I will never forget meeting Gypsy and Traveller teenagers on an arts project in Birmingham. So similar to my own kids in many ways and yet living within a very different context. They were full of energy, ideas and enthusiasm for the future. Housing associations are in a unique position to make sure they have what all human beings need as a platform to succeed – a safe and secure place to call home.
Gypsies and Travellers remain marginalised in our society, even within the social housing sector. Private sites of variable quality and cost dominate and there is an evidenced shortage of affordable sites. There are also challenges in site provision, and can be tensions with local communities. But it doesn’t always have to be this way.
Four years ago Jo Richardson and I met and decided to try to bring together housing providers to share ideas and to try to change the perceptions of Gypsy Traveller communities, address discrimination and create the conditions for more and better social housing. So I am delighted that we now have more than 20 organisations involved on the National Policy Advisory Panel on Gypsy and Traveller Housing, a group we dreamt up together over a coffee and chat at De Montfort University (where Jo is Professor of Housing and Social Inclusion).
It’s been a long and interesting road, and this month I am thrilled that this group of self-starters with a shared passion has produced a new guide designed to encourage housing associations to take a look at how fantastic homes can be delivered and managed for Gypsies and Travellers.
With a tiny budget (thank you Creative Bridge) and no dedicated officer support, housing association professionals have come together to share what works so that others can understand and hopefully engage in this vital provision. Our group includes Gypsy and Traveller advocacy organisations, to ensure community voices are represented, but we are clear in our remit that this is a provider-led piece of work to show what we are doing, what we can do to build more and better affordable Gypsy Traveller sites. In many ways ‘Places we’re Proud of’ is a labour of love for those of us with a passion to showcase how housing for Gypsy and Traveller communities can and do work brilliantly. We do not (nor would we ever) claim it’s easy. Indeed, we highlight the challenges that are there. But we are very clear that with the right knowledge and support about how to develop and manage sites.
Jo and I are grateful to Baroness Cathy Bakewell, Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma for her support in writing a foreword, and the support of Rooftop, Broadland, Elim, Teign Housing, Cornwall Housing and Teignbridge Council for their input and financial contributions to make this happen. It will take you just 10 minutes to read ‘Places we’re Proud of’ and I hope it encourages you at least to find out more, or even to get in touch and tap into the huge expertise which exists among colleagues in the sector. We know that most housing associations could provide sites very effectively – the advice in the guide is a good place to start if you’re thinking about this. Join us in our quest to provide homes for all – what’s stopping you?