Romanian Roma first arrived in the Gorton South area of Manchester in 2001-2003, via other western European countries. The majority of the community arrived after the accession of Romania into the EU in 2007. In June 2008, the Romani Project was contacted by Gorton Mount Primary School, which has admitted a large number of Romani children from the new community, for support in understanding their cultural background and community needs and aspirations.
The University continued its links with the community. Between 2009-2011, students enrolled in the course unit on Romani Linguistics led by Professor Yaron Matras at the University of Manchester conducted research within the Romani community in the Gorton South area. As part of their coursework they authored a series of reports and produced audio-visual documentation projects on Romani language and culture.
Anti-Romani violence in Belfast in the summer of 2009 prompted Greater Manchester Police (GMP) to take action to contain tensions between local residents and newly arrived Roma families in Manchester, to prevent similar outbreaks of violence. Manchester City Council invited the Romani Project to carry out a survey in the Romani community of needs and aspirations, and to recommend an engagement strategy. A survey was carried out by a team of researchers with close familiarity with Romani language and culture. The aims of the survey were to draw a general profile of the local Romani community, to identify the motivation for moving to the UK, to identify issues of concern to the Roma population and individuals with a potential leadership or mediation role. A survey report and engagement plan was submitted in October of 2009.
Part of the engagement strategy was to make funding available for a group of young Roma adults to be trained as interpreters to provide support and liaison between the community and local services. The training would include improving English, literacy and ICT skills in order to act as classroom assistants in local schools with a high intake of Roma children and as interpreters for the rest of the community.
The Big Life Company, publishers of the ‘Big Issue’ magazine, already employed Roma before the publication of the report. The company supported the implementation of the strategy by funding and coordinating a training programme for a group of young Roma adults. The programme provided training in ICT skills, literacy skills and opportunities for interpreting qualifications. The Romani Project organised sessions devoted to reflection on Romani culture and history and on Romani human rights. The trainees went on to provide interpreting services for local services such as the police and health authorities.
Manchester City Council’s International New Arrivals Team also integrated many of the course graduates into work in local schools, where they could support Roma pupils as classroom assistants and support the schools with issues such as attendance, welfare and community liaison.
As part of the engagement strategy, Manchester City Council provided funding for two positions at The Black Health Agency/Routes Projects for community outreach workers of Roma origin. They supported members of the community needing assistance with access to benefits, housing and other support, and served as role models for the Roma trainees attending the Big Life Company course. ¬Graduates of the training course continue to work at community centres such as Sure Start and in local schools, and one was awarded a prize for her community work and invited to attend the Lord Mayors’ Diamond Jubilee Lunch with the Queen in 2012.
As a result of these measures and the positive attitude of schools and other local agencies and services, tensions in the Gorton South community have diminished significantly. Attendance and attainment of Roma pupils at local schools continues to rise; they go on to secondary school and several have already gained GSCEs.
It is estimated that there are currently 150 families each with 7-10 individuals living in the Gorton South area (data from the International New Arrivals, Travellers & Supplementary Schools Team, Manchester, January 2012) and the population has expanded and moved to other parts of Manchester.
The University of Manchester and Manchester City Council have recently secured funding from the European Commission to continue research and implementation of the engagement strategy to support the inclusion of Roma immigrants in the city, and to inspire other local authorities all across Europe to adopt similar measures.
Research on Roma in Gorton was sponsored by