No Place to Call Home will be published next Thursday – after pretty much 18 months work on it, and not much else, and some years before that, of course, spending time with the Romani Gypsy and Traveller communities (and, in later times, getting to know some of the newly arrived Roma as well).
The Observer newspaper ran an extract from one of the chapters, about one of the most difficult conflicts around Gypsies and the settled community I have covered, in the Midlands last Sunday. You can read it here:
That particular conflict continues, with an ongoing inquiry, which the Communities Secretary himself has called in as a decision on which he will personally decide.
Looking back over the last seven years, since I first visited a Traveller site, what have I learnt? I’ve met wonderful, friendly and warm-hearted people both from the Gypsy and Traveller communities and the settled community, and I’ve witnessed many officials, council workers, some politicians, campaigners and police officers trying to make things better for all concerned. I’ve also witnessed racism, hostility, and a wish to ratchet up conflict, rather than reach a solution that benefits everybody.
I’d like to see a conflict resolution model applied to the vexed issue of accommodation for the communities, and for people without a home to be treated with more compassion. As one young disabled, homeless Gypsy told me recently, “We would die rather than move onto a cricket pitch, most of us would. You would have to be really desperate to do something like that.” We need better solutions than that to a homelessness problem that is benefitting nobody – I think everyone can at least agree on that. So maybe that’s the place to start from – because everyone, in the end, wants a place they can call home.