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Event to celebrate the traveller community following research on destigmatising socially marginal groups

An event celebrating the Gypsy, Romany and Traveller community will take place in Brighton this week, thanks to the work of a University of Sussex academic who has spent the last seven years working to destigmatise socially marginal groups.

Dr Roberta Piazza, Reader in English Language and Linguistics, has been researching the relationship between personal identity and place for Travellers and Gypsies, as well as the homeless population across Brighton and Hove.

Held in collaboration with Brighton & Hove City Council, and East Sussex County Council, the public event on Thursday will discuss public perceptions of and provision for the GTR community; a group which often faces instability and stigmatisation from settled society.

It is the third event to be held in the city as a result of Dr Piazza’s research.

She said: “The Gypsy, Romany and Traveller community often come up against a lot of negativity – but a lot of that is down to a lack of understanding for their way of life.

“My focus has always been on exploring the relationships between identity and place, but also how the ethos of stability, individualism and corporatism that informs our society can create and perpetuate exclusion and marginalisation.

“I wanted to collect the stories each community tells about itself through the voice of the people I interviewed but also reveal the stories the wider ‘settled’ community tell about them. My aim is to sensitise the public to the problems faced by marginal groups and I think more still needs to be done which is why events like this are so important.”

During the event at Jubilee Library, Dr Piazza will be presenting some of the interviews collected with female Travellers from the Horsdean site in East Sussex.

In the GTR community, women have a central role in both the domestic and the public realm – staying behind when the men go out to work, but also liaising with institutions and local authorities for access to healthcare, education and other basic services to make their lives endurable. Yet despite this responsibility, they are trapped in a patriarchal tradition of subservience.

Dr Piazza explained: “The women are often the ones more open to speaking to an outsider.

“Most women at Horsdean were happy to answer my questions and the interviews helped me discover more about their way of life, what is important to them and how they aspire to become more settled.

“The collaboration with Brighton & Hove City Council has been crucial to my work and I am very grateful; at times I have managed to inform the staff there about the Travellers’ specific needs because the women I interviewed were very open to me.

“Ultimately, I hope that I can help improve understanding between the settled and Traveller communities and change the feelings of fear or prejudice to curiosity and inclusion.”

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion said: "It's so important that we have a special time each year to celebrate Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month - a vital opportunity both to highlight the huge contribution these communities have made to our lives in Britain, and to commit ourselves to working together in partnership to help resolve the challenges they still face."

Dr Roberta Piazza will be speaking at the Jubilee Library in Brighton on Thursday 20 June from 9am until 1pm. Access to her event is free. 

By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Thursday, 20 June 2019