My name is Rachel Ballin and I work for North Somerset Council as a Traveller Advisory Teacher. That means I support Gypsy and Traveller children to access education right through from pre-school to college and I support the schools, nurseries and colleges to help those children and young people achieve their full potential while they are there. It is an usual and highly rewarding job that I have done for around 15 years now. I work with Traveller families from all groups – Romany Gypsy, Irish Traveller, New Traveller, Circus and Showmen (that’s what Fairground Travellers prefer to be called). It is a pleasure and a privilege – and a challenge at times! I have met some wonderful people and gained insight into cultures and traditions of each group.
I particularly enjoy working on projects that share this knowledge with other local people. The ‘Travellers’ Stories’ community exhibition project with the museum, will be a rare opportunity for all residents of Weston and beyond to learn more about the positive and fascinating aspects of Traveller life. All too often we only hear about the ‘bad news’ stories and there is so much more to understand and to celebrate.
It has been great working as part of a team with the Weston Museum staff, Jane Hill and Chris Fisher, and with Bridie Collier from Citizens Advice North Somerset. We have been on an exciting learning journey together. Jane is a calm, steadying presence, Bridie keeps us on task and jollies us along and Chris provides the jokes! Together we have planned and created an exhibition that I think we all feel really proud of. I have loved taking Chris to meet members of the Traveller community, including older members, and getting to hear their personal stories and histories. Chris has a great way of putting people at their ease and getting them to open up and I have learnt more along the way. The oral histories that he has recorded will share snippets of these histories through the interactive display. Due to the Corona Virus outbreak we have had to delay the exhibition and support each other to adapt our plans. Priorities have changed beyond imagining but our fingers are crossed for a chance to share our work at a later date.
I have been working on projects with schools that local Traveller children attend. We have been getting hands on scrubbing and de-rusting old horse-shoes to paint them with traditional Romany designs. Some of these will be shown at the museum. Some were due to be taken to Appleby Fair in Northumberland in June by one of the children and her family to sell. This is an annual horse fair that has been an important annual event for Travellers for a hundred years or more, but this event also had to be cancelled. The children will now keep the horse-shoes as gifts for members of their family. While we were painting, they enjoyed talking about their family stories and their grandparents lives. They are very proud of their culture and feel connected to the traditions of their people.
We have chosen the wagon wheel as a symbol for the exhibition. It is a symbol of the traditional nomadic lifestyle of Travellers moving in harmony with the seasons and also of the ongoing and ever-changing history of these groups of people. Below is a short poem that I wrote to try and capture this. A group of children from one of the schools have created a display of modern and traditional vehicles to accompany the poem and this will form part of the exhibition.
Like the wheels of the wagon,
Shifting, stopping, moving on,
Like the turning of the seasons,
Travellers lives keep moving on,
You know where you’re going
When you know where you’ve come from,
Whether settled, housed, or on the road,
The Traveller life goes on.
At some point in the future I hope lots of people will be able to come and enjoy this exhibition. I hope that they take something new, positive and interesting about Travelling people away with them and that they share these stories.