|'The Gypsy Life', Anon. Mixed media March 2015|
The gypsy life? In one word, freedom
We're gathering interviews, reminiscence, printings, drawings and handmade books, for our project The Homeless Library, a collaboration with homeless people and older people in Greater Manchester. For the next couple of months we'll be based at The Wellspring, a homeless drop-in situated in Stockport and many of these blogs will be raw notes.
People have described their experiences of homelessness to us, and also reflected on interviews and old photos, which document other lives lived on-the-move. A couple of weeks ago we brought in photos of Traveller/Gypsy/Romany communities (so much meaning is held in a name, in a word). Some of the pictures were taken around 100 years ago, but the reactions to them were strong. Below is a small selection. People who live in ways that are different to us will attract our judgement, but that judgement is also a comment on ourselves. All of the interviewees here are all too well aware of this - and go on to talk about their own position in society.
I've lived on a Traveller site, yes. Been all over the country doing UPVC windows. At that time I was wanted by the police, made myself scarce. 30 pounds cash a day and you got fed. It was alright in summer, but when it's raining, get covered in mud. In the winter, freezing in a caravan. Work we were doing, we were like cowboys. In a way I was welcome, but they were a bit paranoid. Could be dead paranoid with their wives, over-protective and that. It's not for me that life, you can't get a shower and I try to keep myself clean. It's another stereotype, cos I'm homeless people think I should be a tramp. I keep myself clean.
Try to get on with it, try to get housing. People have been helpful to me. This (The Wellspring) it's a God centre. I believe in God and that. Homelessness, it's just a vicious circle. Circles can be broken. Am I a survivor? Yeah, definitely. I like being on the move, this life changes every minute - I figured that out for myself. Plan day by day, take each as it comes.
|'Gypsy Caravan' anon. Monoprint on vintage book. Feb 2015|
Those look like proper old gypsy caravans, Romany. I've known Irish Travellers. Old caravans, ornate. Write that word! Ornate. I've mostly known women - two or three women - from that community and they've left, left what I consider a cult. You're born into it. They were kicked out. One left because her dad had broken some of the rules and they have guilt by family. The sins of the father are passed down.
All women, the Travellers I knew. Tough but vulnerable, a contradiction. Absolute sweethearts these women I met. Met them around this place (The Wellspring) and out on the benches having a drink with a group of people.
Gypsies are Romany. There's English Gypsies, Irish travellers. Roma people come from Romania which is where the word comes from too. Roma.
An independent lifestyle. Don't seem to see the caravans now. Difficult to see how they could fit into modern society, it's so different from the house dwellers. They're always going to be a set apart and a minority. The gypsy communities must be very close, for their own security.
This old gypsy way, is it bygone, a thing of the past? Are they mostly builders now? On benefits? The old-style horses to pull them along, now superseded by vehicles. They used to have a big horse trade gathering in Yorkshire.
Me, I'm not keen on modern housing, there's too much outside interference. Housing should be just for living in, but it's something else now. Something that isn't talked about. There's a good reason for that, cos it's a racket. I'm talking about tenanted property. It's not yours and it's more and more reinforced that it's not yours by regulation. It's all about establishing a status quo where the tenant is at the lowest level. Tenants have no protection, no representation in Parliament. I've experienced it myself, that's my observation.
It's hard for ordinary people to get into politics and express their views. That's why they get a bad deal. Something's happened to get people here (in The Wellspring) hasn't it?
All participants interviewed by Phil at The Wellspring, Stockport Feb 2015. The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.