Council appointment recognises Gypsy communities

As Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month gets underway in June, East Ayrshire Council has reinforced its commitment to support the needs of these communities with the appointment of a new Gypsy/ Traveller Integration and Engagement Officer.

Margo MacMillan took up post last week, providing a single point of contact within the Council for all matters relating to Gypsy/Travellers within the local area.

Margo explained a bit more about her role. She said: “I will be working extensively with local Gypsy/Travellers communities to find out how the Council can better meet their needs and I believe that engagement rather than enforcement is the best way forward. This will provide opportunities to challenge stereotyping and prejudices that unfortunately still exist.”

Margo will be developing a Gypsy/Traveller cultural awareness training and development framework, including an e-learning module and live training sessions for staff, Community Planning Partners, Elected Members and local communities.

East Ayrshire Council is also the first local authority in Scotland to pilot ‘Negotiated Stopping Places’ – an initiative which offers an alternative to the traditional enforcement-based approach to Unauthorised Encampments. It involves open dialogue and negotiation between the Council and Gypsy/Travellers who pass through the area. The purpose is to enable Gypsy/Travellers to stay for an agreed limited period of time, whilst adhering to a code of conduct specified by the Council. In return for adhering to the code of contact, the encampment will be provided with basic facilities such as water, toilet facilities and domestic refuse uplift.

This approach was first tried by Leeds City Council, who have since reported better community cohesion with lasting breakdown of negative stereotypes, reduced instances of antisocial behaviour and Gypsy/Travellers having better access to services such as education and health.

Councillor Elena Whitham, cabinet member with responsibility for Housing and Communities is passionate about improving the lives of Gypsy/Travellers.

She said: “Scottish Gypsy/Travellers experience amongst the highest levels of discrimination and it is right that East Ayrshire Council is taking steps to tackle this locally. Margo brings incredible knowledge to the Engagement Officer role and working collaboratively with the Travelling community and the Council, I know she will help to break down barriers, tackle stigma and forge better relationships across departments and communities.”