The article is informative, though worrying. ACERT members may be shocked that after decades of campaigning, a progressive newspaper does not give the recognised racial groups Gypsy and Traveller of Irish Heritage the respect of capital initial letters. We will take this up with the paper.
On 16th May ACERT received the following message via the Contact us link on our website:
Dear Sir/Madam, I am sorry to trouble you at what must be a busy time, but my dad, Gerwyn Davies is about to celebrate the 70th anniversary of his marriage to my mum Gwyneth. The party we had planned has been cancelled of course, but I wondered if someone from ACERT may be able to record a short congratulatory message and send it back to me which I could then play to them during our planned Zoom call on the day. In the 70s my dad was Head of a primary school in Bedfordshire and working with a gentleman from the Traveller community called George Marriott, set up what I think may have been one of if not the first permanent classrooms for traveller children in the grounds of his school in Kensworth with money donated by amongst others John Lennon. If someone from ACERT could do something to help us mark this special day I'd be very grateful Very best wishes and stay well Nick
The message was circulated to the Executive Committee and elicited the following response from Thomas Acton:
My God! I am utterly amazed Gerwyn Davies is still alive. I actually co-authored a paper with him on Romani children's language use in school, which was based on his MA thesis. The article was published in a special number of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language (in 1979) edited by no less a luminary than Professor Ian Hancock, OBE, still alive and now a University of Texas emeritus Professor. Of course I remember George Marriott very well also and so will Grattan Puxon also still alive.
Davies G. and Acton T. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE SOCIOLOGY OF LANGUAGE No.19, 1979 "Educational Policy and Language Use"
Gerwyn was a great friend of the actor Richard Burton, with whom he was himself at primary school in Wales. Richard Burton used to visit Gerwyn just for the pleasure of speaking their native Welsh together. The school project Gerwyn ran was I think joint first as an official local education authority project with that run in Kent by the young C.A.Beresford-Webb.
I well remember, as will Grattan, the celebration we had just up the road from the school on the day in 1970 that Part II of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 came into force. We lit a huge bonfire by the caravan that John Lennon had bought and the smoke drifted across the M1 (especially after one of the Travellers put an old tyre on the fire.) Somewhere there are photos
I have left a message on Nick Davies' phone, and I will text him now.
Thomas did more than that. This is the video clip he sent to Nick Davies:
At the same time, Margaret Wood was doing a bit of online research around this story. This is what she came up with.
In the late 1960s the issue of education of Gipsy children became news. A caravan at Luton Road, Caddington, began to be used as a school [E/PM3/2/1] and in 1970 Gerwyn Davies, headmaster of Kensworth and two of his colleagues volunteered to teach pre-school Gipsy children whilst on strike. In May 1971 it was proposed to station the school caravan permanently at Kensworth School [PCKensworth26/6]. It was 22 feet long and owned by the Gipsy Council. It was intended to site it just inside the main gate in Clayhall Road. It was noted: “It would appear that the Headmaster of the School considers that this would be a first step towards integrating the gipsies with the rest of the community. The County Planner, from whom the enquiry originated, feels that the proposal commends support”.
The Dunstable Gazette of 15th September 1972 reported that John Lennon and Yoko Ono provided a substantial sum of money for a new caravan at Kensworth School [SS/GT2/2]. The old caravan had been set on fire by vandals and had to be scrapped. It was 54 feet long, staffed by two teachers, paid by Bedfordshire County Council and accommodated about twenty children. The continuation of the story is no doubt in the school logbooks of the period but, sadly, they are not held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service.
Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service
On 31st May, Nick Davies posted this response.
Please forgive the general email but so many of you contributed both personally and on behalf of your organisations that it would take me a fortnight to write to you all separately.
I’d just like to say a huge “thank you” and “diolch yn fawr” to all of you, on behalf of me and my brothers Rod and Jon, for helping make my mum and dad’s 70th Wedding Anniversary such a fantastic occasion. They had 63 cards and numerous phone calls. I had 27 video/audio and email messages that I managed (just!) to incorporate on the Zoom call we had with them and their extended family and to cap it all they had Paul Potts come to their street , stand outside and sing them a few arias (thanks again Andrew G, I’ll write separately to thank Paul which I’d be grateful if you could pass on).
Both mum and dad were ”blown away” by everyone’s best wishes whether conveyed materially personally or virtually and very much appreciated the contributions not just from their current community in Port Talbot but also those from earlier in their very long marriage in Luton and Dunstable and elsewhere.
Attached are a couple of photos taken on the day (and one from the original date 70 years ago) – I’m sure you’ll agree they both look extremely well at 94 and 93 ! There is footage of the singing in Hafod St on Facebook if you go to either my wife’s (Margy Davies) or brother’s (Jon Davies) page you will find a link there.
As many of you said in your messages , it’s good to have a bit of good news to celebrate during these challenging times, and let’s hope it won’t be long before we and many of you will be able to see mum and dad in real life.
I wish you and yours all the very best to stay healthy and come out of the current situation all the stronger
With our sincere thanks once again
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Education has had, over decades, many compassionate and committed supporters. It is important that their contribution is recognised.
Mihai Calin Bica, a campaigning and policy worker for the Roma Support Group, has written a powerful description of the impact of the disease and lockdown on Roma communities in the UK, published in the Independent on 9th May under the headline “Already vilified, the Roma are struggling in a crisis.”
Mihai sets the Roma experience of the pandemic in the context of discrimination and prejudice. In addition Roma continue to suffer the uncertainties about status resulting from Brexit.
As families face financial insecurity, a disproportionate risk of infection and reduced access to education and services, the UK’s Roma community has also been met with an increase in discriminatory attitudes.
He tells of a young victim of Corvid whose families face the “almost impossible task” of returning their bodies to their homelands. He also suggests that in some localities Roma are suffering disproportionately.
Diana Blaj from Ideea Rom Association, a Nottingham-based Roma organisation, reports that about 40 of the 400 Roma they’re working with have been infected or had symptoms.
He explains how many Roma are employed informally or through agencies and their work has just disappeared with lockdown.
Most Roma in the UK live in poor areas and the majority are renting in the private sector, from unscrupulous or rogue landlords. Even under lockdown many are threatened with eviction.
“Our own community has risen to the challenge”
Mihai tells of Roma volunteers in London, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and Crewe delivering food parcels to vulnerable families in their local areas, organising social networks and challenging discrimination.
During this time of lockdown – when all of us are vulnerable – we need to come together, increase our understanding of each other, find common ground and common decency. We are not asking for special treatment. We want fairness.
This is a moving and comprehensive article which should be widely distributed and read.
I thank God that kids aren’t in school right now. After Thursday’s airing of Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches: The Truth of Traveller Crime’, I wouldn’t go back to school for a week. When a program like that has been aired, it is always seen by the parents of children that I go to school with. They spread their hate to their children. It is seen by the children themselves a lot of the time as well. Let the racist comments begin.
And everytime something like that is aired, the levels of racism go up. Not to the point where I am openly targeted in the playground, canteen or classroom, but more to the point where people ask me if it is true, and there are racist slurs written on bathroom stalls.
How could I be expected to go to school and have to face this?
The Gypsy Roma Traveller community has so many battles to fight. And now they have another one – against Channel 4. How dare Channel 4 air this program. They have set our community back by decades. Any battles which we have won in the past have been wiped from memories as we face racist comments on social media and in real life as a result. One Twitter user, after the show was aired, posted, ‘I’ve never wanted a certain group of people to get wiped out by coronavirus so much #dispatches’.
I ask why there has been no legal action taken against posts like these. I ask why there is currently no legal action being taken against Channel 4 for producing and airing such a vile, vulgar and vindictive program.
I ask why this program was not filtered and changed. Why is it okay to air such a one-sided program on our community?
Why is racism at our culture the last acceptable form?