Show workers demand fair deal

Nick Holdsworth

Britain's 20,000 travelling fairground workers have launched a civil rights campaign, demanding better educational services for their children and an end to "discrimination and abuse".

The Showman's Guild, which represents the families who operate more than 300 fairs which travel around the country between Easter and November each year, says it wants a better deal for show people and their children.

The Fair Rights for Showmen campaign, launched at Newcastle's Town Moor Fair, one of the biggest gatherings of showmen in more than 50 years, outlines a nine-point list of demands.

These include an improved system for educating children of fairground workers, who move every fortnight for seven months of the year, and better support for those seeking higher education.

Arthur Stevens, president of the Showman's Guild, said: "We've got to act now and act decisively if we are to save the very existence of our communities and way of life."

Educational support for show people's children has been improving in recent years, according to Valerie Moody, herself the owner of a fairground ride and also one of the 10 area education liaison officers employed by the guild.

In the past most children of fairground workers only attended school for five months a year at their permanent winter bases, but coordination between travellers' support teachers in different LEAs means distance learning packs are now available to cover time on the road, Mrs Moody said. But she fears that local government reorganisation and the introduction of unitary authorities could threaten this work and has written to Education Secretary Gillian Shephard asking for assurances that funding for education support for travellers will not be affected. The Department for Education says LEAs will be able to bid from next month for funding for new three-year support projects starting in April 1996.

In the North-east, part of Mrs Moody's territory, 144 children from more than 50 fairs are supported by seven different LEAs. This pattern is repeated to some degree around the country.

"I did not have much schooling, but I consider myself well educated," said Mrs Moody. "My father could not read or write and I saw what a disadvantage that was. We made sure our children got a good education at home." Her 25- year-old son Jason gained electronics qualifications at college which were useful in the family business.

In Newcastle, a school for up to 50 children is set up in a police Portakabin when the fair comes to Newcastle Town Moor. The classes were the idea of Newcastle travellers support teacher Maureen Bowman. She believes education is important to show people although their attitude to qualifications tends to be pragmatic: "They are business people and won't waste their time on qualifications that are not relevant to them."

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