Council tasked Donald Kenrick and Thomas Acton, as speakers of international Romani to carry out casework. Gradually East European Roma organisations were started, with Ladislav Balasz organising Slovak Roma. Slovak Roma also helped found the Roma Support Group in 1998, but this became dominated largely by Polish Roma, with Rosa Kotowicz as Chair and Sylvia Ingmire as organiser and then Chief Executive18. It worked, however for all Roma and was the most successful NGO in raising grants, attracting to its board also Romanian Roma civil rights workers such as Cornel Rezmives, who had worked with Nicolae Gheorghe in the 1980s.

The new Gypsy Council seemed to face political defeat because of the repeal of the 1968 Caravan Sites Act in 1992, but concentrated on the delivery of expert, well-thought out advice on individual welfare issues; but other organisations, no longer part of the easy-going NGEC led by Peter Mercer, became more autonomous. After a dispute about the role of gay Roma, Sylvia Dunn left the Gypsy Council to form the National Association of Gypsy Women in 1994, which continued for 20 years19. She was supported by Peter Mercer and the East Anglian Gypsy Council and aligned themselves with the Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group led by Siobhan Spencer, which gradually became the largest Romanichal NGO. A growing independence in action of both British Gypsy and Traveller women20, and immigrant Roma women21 marked this period. The fact that both the DGLG and the GC were clearly Romanichal-led organisation led to the foundation of the Irish Travellers’ Movement, led by Irish Catholic activists but championing Pavee and Minceir activists, who gradually took a bigger role in the running of the organisation22. Also important was the founding of Friends and Families of Travellers, an organisation for New Travellers, hippies who had made a living from the pop festival circuit23, which was gradually taken over by members who actually had Romanichal, Nachin, Pavee or Minceir heritage, but continued to champion nomads regardless of ethnic origin24. All the groups competed to gain grants from the government or foundations, and to carry out case-work for community members, and gradually took less interest in campaigning to change government policy or in the international struggle, as splits in the International movement disillusioned activists.

The gap in the lobbying effort became evident in 1997. The high hopes that Travellers had of the new Labour Government were dashed when Prime Minister Tony Blair sacked all the old Labour shadow ministers the Traveller organisations had been talking to and adopted even worse policies than the Major Tory government. A new Traveller Law Reform Coalition (TLRC) was founded in 2002, organised by lawyers, and fronted by a new radical Traveller activist, Len Smith. The Gypsy Council, the Travellers’ Movement, the NFGLG, the Scottish Traveller Action Group, and Friends Families and Travellers were enthusiastic supporters, bringing a level of unity unseen for twenty years. The TLRC presented itself as a think tank offering evidence-based advice and gradually brought the government round again to the idea of caravan site provision based on need. In 2005, the coalition collapsed from internal conflicts, and the National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups was founded, with the Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group (with Siobhan Spencer) and the East Anglian Gypsy Council (with Peter Mercer) as its main initial supporters25. Other major players were the Traveller Movement (initially the Irish Traveller Movement) and Friends, Families and Travellers (originally centred on New Travellers). All of these followed the model of grant-funded professionalization pioneered by Charles Smith. The Gypsy Council, however, was hit hard by illness. First its president, Josie Lee and then its chairperson Charles Smith died in 2005, while its secretary, Ann Bagehot and its treasurer, George Wilson became ill. Daniel Baker, who had expanded the artistic work of the Gypsy Council, took over as chair as the accounts were falling into arrears, and had the difficult and painful task of supervising the winding-up of the Gypsy Council as a limited company. During his period of office, the new Romani Visual Arts became an important movement in its own right, not only in the UK, but internationally26. An important educational initiative supported by the whole Traveller Law Reform Coalition was Gypsy, Roma, Traveller History Month, (still celebrated every June); remembering the fate of Roma in the Nazi holocaust is also an increasingly important aspect27. Initially funded by the UK government28 it was led by Patricia Knight, a Romani teacher who won a reputation for a courageous local battle (fought with the aid of Janet Keet-Black of the 500-strong Romani and Traveller Family History Society29), against the villagers of Firle, who burned Gypsies in effigy on their 5th November ‘Bonfire Night’, in 200330.

Dr Daniel Baker is an artist, curator and art theorist. A Romani Gypsy born in Kent, he holds a PhD in Roma aesthetics from the Royal College …

Back to the roots: Dale Farm, the revival of a campaigning Gypsy Council, and an increasingly pluralistic campaign, 2008-today

During the last few years of Charles Smith’s leadership, voices began to be raised again for a more populist approach, particularly from Grattan Puxon, returned from international service and from Joe G. Jones of the Thames Valley Gypsy Council31. The struggle against mass evictions at Dale Farm32 provided the rallying cause for this movement and brought in a new generation of leaders in including Candy Sheridan, Joe P. Jones, Richard Sheridan, Phien O’Reachtigain, Phil Regan and Frank, Garry and Olby Brazil, of the Marden Gypsy Museum.

These took over the running of the Gypsy Council as a voluntary, unincorporated association, refocused on practical land planning struggles. Meanwhile, as chairperson, Valdemar Kalinin ensured that the Gypsy Council was concerned with the plight of immigrant Roma. The Gypsy Council became, once again, a ‘rainbow coalition’, not based on one group but seeking to bring together all Gypsy, Traveller and Roma groups, in a common struggle against racism. Without funds, or any employees it remained a much smaller organisation than the National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups, the Traveller Movement, the Roma Support Group, or Friends, Families and Travellers. All these groups are resisting government attempts to lesson support for Gypsy, Roma, Traveller rights, education and accommodation, with the general support of religious bodies, such as the Light and Life Mission33, the London Gypsy Church34, and the Churches Network for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma35. The foundation of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Police Association in 2013, by two serving Police Officers, the Romanichal Jim Davies and the Czech Roma, Petr Torak, combatted racism by the police against its own officers and created a ‘new normal’ for acknowledging the rights of Roma36.

In 2016 various Gypsy Council members attended Congresses of different factions of the IRU in Riga and Skopje. The Skopje IRU command most support because of its commitment in principle to democratic transition and mass electronic voting.37

Ioana Constantinescu | Interview with Jim Davies. Personal background and struggle | Non Fiction | 2017 | rom_30047_1 Rights held by: Ionana Constantinescu / Thomas Acton | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive

The Gypsy Council celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Gypsy Council in the same room, in the same public House, Kent in December 201638. Sadly, almost immediately it split, with a breakaway National Gypsy Traveller and Roma Council (NGTRC), being led by Phien O’Reachtigain. The most important Romani NGOs in the UK remain the Romani Cultural and Arts Company, the National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups (NFGLG), the Travellers’ Movement (TM), Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT), the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller Police Association and The Roma Support Group (RSG).