This blog was kindly contributed by Colleen Roper, co-founder of Future4Fairgrounds.
My name is Colleen Roper, and I am part of an organisation called Future4Fairgrounds. We are a group of six Showmen, all women, who came together in September 2020 to provide a platform for the concerns of our community. Our aims are to celebrate our past, raise awareness for our present and protect the future of the Showmen community.
Showmen are a distinct and unique travelling community, intrinsically linked to the fairground industry. We are not an ethnic group, but our tangible cultural heritage is recognised, and this was recently acknowledged in the 2021 census where for the first time we were able to identify using our background and say who we are as a group of people and not just what we do as businesspeople.
Our community values education: our children attend school as often as possible and, as parents, we support our children as they achieve amazing things academically. Our young people are more likely now than ever before to continue from primary into secondary education. Attainment in education for Showmen is at an all-time high, as our children are passing GCSEs at expected levels and beyond. Further education is increasingly considered as a viable option, and many more Showmen are carrying on into higher education. There are Showmen who have studied at Cambridge and who are currently studying at Oxford and Durham Universities, to name a few. My eldest son is at university in Manchester. Showmen are achieving amazing things in education.
But you will have to take my word for it, as I can’t give you statistics or data on any of this. This was noted in a recent HEPI report. The School Census does not allow for data collection of Showmen.
There simply is no data available on our community in education. We are unable to identify as Showmen on admission or enrolment forms. This is at every level in education from early years foundation stage through to higher education. Our young people are invisible in education. Showmen are often overlooked, underrepresented and misunderstood in education despite being included in the ‘GRT’ (Gypsy, Roma and Traveller) umbrella. I believe the ‘GRT’ umbrella term does not represent our community at all and does a disservice to all those community groups included with in it. I have found teachers often do not realise they are distinct identities. There is no mention of my heritage at all with in the acronym. This needs to change on a national level. We need to be seen and we need to be included.
There is change happening, and being included in the HEPI study despite the lack of quantitative data supports my view, as does the launch of the GTRSB into Higher Education Pledge.
I am hopeful for the future of Showmen in education. I hope that the misconceptions and prejudice that our young people see in school will stop. I hope that Showmen families to be more accepted and understood. I hope our children can be celebrated and feel integrated into school life. I hope they can see their culture represented and valued. I hope that when the time comes my grandchildren do not have to explain their background to peers and teachers who don’t understand who they are and what their way of life means to them. This is unfortunately what my children have had to do, and what I had to do before them. We hope that by being included we can change the narrative for our community.
I hope that this short blog has sparked a thought. I hope we can start a conversation. I hope you can make a change and I really hope we can make a difference.