Background Against the background of a lack of accommodation provision for the Traveller community in Southwark in the 1980s; Southwark Travellers’ Action Group (STAG) was created from a Traveller-led campaign to increase the number of official Traveller sites within the borough, successfully securing the creation of 3 additional sites.
Based in Peckham London, STAG works with the English & Irish Traveller communities who live on the four permanent sites that now exist in Southwark (3 in Peckham and 1 in Bermondsey); and the wider Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller (GRT) communities living in bricks and mortar social housing in the surrounding neighbourhoods and across the borough.
During its formative years, STAG operated as a project of Peckham Settlement; a multi-purpose charity that had a wide range of differing activities which varied from time to time as needs and resources changed. Unfortunately, in August 2012 the Settlement hit a financial crisis and had to be closed and put into administration.
Peckham Voluntary Sector Forum (PVSF); an umbrella organisation rooted in Peckham (run for and by local groups and organisations regardless of size, areas of interest and backgrounds), stepped in at this point and adopted the STAG project. PVSF took legal responsibility for the STAG funding relationships and agreements, previously contracted with the Settlement; and over the next four years helped it to consolidate its management processes, develop its work and activities, and building partnership and collaborative relationships with other voluntary and community groups in Peckham and across the borough.
In 2016, with • the benefit of this period of learning and development; • increasing successes in helping strengthen the voice and representation of the GRT communities; • the encouragement of the Irish Government; and with…. • the active help and support of Development Team staff at Community Southwark (the voluntary service council within the borough); an interim Board of Trustees enabled STAG to become an independent organisation. It is a registered company limited by guarantee and is currently in the process of registering as a charity.
Activities STAG’s activities are mainly focused upon improving the health and well-being of GRT communities across Southwark, which it does through a range of different workstreams, including: • Addressing the inequalities faced by the communities in the key areas of education, employment, accommodation and health; and with the means of doing so being decided by Gypsies and Travellers themselves; • Addressing the marginalisation of the communities, celebrating the unique culture and history of Gypsies and Travellers; • Representing the interests of the communities to policy and decision-makers, providing a focus for their voice and representation; • Providing advice and advocacy on issues affecting individual community members and/or their families; • Running groups addressing the social and support needs of GRT women, and of young people; • Organising social events that also help raise awareness of the issues facing the communities.
RT communities, and Traveller communities in particular, face the same kinds of problems as all of Southwark’s existing communities over access to affordable accommodation and/or housing; but with the added threats to wellbeing of a growing number having to live in permanent social housing which is contrary to their culture, heritage, and general way of life, and which frequently leads to issues of poor mental health.
However, whilst Travellers continue to campaign for increased number of Traveller sites alongside the housing needs of other Southwark residents; they have growing concerns about the impact of regeneration plans in Southwark (including those around the Old Kent Road, including the planned Bakerloo line extension), which could threaten the continued existence of two or more of the four sites.
Key financial supporters STAG has been fortunate to access funding from a range of sources to support a range of activities and initiatives, including the lauded HGV training and testing programme. Two key supporters need special mention, in that they have provided finance as well as acting as partners to STAG throughout much of its evolution: • The Irish Government, whose funding through the Emigrates Support Programme Ireland, has mainly focused upon helping STAG in addressing ‘the multiple inequalities which Travellers in Southwark experience’. • Southwark Council, whose funding through their Community Capacity Programme, has complemented the Irish Government with a focus upon building the knowledge, skills and understanding within the GRT communities; and strengthening their voice and representation.