Cushty Pompey!

Cushty Pompey!

Portsmouth and its Gypsy, Roma and Traveller heritage

Whilst Portsmouth is not always seen as an area where many people from GRT heritages live, in fact, there is an under-recognised history of Romany and Traveller presence in the area, perhaps most clearly seen in local (‘Pompey’) slang that includes words derived from English Romany, for examples: cushty (also sometimes written as ‘kushti’ meaning cool or good); mush (rhyming with ‘push’, meaning mate); dinlo (meaning fool).

There needs to be much more research on the contributions these communities and families have made to Portsmouth. Just one example is the boxer Johnny Smith. Outside of the Portsmouth Central Library (Guildhall) is a plaque celebrating the city’s fantastic contribution to the sport of boxing – Johnny Smith is one such boxing hero and was proud to be from a Traveller heritage. His story and some words from one of his sons who still lives in the city can be seen in this exhibition.

It’s also vital to recognise the diversity of experiences and heritages of people who might be associated with these communities – from Travellers with Irish heritages, to English Romanies and more recent Roma migrants from Central and Eastern Europe. Is it actually worth putting all these different people under a very broad ‘Gypsy, Roma and Traveller’ term?

We think so – there is such a vocal and damaging racism against anyone associated with pejorative notions of ‘Gypsy’ that it’s important to recognise that despite very varied linguistic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, in fact, sharing experiences, practices and resources is a powerful way to improving engagement and services for all these communities.

A relatively new group is being established in Portsmouth to address any needs of these communities. Started in 2020 as the ‘Portsmouth Gypsy Roma and Traveller Forum’, various professionals and representatives from advocacy groups began to meet to discuss what’s going on in the city for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people in education, health, social care and policing across Portsmouth and Hampshire.

Achievements so far:

  • Sharing existing good practices – e.g. from how the police are treating hate crime along with the efforts of the Ethnic and Minority Achievements Service. Information and educational packs for transient Traveller families have included information on accessing a wide range of local services.
  • We are working with Portsmouth City Council to re-word their local information on transient groups who might want to pitch caravans in the local area, making it more appropriate for these communities to understand their rights and who to contact for information.
  • We challenged inappropriate, racist news reporting on Travellers by local newspaper The News Portsmouth and the Traveller Movement submitted an IPSO complaint. Following these interventions, the editor (Mark Waldron) attended our meetings to address the issues, and then circulated media guidelines. One of our members (Annabel Tremlett) was a consultant on Media that Moves (2020). Journalists emailed signalling their intention to change their reporting practices, “[…] I’d also like to extend gratitude for the letter you sent to us in May, I completely agree with your view and have read the ‘media that moves’ report as a result. Kind regards, Toby Paine BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service The Portsmouth News” (13.06.22).

We have learned so much from sharing our professional and personal experiences of issues faced by these communities – from hate crime to poverty to difficulties in accessing services. These aren’t necessarily different issues to those faced by other members of the local community face, but we feel as professionals that it is worth thinking how much we recognise and reach out to our Gypsy, Roma and Traveller members in comparison to others. At times they can be a forgotten group and it can be all too easy to make flippant, judgemental comments or practices that contribute to racism and exclusion.

We are determined to continue our sharing of practices and experiences, and have reformed with an additional purpose to create more change. Our new name, Cushty Pompey! recognises where we live, and the histories of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and their contributions to our community life. Our aims with this new formation are to:

  • Understand GRT community needs
  • Identify resources and support
  • Take action to make a real difference together

If you are interested in joining our group (we meet every other month, in person with online attendance also possible), please feel free to contact the chair of the group, Karen Thomas

~ by Dr Annabel Tremlett

Check out Annabel’s inspiring display, “Visualising the lives of LGBTIQ Roma“, now on display in the Library. ~ Editor

Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at the University Library. An enthusiastic advocate of libraries, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice for all, inside and outside the workplace.

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