Warwickshire libraries to host community events to mark Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller history month

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Warwickshire Libraries, in partnership with Romany Gypsy artist Gemma Lees, is hosting a series of free community events to mark Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller (GRT) History Month this June.

The roadshow is visiting five libraries across the county and culminating in an event at the Warwickshire Police headquarters on June 20.

Warwickshire Libraries has commissioned Gemma Lees, a Romany Gypsy artist, performance poet, and journalist, to lead the roadshow project.

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The roadshow features a programme of activities designed to celebrate GRT culture, language, and history, including contributions from local communities and partner services across Warwickshire County Council.

Libraries in Warwickshire are set to host community events to mark Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller history month. Photo suppliedLibraries in Warwickshire are set to host community events to mark Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller history month. Photo supplied
Libraries in Warwickshire are set to host community events to mark Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller history month. Photo supplied

Each roadshow event will feature:

  • An exhibition of artwork by Year 5 pupils from Wolvey CofE School, showcasing their exploration of GRT culture, language, and histories in Warwickshire.
  • The presentation of Gemma Lees’ new upcycled bottle cap art, inspired by her Romany heritage.
  • Tactile exhibits of traditional GRT crafts.
  • Interactive activities including proggy rug making, basket weaving, colour-in vardo bow wagons, and making Black Patch Gypsy story dolls to take home.
  • A snug story tent with bilingual Romani storybooks by Richard O’Neill, and videos of him narrating his stories.
  • A reading of Gemma’s celebratory poem for the tour and poems by children inspired by Richard O’Neill’s book “Polonius The Pit Pony.”
  • A sing along to Gemma’s witty and informative song about not judging a book by its cover from her musical, ‘Mind your Business’.

The roadshow events will be taking place on:

  • June 11 at Nuneaton Library, 10am to 4pm
  • June 12 at Rugby Library, 10am to 4pm
  • June 13 at Atherstone Library, 10am to 12pm, and Stratford Library 1.30pm to 3.30pm
  • June 14 at Bedworth Library, 10am to 4pm
  • June 20 at the headquarters of Warwickshire Police, 11.30am to 2.30pm

The final event at the police headquarters will feature campfires and traditional activities, including the opportunity to see a real vardo (a four-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle).

Bal Jacob, director of workforce and local services, said: “These community roadshow events, led by Gemma Lees, provide a wonderful opportunity for residents to learn about and celebrate the rich heritage of the Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities in Warwickshire.”

“We are proud to support this inclusive initiative and encourage everyone to come along. These free events are a safe and welcoming opportunity to better understand and appreciate the diverse cultures that enrich our county.”

Gemma Lees said: “I have been so privileged to work with the Gypsy and Traveller Year 5 pupils and their classmates at Wolvey CofE School.

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"This school educates 25 per cent of all GRT children in Warwickshire, and, in the run up to GRT History Month in June, they have been carrying out various arts and crafts projects to celebrate Gypsy and Traveller culture, language, heritage crafts and our histories in Warwickshire.

“The children have been amazing, asking brilliant questions, learning some Romanes words and phrases and creating crafts such as woven baskets, leather coin purses and cardboard bow wagon vardos.

“This project means a lot to me as I have been able to serve as both a positive influence to the Gypsy and Traveller children - showing them a different side to Gypsies, the side that is not reported by the mainstream media - and to teach them about their classmate’s lives, histories and language, hopefully creating a better understanding between them all.”

Gemma visited the extensive archives at the Warwickshire Record Office as well as the Local Studies collection at Nuneaton Library to look into Wolvey CofE School’s registration records.

Going back 100 years, she explored many documents in order to create a resource on GRT people and their histories in Warwickshire, which is available to read here: https://bit.ly/GRTHistory

Warwickshire Libraries was successful in a bid to become a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) in Arts Council England’s funding plans for 2023-26. NPO status means that Warwickshire Libraries is receiving funding from Arts Council England’s Investment Programme over the course of three years to deliver a programme of free cultural and creative outreach activities including this month’s community roadshow events.