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Romanies' first step on road to tolerance

Romany children have put together an exhibition about their way of life which may help to improve their community's relationship with its neighbours in a Somerset village.

Romanies have lived at a site at Tintinhull, near Yeovil, Somerset for 17 years. Children from the site who attend Stanchester community school in nearby Stoke-sub-Hamdon studied traveller history before putting the exhibition together.

They interviewed older members of their community and visited the Wheelwrights and Gipsy Folklore Museum at Bebbington, near Weston-super-Mare.

The project was set up during Stanchester's curriculum enhancement week last summer - the children also went pony-trekking and had a trip in a canal barge - and continued last term during lunchtimes.

The results - photos, woodcuts and interviews - will be shown in villages and traveller communities as far off as Cornwall. Last week the exhibition opened in the children's home village. It is being funded by South Somerset District Council as part of a programme to reduce prejudice and build bridges between the Romanies and villagers.

Reggie Hughes, aged 15, and a Western counties boxing champion, said the project has helped him make friends (previously the Romany children have tended not to mix) and taught him about the life of older generations of travellers. His two sisters and a cousin also took part.

"We all enjoyed doing the work, and it will help us to keep alive the old ways," he said.

"I can speak Romany and it is important the language and traditions survive. When I'm older I hope to go travelling and visit the traditional Romany fairs.

"It has helped people in school to get to know us and we are noticed more. I hope it will change some people's opinions of travellers. We get a lot of criticism and are accused of things. I think that's despicable.' Avril Silk, traveller education support teacher who worked closely with the children, said: "The project has increased the confidence and self-respect of those pupils directly involved.

"Their traditional isolation has been breached in the eyes of other pupils who are now seeing them in a more positive light."

She said the traveller families appreciated the support given to their children and genuine steps had been taken to break down the prejudices and hostility that gave rise to the project in the first place.

"There were some comments made by other children in school that reflected the prejudices of their parents. The breakdown in communication is deep-rooted and goes back a long way. There is no magic wand that will solve the problem overnight, but this is an important start," she said.

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