Stoke-on-Trent City Council to combat gypsy stereotype
A PLEA has been made for more funding to help combat "distrust" and "hostility" aimed at the city's gypsy population.
Officers at Stoke-on-Trent City Council carried out a review of public perception of travellers after councillors raised concerns about negative stereotypes.
They found many residents still believe "age old myths" about travellers and gypsies – and they have been "reinforced" by TV shows such as My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding
Themes reported included stereotyping travellers as being "dirty", "thieves", having "unruly children" and being responsible for anti-social behaviour.
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Now elected members have called for more work to be done in schools and communities to improve understanding about travellers' culture.
It comes as Hanley-based charity Brighter Futures works with the council to find a suitable site for a new, permanent 15-pitch camp.
The new pitches will be built by 2015 using £1 million in Government funding. Val Bourne, below, the council's assistant director of housing services, said: "There is little sympathy or understanding displayed by the local population regarding issues faced by the gypsy and traveller community.
"Many members of the public display considerable distrust and wariness around anything to do with gypsies and travellers and often perceive that the same rules don't apply to them.
"There have been no formal studies of local public perceptions of gypsies and travellers but we do know they are often negative and considerable hostility is displayed whenever issues arise."
The city council currently provides rented space for gypsies and travellers at Linehouses in Goldenhill.
It provides 33 permanent pitches and six temporary pitches, as well as facilities for the 137 residents who use them.
Awareness projects the city council has already supported include workshops on Nazi persecution of Eastern travellers held at The New Vic Theatre and commissioning a traveller storyteller to visit schools.
Councillor Bagh Ali, chairman of the adult services scrutiny committee which requested the review, said members want to see more investment to tackle the problem.
He added: "We share the concerns raised. The travelling community do face these problems. We are going to work very closely with officers to find out what more we can do to help improve things."
Councillor Sheila Pitt, the committee's deputy chairman, added: "It's essential that we get the message through and it would help us if it could be pushed a level further."
Councillor Randy Conteh, member for Penkhull and Stoke, tabled a recommendation that all elected members should be able to visit the Linehouses site to improve their own understanding.
He added: "I'm almost embarrassed to say that I didn't even know we had a permanent site for gypsies and travellers in the city.
"We can make use of a visit and pass on information to our communities."