Roma and proud

For the second part of my project on the UK’s Roma, I met with members of the Romanian community from Manchester and Slovakian community from Leeds. I’m convinced that these people are profoundly misunderstood and unfairly tarnished by the actions of a minority. This is the start of a long-term project for me, which follows on from my interest¬† in the British Gypsy and Traveller community. Download this week’s feature HERE or the entire investigation HERE.

If you live in the North, please buy a copy of the magazine. If it’s a Roma vendor, all the better.

minority report – Manchester’s Roma

I’m not entirely sure why but this has been the slowest moving and probably the most delicate project I’ve ever worked on as a journalist. I’ve been thinking about doing some work on the Romanian Roma who live near my home in Manchester since last summer and but only started trying to make contact with them in December. Since then it’s been a series of false starts, red herrings and frustrations for all kinds of reasons, not least enormous language and cultural barriers and issues of trust. There are problems with community cohesion in the area so there are sensitivities on all sides. I feel like I’m walking a tightrope and am braced for complaints.¬† Read the full feature here. Part two – the Roma perspective – will run next week.

trapped on the margins

It feels like a long time since I first wrote about a family of vulnerable and homeless British Gypsies from the York area who are enduring almost medieval living conditions and being moved on every three weeks under an asbo that they were handed five years ago. Well precisely nothing has changed in that time and the story finally made it into print this week. I’m still shocked by their situation, which I’ve seen on several occasions with my own eyes. It’s an incredibly complex and politically sensitive issue of course. I hope the authorities in the area will pull the stops out to help them but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Strangeways/Strangedays

Download my Big Issue in the North feature here

It’s kind of mad to think that Thursday marks the 20th anniversary of the Strangeways prison riots. Anyone aged 30 or over and from the North West of England will probably remember this very clearly – I know I certainly do. For 25 days in April 1990, the authorities lost control of Manchester’s iconic Victorian jail and inmates took to the roof to protest against poor conditions and abusive staff. Chronic overcrowding, a lack of sanitation in the cells, frequent moves from one prison to another and poor visitation rights were among their complaints. When it all kicked off there were 1,600 men sharing 970 single cells. A series of copycat protests followed in a number of other UK jails. At Strangeways, the numbers quickly dwindled of course and by the last day just five protestors were left.

I was 10 years old in 1990 and along with the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, assorted terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland and Margaret Thatcher’s resignation speech in 1991 – when my top junior class was actually summoned to the AV room to witness the glorious moment live on TV – Strangeways is one of my earliest memories of really being conscious of current affairs. The riot left the prison in chaos and cost tens of millions of pounds and several years to repair. But more importantly, the protest and the seminal Woolf inquiry which followed it are credited as being a turning point in penal history. Many of Lord Woolf’s recommendations were too radical for the Tory administration and subsequent New Labour government to stomach and the prison population stands far higher today. But conditions at Strangeways – now HMP Manchester – and other prisons are undeniably better than they were on April Fool’s Day two decades ago.