In a week where all sections of the UK media have piled into a neighbourhood of Sheffield which has seen a large influx of Slovakian Roma and stirred the pot, doing their bit to incite the riots predicted by MP David Blunkett, I have been left feeling profoundly depressed to be part of this industry.
The tabloids may have led the charge but those from which I would hope for better – ie the Guardian and BBC – did their bit to add to the hype and sensationalism in my opinion, while ostensibly maintaining a somewhat loftier position. I genuinely fear – although I hope I’m just being melodramatic – that this onslaught may have set some of the great work done to integrate Roma newcomers in the UK back significantly.
In my corner of Manchester we had some tensions not dissimilar to those being fanned in Sheffield in 2009-10 but much has improved through a lot of hard work by council staff, agencies such as the Big Life Company (which owns the Big Issue in the North), local residents and by involving members of the Roma community – of which Ramona (click on ELVIRA gallery in the menu on the left hand side) was one.
I fear the unintended consequence (or the consequence very much intended by some newspapers ) of this kind of reporting may be to reignite issues in other similar communities in the UK, including mine. I hope not, but every action tends to have a reaction and mistrust of Roma runs deep in many people.
This all makes my kind of work even more relevant but it also makes my work harder, since access and trust becomes more difficult to build as families withdraw for safety. This was my experience with indigenous Gypsy and Traveller communities following the whole Big Fat Gypsy Weddings fallout.
I don’t really want much to do with this current media storm – there are good Romani voices out there who are better placed than me to voice their views and I’m not into profiting from other people’s misfortunes, especially those I count as friends - but I wrote a little something about this nonsense and my current Side Gallery exhibition here (it was written before the Sheffield coverage).
For a more nuanced and less generalising view of Roma communities in the UK, check out the stories elsewhere on this website.
And read Ramona’s story in her own words here.