Opening the Doors to Gypsy, Traveller, Roma, Showman and Boater communities in higher education

28 Jun 2021

As Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month 2021 draws to a close, Will Kelly, Access and Outreach Coordinator in the University's Widening Participation team, outlines the University's work to support these communities in higher education and highlights the successful online conference recently hosted by the University to start the important conversation about how the higher education sector is sparking change.

The University of Winchester is passionate about providing opportunities for individuals and communities to flourish. At the start of 2021, we were proud to be one of a handful of universities to sign up to the GTRSBintoHE pledge to support access to higher education for students from Gypsy, Traveller, Roma, Showmen and Boater communities (GTRSB).

Current research suggests that there are very few GTRSB students and graduates in the UK, with an estimated average of 200 members of the community in higher education at any one time. Barriers to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils' achievement in compulsory education reduce their access to higher education, as the likelihood of gaining the requisite grades at GCSE and A-Level needed to go on to study at degree level is reduced.

As one of the first five universities to sign the pledge, we aim to provide a welcoming and supportive environment to staff and students from these communities, engaging with them through outreach and increasing understanding through research and knowledge exchange activity.

Earlier in June, during Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month, we welcomed colleagues from across the UK and beyond to join us online at our Opening the Doors conference, an event to realise GTRSB access and participation in higher education.

The conference provided an opportunity to start the conversation on how the sector is initiating change, forging collaborations, and championing best practice on this important agenda.

We were joined by an esteemed group of speakers, panellists, and workshop facilitators from across the sector; advocates for policy change and championing the agenda in national and local government; pioneers leading research and practice across education establishments; and members of the GTRSB community actively engaged in access and participation campaigns.

In the morning, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Kate Green OBE MP, set out the policy landscape for GTRSB communities. Currently serving in the shadow cabinet, Kate is also a former chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers.

The Opening the Doors conference truly valued the voices of those from the GTRSB community, evidenced by having all the panellists on both panel discussions from the community.

A key highlight of the conference was hearing from students themselves via a small panel of current and recently graduated students from GTRSB communities across the UK. They shared their personal stories, providing a powerful moment to reflect on the need for change across the sector.

During the conference we were treated to a masterclass of experiences from colleagues at Bucks New University, Kings College London, and the University of the West of Scotland.

As well as hearing from colleagues across a series of presentations and workshops, the conference also shone a spotlight on artwork, case studies and research through a showcase.

One of the highlights of the showcase was the work of renowned artist, Sven Berlin, alongside that of the University's Dr Jane Peacock, Senior Lecturer in Social Work. Jane has a passion for community arts and community development work in communities which are disadvantaged by exclusion and isolation. Jane also presented a workshop with Dr Brian Belton where she introduced her work with Gypsies and Travellers, based on her many years of experience working with GRT families and communities in Hampshire and Dorset.

The Opening the Doors conference brochure (including showcase), recordings from the event and presentations are available at this link

As we look to the future, we hope to continue to celebrate the rich experiences and contributions that staff and students from GTRSB communities bring to our campuses.

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