Heathland to Housing
: A study investigating how the settled Gypsy community in a Village in the South East of England express and sustain their identity

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In this thesis I explore and analyse how participants in a ‘settled’ Gypsy community, living in bricks and mortar in an isolated area, articulate, express and sustain their identity. The term ‘Gypsies and Travellers’ is used to encompass a variety of groups and individuals who have a tradition or practice of nomadism in common, and although the Housing Act 2004 (Legislation.Gov.uk) definition of ‘Gypsy and Traveller’ includes those who inhabit bricks and mortar, settled Gypsies remain less studied or understood than those who maintain aspects of a travelling lifestyle For decades, Gypsy-Travellers have been considered and described as ‘hard-toreach’ (Van Cleemput, 2007). Yet the term ‘hard-to-reach’ sometimes reflects a lack of knowledge on behalf of the researcher about how, who and where to contact certain groups or individuals, rather than an innate inclination for separateness of the group or individuals concerned. This ethnographic study was made possible by the established links made by the researcher in a professional context with the group members and was characterised by a collaborative approach to understanding the participants’ lives. The study was carried out with members of a small Gypsy community living in social housing in a rural village in South East England who participated in interviews and a series of art workshops to articulate and reflect upon their Gypsy identity. The art workshops provided an innovative approach to facilitating extended discussions about the participants’ lives and experiences, during which they also produced artefacts for the public expression of Gypsy identity. Analysis of the interview transcripts, field notes, recordings of workshop conversations and a visual record of the art works and of the public exhibition which (at the request of participants) concluded the research processes which were framed by aspects of identity theory. Participants gave their informed consent to the research activities and their anonymity has been protected by the use of pseudonyms.

The study revealed the cohesiveness of this community, and the individual strengths and resilience of a group which might previously have been overlooked by research about Gypsy-Travellers. Participants demonstrated that despite their settled status, they pro-actively sustain their Gypsy identity through the maintenance of some traditional practices, visiting their childhood homes, and inducting their own children and grandchildren into Gypsy life. The images and artefacts produced in the workshops centred on some of the iconic representations of traditional Gypsy life, and the central importance of family was consistently evident in the conversations held with all the participants. The stories and reflections generated by this study strongly challenge the notion that only people who travel ‘count’ as Gypsies. These findings illuminate broad agreement of other studies that that the accommodation situation of Gypsy-Travellers in England is one of the root causes of a number of other significant problems (Niner, 2004; Greenfields and Smith, 2010)which include - low levels of educational attainment (Bhopal, 2004); poor health chances (Parry, Van Cleemput, Peters, Moore, Walters, Thomas and Cooper, 2004); and, differential access to social care services (Cemlyn, Greenfields, Burnett, Matthews, and Whitwell, 2009) and other services provided by local authorities (Commission for Racial Equality, 2006).

Recommendations from the research study include the need for practitioners to provide culturally sensitive services. The project clearly established that working collaboratively alongside participants enables a more a trusting relationship to be forged and that undertaking collective art activities is an effective strategy for mobilising participation and eliciting discussion with marginalised communities on personal topics as in this case, group identity.
Date of Award30 Nov 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorBridget Egan (Supervisor) & Janice De Sousa (Supervisor)


  • Gypsy
  • Traveller
  • Gaudje
  • Gorgio
  • Identity
  • Belonging
  • Traditions
  • Culture

Cite this