The realities of life as a gypsy in Lincolnshire

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They playfully punched each other, happily posed for the camera and were open about the fact that they don’t go to school.

These three typically lively and engaging boys, aged between nine and 12, in part explain the difficulty our culture has in accepting the gypsy and traveller way of life.

Three of the young people who took part in the project: from left ' Levi Ward (9), Fred Hardy (12) and Martin Ward (11). Photo: SG270213-114NG

Three of the young people who took part in the project: from left ' Levi Ward (9), Fred Hardy (12) and Martin Ward (11). Photo: SG270213-114NG

They had travelled from the north of the county to Gordon Boswell’s Romany Museum in Spalding for the launch of a project entitled Our Big Real Gypsy Lives: Bigger, truer, happier.

The Lincolnshire Traveller Initiative joined forces with artists to give around ten young people aged between nine and 24 from the gypsy and traveller community the opportunity to create their own poetry and prose and to learn the skills needed to talk to their elders about their lives and traditions and record the conversations.

It has resulted in a book containing young people’s writing, a documentary film, audio CD, photographs, a touring exhibition, a website and an education pack for use in schools.

The book highlights how gypsy and traveller children such as our three boys are forced to grow up between two worlds: the traditions handed down by parents and grandparents which may put more emphasis on life skills, such as fishing, and the wider world’s expectations regarding education and employment.

Gordon Boswell says more gypsy and traveller children do attend school now, but there is still pressure on some girls as young as 12 to give up school and learn how to cook and clean.

The book the young people produced illustrates the ways in which the girls, protected by family, are occasionally shocked by the behaviour of their Gorja, or non-traveller, schoolmates. For instance, Linda, now 20, had a good experience at Cowbit Primary School, but things went downhill after the family moved north to be close to a dying relative. At 13 and in secondary school she was upset by girls her age smoking, becoming pregnant and by the general gossiping and vulgarity. She says she had “quite a lot of time out” as a result.

She married her first boyfriend and says she would never remove her child from school at nine because “in the next 20 years they’ll need an education. It’s getting hard for people, especially people who can’t read or write.”

She says: “When me dad was little it wasn’t so hard, he could go out calling an’ that. But my kids – every one of them will learn how to do something, they’ll have to.

“You go and knock on someone’s door now and try to sell them something they’ll turn you away.”