2021 in review

The pandemic dominated journalism this year and last, but I wanted to use this last post of 2021 to give a round-up of the work I’ve been lucky enough to carry out this year, what I’m doing next year – and to thank everyone with whom I’ve worked – whether as a collaborator, an editor or as an interviewee.

I’ve written on subjects ranging from disability, to environmental justice, to the history of forced migration, as well as the plight of Afghan nationals, both here and stuck in Afghanistan, in a rapidly deteriorating situation. I’ve worked increasingly on the rights of Gypsy and Traveller communities, in a year in which the right to live a nomadic life has been put under extreme threat by the Johnson administration – and looked at the effect of hostility on community members. I wrote a long-read about the ten year anniversary since the eviction of Dale Farm, considering its lasting legacy.

I was also lucky enough to be asked to work with the veteran disability rights campaigner, Alicia Wood, in co-creating a new website, Dying to Matter, which aims to memorialise the deaths of those dying in institutional care. Our launch article was my long-read about the death of Danny Tozer. It’s a hard read, and I want to thank Danny’s family for being so generous with their time. I hope it’s a fitting tribute to a much loved son. Do visit the website if you’d like to read more, or post a memorial of a loved family member who died in care. We will start to post them as soon as possible.

Friendship and family has been a real comfort this year. Books too, so I’m including a link to some of the books I’ve reviewed. I enjoyed books by Pat Barker, Nigel Farndale and Meg Keneally, among many others.

I also reviewed three books that, in different ways, explored the rich experience of disability and family – by Jan Grue, Jessica Moxham and Melanie Pearson. All recommended.

Talking of books, I spent much of my spare time this year finishing off my first novel, The Low Road, which tells the story of two young women who were convicted of grand larceny and eventually transported to Botany Bay in the 1820’s. It is based on a true story I uncovered in my Norfolk home town – more news on the book next year. This year I also looked at the history of transportation in a long read for Byline Times, asking why it has largely been forgotten in the UK, whilst it is remembered in Australia.

Turning to next year, I’ll be continuing with my work on environmental justice and looking at how health intersects with planning and housing for my project for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. You can read more about that work in my previous post from just a month or so ago.

I’ve also teased out some of the intersections between low traffic neighbourhoods, environmental justice and marginalised communities, in an article for the Times – I hope to look at this area of work again, in my wider work on what environmental injustice looks and feels like.

My dad and me, as a very young adopted child

I’ve also returned to my own roots, thinking through my own family history of trans-racial adoption and asking more urgent questions about this government’s handling of children at risk of harm, abuse and neglect, and interrogating whether the profit motive is a fit one for boosting protection within our care system. I looked in detail at concerns around transparency, independence of the ongoing review of care and accountability in my latest article. In other articles for Byline Times I looked at the recent murders of two small children and asked about what good system change would look like.

Lastly, I want to point up an article I wrote for the Guardian in December 2020, just over a year ago. It looked at the effect of hate crime on Gypsy, Roma, Traveller and other related communities, including the high levels of suicide.

I hope that next year will be a happier, easier one for everybody. This year has been hard. Unfortunately it has convinced me even more that we need investigative journalism more than ever, as we live through dark times, with political mismanagement, to say the least.

Environmental racism, location of Traveller sites and human rights – my new investigation

Just a few weeks ago I was told that the Paul Hamlyn Foundation had awarded me a grant, through its Ideas and Pioneers Fund, to look at environmental injustice around the location of Traveller sites. I am hugely grateful to the Foundation for the grant.

Environmental injustice, also known as environmental racism where it applies to ethnic minority communities, is the effect of discrimination on the environment where communities live, which can have devastating mental and physical health effects. There’s an interesting paper in the medical journal, The Lancet, here, explaining it in greater depth. The reason I have widened out the concept to environmental injustice is that it can also apply to other marginalised groups, such as care leavers, women living in refuges and refugees – all of whom can also be housed in temporary or unsatisfactory housing.

The first stage to the work I have done looking at the effect of environmental injustice on nomadic or site-dwelling Gypsy and Traveller community members was to map all public (local authority or socially rented) Traveller sites in England, which I did in May this year, culminating in an investigation for Byline Times.

Typical site mapping for the first stage of the project, showing a site sandwiched between a railway line and busy road

The Paul Hamlyn Foundation planning project

For this new project, I’m hoping to look at sites that chart the history of planning since the passing of the Caravan Sites Act, which was implemented in 1970. This will include some recent sites, as well as some older ones.

I have now mapped Wales and Scotland as well, with similar findings to those in England. I am now starting to identify the sites to visit and research.


I will also do some more work on the health effects – both mental and physical – of living in or near dangerous and unpleasant places like sewage stations, rubbish tips and roads as well.┬áThe communities have lower levels of life expectancy, as well as higher levels of certain conditions, including gastro-intestinal, respiratory and disability in general, as well as higher levels of childhood accidents.


I’m involving local and national Gypsy, Roma and Traveller organisations in the work and aim to report parts of the work as I continue with the project. I will be saying a lot more about this going forward but the principle underpinning the work is the disability movement’s mantra, nothing about us, without us.

I hope this research project with the Paul Hamlyn Foundation will show how the planning system – which could be described as a machine – has levers which can embed racist or environmentally unjust practices, leading to health effects on a marginalised community. I hope I can demonstrate what the levers are and what lies behind them – a widespread hostility to Traveller sites, underpinned by both prejudice and a fear about house prices. How best can communities then be empowered to put a spanner in that machine and force better and more transparent practice in the future?