We have a dedicated team working in Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES) and Wiltshire who support traveling communities including Gypsy, Showpeople, Roma and boaters.
We caught up with Sophie and Carla from the team to talk about how the service provides vital support.
Who does the team support?
We support Gypsy, Roma, Traveller and Boater communities. These are a mixture of families and individuals who live on boats, traveller sites, on the roadside.
Why is the support so important? What makes your clients vulnerable or in need of the extra support.
Significant health inequalities exist between the travelling community and the general population in England. Our client group are amongst the lowest of any ethnicity in terms of educational outcomes also.
Most of our clients are classed as having No Fixed Abode (NFA) which makes it difficult to navigate systems such as Health and Social Care as they all rely on an address as a point of contact. We have put together a Cultural Awareness Training Programme in Wiltshire to highlight the inequalities faced by our client groups which include access to GP’s and medical services, access to education, digital exclusion, and a lack of sanitation & water facilities in the areas they reside in. The Cultural Awareness Training is now also being adapted for B&NES.
What kind of challenges can land-based travellers face?
Mostly accessing vital services such as health, housing, education, or social care due to the systems being online or lack of permanent address or due to illiteracy.
It’s also very challenging for travellers to find sites to live on or anywhere else to live really. This forces them to settle on the roadside or unsuitable areas, which often results in tensions between local residents.
There has not been a new site available in the BANES area for around 4 years now, and in most other counties it’s the same story. Research undertaken by the charity Friends, Families and Travellers shows that in January 2021, there were at least 1696 families on waiting lists for pitches on Traveller sites in England. Most of these families will be forced to live roadside as they have nowhere else to go.
The government are also currently proposing a new change in law which will mean that the vast majority of people living on unauthorised encampments (roadside) could face prison, a fine or the removal of family home vehicles for the “crime” of having nowhere else to go.
What kind of challenges can boaters face?
Boater’s face many of the same issues as land-based travellers. Without a fixed address, accessing services for health, housing, education, or social care can be challenging. In addition to facing the difficulties listed here, boaters are required to move their boats every 2 weeks to another Parish and have to move at least 22 miles in one direction annually. This increases the difficulty in accessing services as well as being faced with receiving fines if non-compliant to the rules & regulations. The Canal & River Trust own the Kennet & Avon Canal and have “rangers” who regularly check & record the movement of boats. Lack of water points & sanitation outlets are a significant problem in Wiltshire.
What sort of things do you do to support your clients?
The GRTSB Team all come from lived experience and all work part-time. The team are all highly experienced in the inequalities faced by our clients & live amongst the boating community. This enables excellence in the services we provide. Referrals are usually from word of mouth & mostly self – referrals, however we do often receive referrals Wiltshire & B&NES Councils, independent charitable organisations & specialist support services.
A majority if the work we do includes supporting clients with Universal Credit claims & Housing Benefit. We also support our clients to access GP Surgeries and have the knowledge to overcome the No Fixed Abode issue. We provide a sign posting service to specialist support & liaise with the Canal & River Trust on behalf of our clients to source a resolution on licencing issues for Boaters.
Outreach visits must be carefully planned as the areas we cover are vast & in the most rural of locations.
We work alongside Food Banks across Wiltshire & B&NES & distribute food parcels to those living in the harder to reach areas.
We also work alongside Winter Fuel Funding providers & have successfully allocated over 200 winter fuel funding referrals to members of the GRTSB Communities within the last 12 months.