Every June since 2008, people from across the UK have celebrated Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month (GRTHM). With celebration, education and efforts to raise awareness of the histories and experiences of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) people, GRTHM helps to tackle prejudice, challenge myths and to amplify the voices of this community.
This year’s theme is 'What Makes a Home? - this provides us as a social housing sector and wider society with the opportunity to step back and reflect on the progress we’ve made and the challenges which remain in providing safe, sustainable and secure housing options for this unique community. While there is more to do and many barriers remain, in the past year we’ve seen positive progress in many areas.
As Chair of the National Policy Advisory Panel on Gypsy and Traveller Housing, I’ve taken the opportunity to review the areas of progress that’s been made. I’m proud to lead on this group of housing providers committed to providing good quality housing and raising accommodation standards for the Gypsy and Traveller community.
There is a huge need for good quality and well-managed social housing for this community and where this is done well and in partnership with local councils and communities, sites can and do thrive.
The government’s £10m Levelling Up fund for new and refurbished sites places the GRT community within a mainstream policy agenda in a way, which was something of a surprise, at least to me. It should help councils and housing associations deliver a number of new sites across England, alongside a £20m capital programme already underway in Scotland. With Homes England also providing the necessary grant rates for GRT housing, the money to deliver is out there.
Housing associations within the National Advisory Panel on Gypsy Traveller Housing are increasingly working to embrace the challenges of future consumer regulation with a specific focus on the GRT community. Elim Housing is leading a data-gathering exercise for the group on customer satisfaction and other performance metrics for GRT residents so we can clearly see an evidence-based picture for these specific residents within our wider General Needs portfolios.
Meanwhile, Rooftop Housing Group is currently developing a ‘local offer’ for GRT housing and has kicked off a ‘listening exercise’ over the next few weeks to get back into conversations with the community about what matters now, not least after the pandemic limited site visits and engagement opportunities.
We are also working with colleagues in education and public health to see whether we can create a wider engagement offer as we come out of a pandemic and into a cost-of-living crisis, which will have a significant impact on a community generally reliant on bought gas.
The Church of England within its wider housing strategy has recognised and prioritised the GRT community with steps taken to explore how to use land to meet their needs. In recent months, we’ve had both the state and the church recognise and allocate resources specifically for the provision of housing for the GRT community. It may have happened before but not during my time in housing.
There’s also growing momentum from councils and housing associations wanting to engage with the National Advisory Panel, rarely a week goes by without an inquiry. Moreover, we now have further funding through Friends Families and Travellers a charity that works on behalf of all GRT and through the Oak Foundation for a three-year programme to support this work.
Last month, representatives from the panel were invited to give evidence to a Council of Europe equality inquiry on conditions for the GRT community generally in the UK. People who matter and can drive change are listening to housing associations on this important issue.
We’ve come such a long way in creating services that are open and inclusive for the GRT community but it’s important to remember there’s still more work to do. As housing providers, we must review and work to implement good quality and well-managed housing and accommodation for GRT within our communities.
This June, let’s take some to consider how each of us can better understand and practice being welcoming to local Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.