Gypsies and Travellers in Housing – pioneering book examines huge changes About the university

Gypsies and Travellers in Housing: the Decline of Nomadism A pioneering book looking at the settlement of Gypsies and Travellers in conventional housing has been co-authored by a University of Greenwich academic.

Gypsies and Travellers in Housing: the Decline of Nomadism has been seven years in the making and is the first UK published study looking at the new reality for many of the travelling community.

David Smith, Principal Lecturer in Sociology in the university’s Faculty of Education and Health, co-wrote the book. He says: “There has never been a discussion of Gypsies and Travellers in housing – bricks and mortar – but that’s where most of them are now.

“I grew up in Mitcham on an estate that had a lot of Gypsies nearby. They were moved off their camps on to our estate in the 1960s so this is something which has always interested me. In 1994 the Criminal Justice Act scrapped the obligation for councils to provide sites and made unauthorised camping a criminal offence. So now if you have a caravan and nowhere to legally stop in it then you’re classed as homeless so a lot go down that route and end up in social housing.

“It is difficult to measure true numbers because until 2011 Gypsies and Travellers were not included as an ethnic category in the census, and many won’t declare their ethnicity anyway because of fear of discrimination. Most estimates range between 200k to 300k English Gypsies and Irish Travellers in the UK plus another 150k to 200k Roma from East and Central Europe. Around two thirds of these are in housing.

“If there’s a history of interaction between Gypsies and the ‘mainstream’ community it helps. In the 50s and 60s there were large-scale evictions from Belvedere Marshes, Corke’s Meadow in Orpington and Dartford Woods so south east London has a large population of Travellers staying in those areas. There are some in camps, such as the Thistlebrook site in Abbey Wood, but there is a bigger population in housing. It’s the same in places like Croydon, Mitcham and Wandsworth where you have long established communities settled into housing”

The delicate nature of gaining the trust of the travelling community meant that the book took a long time to complete, with research beginning in 2006. Four years later David and co-author Margaret Greenfields – Professor of Social Policy in the Department of Society and Health at Bucks New University began writing.

“We had contacts within the south London and Kent communities who vouched for us and that was a big help,” adds David. “We showed them drafts of the book and got feedback. Generally, I found the people easy to interview because they liked the opportunity to talk about their experiences, but a lot are resigned to their treatment in the media and feel other minorities would never be treated like they are.”

For more on studying Sociology at the University of Greenwich: by Public Relations