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Got Through It

Over multiple visits and copious cups of tea Ciara Leeming discussed the lives and recent experiences of seven different Gypsy and Traveller girls. Here Ciara shares her reflections on the project.

Three years on from the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, its legacy lives on in the cost-of-living crisis, increased medical waits and a spiralling mental health crisis.

For groups already facing inequality, however, its impact is even sharper.

Gypsy and Traveller communities were already among the most marginalised in Britain – with a life expectancy 10-12 years below the national average. Traveller children have the lowest educational attainment of all ethnic groups.

One in five Gypsy or Traveller mothers will experience the loss of a child – compared to one in 100 across the general population.

Legislation introduced over the past 60 years has systematically criminalised their way of life, while traditional stopping places have been developed or blocked off.

There is a dire shortage of culturally appropriate accommodation – sites – and planning consent is difficult to come by. Around three-quarters of the community now live in housing – often due to a lack of other options.

Meanwhile, the 2022 Policing Act created a new offence of criminal trespass, strengthening police powers against roadside Traveller camps – with sanctions including fines, seizure of vehicles and even imprisonment.

Got Through It explores the legacy of the pandemic through this lens. Seven girls and women from the Gypsy and Traveller community of Cheshire West worked with me over a year, in 2022-23, to create the images and narratives within this zine.

Participants come from both the Irish Traveller and Romani Gypsy communities – two separate recognised ethnic minority groups, with a shared heritage of nomadism.

I worked with contributors on a one-to-one basis – mainly within their homes, and in one case running creative sessions in a school.

Over multiple visits and copious cups of tea, we discussed their lives and recent experiences.

I recorded some conversations and we reflected together on the transcripts and edited audio. We looked at family photos, I made portraits and we developed captions.

Got Through It shows we are not all in it together, as some would have us believe.

I first worked independently as a photographer with members of this community in 2009 and already knew two people who contributed to Got Through It. I was introduced to others by Irish Community Care, a local advocacy organisation.

Anonymity was an important concern for several participants. Some were clear about this from the start, while one withdrew consent for the use of identifiable images later in the process – leading me to take faces out of her photos. Some names have also been changed.

While individual experiences of this period are different, there were some common threads, including social isolation, health problems and prejudice towards Travellers.

A lack of literacy skills within sections of this community compounds their exclusion – a serious challenge as more services become digital – but schools are often a hostile environment for their children. This is a challenge schools and local authorities need to overcome if they are to win the trust of Traveller parents.

The people I met often talked about faith and spirituality as a source of strength and meaning in their lives, along with the central importance of family and sometimes also church networks for maintaining resilience and culture. When these fall away, people can struggle.

As we face political and economic upheaval and an uncertain future for people across society, Got Through It shows we are not all in it together, as some would have us believe.

The impact of the pandemic has been unequal across society and little will improve unless we pay greater attention to the voices we all too often ignore.

Ciara's full zine, Got Through It, can be accessed here. Photographs from the project are exhibited at the Open Eye Galley until 23rd December. Audio clips from the interviews can heard here (scroll to the pink section). Ciara will be presenting the work at the Covid 19 Reflections Sharing Event on 23rd October at the Theatre Porto. See more of Ciara's work on her website.

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