Scots gypsies plan glass tent cultural centre

Roseanna McPhee and her brother Shamus, who has designed a glass building in the shape of a traditional gypsy bow tent . Picture: Robert Perry
Roseanna McPhee and her brother Shamus, who has designed a glass building in the shape of a traditional gypsy bow tent . Picture: Robert Perry
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PLANS are being drawn up for the creation of a national gypsy travellers’ cultural centre in Scotland.

Traveller community leader Roseanna McPhee and her brother Shamus, who live in Bobbin Mill, a gypsy settlement near Pitlochry, are working with gypsy rights advocates to create the centre.

Shamus McPhee has designed a glass building in the shape of a traditional gypsy bow tent, which he believes would be an ideal home for the project.

The centre would include visual arts displays as well as space for storytelling, drama and musical performances.

It would also act as a hub for the traveller community and for people who want to find out more about their ethnic roots.

“It is early days at the moment, but we hope it will work,” said McPhee. “We are approaching individual benefactors who we hope might be able and willing to help us.”

Official figures estimate that there are around 23,000 gypsy travellers in Scotland, but the community believes that there are many people who are ethnically part of the group but do not identify with the community for fear of retribution from the general public.

“There are a lot of people who have left the community and this would give them a chance to find out more about their past, perhaps do some genealogical research,” said McPhee. “It is a shame, but there are a lot of people who feel that being a gypsy traveller has a stigma and it would be fantastic to educate people about the community to help them to understand us better.”

The plans envisage also including information about other minority groups around the world such as Maoris in New Zealand and Native Americans.

Tina Carr, a photographer and traveller rights activist who recently published a book of photographs of traveller communities called From The Horse’s Mouth, said: “The aim of a cultural centre is to afford Scotland’s gypsy travellers a much-needed space in which to preserve and celebrate their identity. It would provide scope for public interaction and raise awareness of the culture while celebrating the ongoing, yet frequently unheeded contribution that gypsy travellers lend to Scottish life.

“The focus would be on preserving ancient skills and crafts as well as advocacy and documentation.

She added: “Scotland is crying out for such a centre dedicated to its very own gypsy travellers that can stand as a shining example for cross-cultural peace and understanding in the battle against racism and discrimination.”

The Scottish Government said it would be supportive to the idea, but indicated a lack of funding for such a project.

A spokesman said: “Scotland’s gypsy traveller communities have a rich history and have made a very significant contribution to our cultural life over many centuries. A cultural centre would provide a focus for bringing that contribution to the attention of the wider community and is an interesting idea. We are doing all we can to protect Scotland’s culture and historic environment and to ensure our diverse and evolving cultural scene and rich heritage continue to thrive.

“The Scottish Government has not been approached for funding for a gypsy traveller cultural centre. However, any approach for support for such a project would need to be considered against the backdrop of the UK government’s decision to make further cuts to Scotland’s budget.”