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The Bristol Cable

Bristol Travellers fill food banks for Christmas

The #FoodbankNomination started in Ireland but has since spread all over the world, including Bristol. We spoke to the Bristol Gypsies and Travellers who’ve taken part.

Bristol and Beyond

The #FoodbankNomination started in Ireland but has since spread all over the world, including Bristol. We spoke to the Bristol Gypsies and Travellers who’ve taken part.

Photo: Mike Doherty/Travellers Times

Bristol’s Gypsies and Travellers are giving thousands of pounds worth of food and toys to food banks in the run up to Christmas.

The #FoodbankNomination uses video challenges spread on social media to get donations, like the ALS challenge. It started as a few people filming themselves with a basket or trolley of donations and nominating friends and family, but it quickly went viral and has spread from Ireland to England and now all over the world. Food banks are filling up with donations.

Phil*, an Irish Traveller in Bristol, donated a basket of food at his local supermarket and then nominated eight of his family and friends.

“Christmas has a way of making people think, makes people a little more generous. It’s the bad weather and the cold,” he told the Cable.

“Because I think that a lot of Travellers have struggled in their lives and have faced an awful lot of hardship, they can relate to poor times”.

Lynne*, another Irish Traveller in Bristol, made the same link.

“I’ve not really got  a lot of money for us and myself, but I’m thinking: I have a bed, we have a home, we have food on the table.

“God brought us into this world and we are all one, and I think it’s wrong, I think there should be more community out there doing something for these homeless people.”

The whole thing started up when Irish Traveller living in County Durham, Watson Harrop was out shopping for his three-month-old daughter. He decided to donate a basket of shopping to his food bank and, while he was at it, made a video nominating friends to do the same. Harrop, a professional harness racer, nominated a fellow racer in the US, which made the #FoodbankNomination go international, and then it came to England and Bristol, where many of the city’s Gypsy and Traveller communities took up the challenge.

A spokesperson from charity, The Traveller Movement called it “a fantastic gesture from right across the country by the GRT communities and at at time of great need for many families.

“It’s just a great shame that positive and generous actions like this are not picked us and shared more.”

Lynne did the challenge. “I didn’t do a nomination, I just put some food into the baskets – all stuff, cereal, pastas, you name it,” she told the Cable.

When she went to make the donation, she noticed the difference in attitude towards people in need and animals in need. “There was a full basket for the RSPCA and there was not one thing on the other side for the homeless people.”

A spokesperson for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller charity Friends, Families and Travellers said they were “pleased but not at all surprised to see the generosity of so many Gypsies and Travellers as part of the foodbank nominations this winter.

“Generosity, community and selflessness are highly valued within Gypsy and Traveller communities, at all ages.

“Just last Christmas, we asked young people we work with what they would like to do as a Christmas fun activity. The young people asked us if they could go carol singing to raise money for the homeless. After singing carols, they went to the shop and spent their own money on sweets and chocolate to give out to homeless people in Brighton city centre.”

As far as Lynne’s concerned, it’s up to us to look out for those in trouble, because help is not coming from people in power. And she’s not optimistic about the future. “Even that Theresa May up there, she’s doing nothing for Travelling people, she’s doing nothing for poor people. It’s ridiculous, honest to God. And this country’s going to get worse, mind. Especially now Brexit’s coming.”

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“The police over here and the guards in Ireland are going round taking [rough sleepers’] tents and their sleeping bags, the council removing their property. Come on. People are dying of it, some people have died of it. It’s the governance, they’re nasty and they’re doing more for the rich than what they’re doing for the poor.”

Supermarket calls police on Travellers buying toys to donate

23 Traveller men in Surrey, took the challenge a step further. They went en masse to their Smyth’s Toys in Slough with thousands of pounds they’d raised in their local community, and bought trollies full of toys to donate. “We’ve filled their bellies, now let’s keep this chain going,” said Guildford-based Traveller Bobby Butcher, who made the nomination.

Staff at the shop panicked and called the police on them.

Police arrive at Smyths Toys from Mike Doherty on Vimeo.

“They had probably never seen anything like it before,” Butcher told the Travellers Times.

“The police where fine, they worked out that it was for charity and soon left saying they were off to fight some real crime.”

Lynne is used to being treated with suspicion, called names and bullied because of being a Traveller.

“Oh God, for years. And it’s even still going on today, we were getting called p****s, kn****s, you name it… and you can see now where the Traveller community is doing so good for these homeless people.”

“A lot of Travellers are a lot more generous than what people think they are and understand that poor people need help and are actually willing to do it”

Phil, who only agreed to talk to me after I promised his name wouldn’t end up in the article, is also frustrated by the perceptions of Travellers and Gypsies. “We’re getting tarred with all the bad people,” he tells me. “A lot of Travellers are a lot more generous than what people think they are, and understand that poor people need help and are actually willing to do it.

“The way that they get portrayed a lot of the time is not that nice. It’s always the one thing about Travellers. It’s not all Travellers, it’s the minority. The majority of Travellers in my opinion are good, decent people.”

Lynne hopes that non-Travellers will take up the challenge too. “This is not just about Christmas, I know Christmas is a big thing but I hope all the community, not just Travellers, but all of the community out there [gets involved],” she told the Cable. If you want to get involved, just take a video of your donation – you can leave the food in your local supermarket donation basket or food bank – and nominate your friends, using the hashtag #FoodbankNomination. Find out more about the Foodbank Nominations on their Facebook page.

*names have been changed on request.

Are you a Gypsy, Roma or Traveller with a story to tell?

Please get in touch if you want to share your experience by emailing: content@thebristolcable.org

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