Working with Gypsies and Travellers - Guidance for Professionals

It is imperative to remember that although many Gypsies and Travellers have had no option but to live in houses (bricks and mortar) through no choice of their own – they still want to be known as ‘Travellers’. Although nomadism is embedded in Gypsy culture, it is not purely about moving from place to place but a way of looking at life and the world – (McDonald, 1994)

In order to engage with Gypsies and Travellers, no matter what their accommodations is, it is important to build trust with them.

A worker who is friendly, professional and co-operative will develop a relationship with the families more easily. By showing consistency and reliability they will develop trust.

Professionals and workers new to this area of work are advised to undertake cultural awareness training and information and advice can be sought from a variety of sources to help the worker to gain an understanding of the needs facing the community.

Helpful Hints

  1. Get to know the Gypsies and Travellers you will be working with. We have found once you are accepted by the community new families will be ready to accept you too. People with whom you work successfully will also introduce you to others in the community. The Gypsy network is very active and efficient – news about you will travel quickly whether its good or bad!
  2. If you are going to be visiting people on a Traveller site make contact with the warden or site managers in your area first
  3. Make contact with other agencies who deliver services to Gypsies & Travellers in the area – the site manager will have contacts. Beware of duplication!
  4. If possible go and make yourself known to the community with someone who is already known to them, and who has built a rapport with them and is trusted by them .

Be careful who you do make contact with – especially some professionals who work for an enforcement statutory agency – because the impression you make on the first visit, will affect your whole experience in the future. For example if you visit with the police, it will be assumed you are reporting to them.

Approach someone who lives on the site – it could be the person who lives in the first trailer, or it may be the warden. Ask them who would be the best person to contact, explaining what you will be doing on the site.

Male workers should not approach a woman on their own as some people may be offended – especially if they are not known to them.

Once you have been introduced you will be able to forge your own relationship with the community. If successful your reputation will be spread to others living on different sites.

Do’s and Don’ts when working on the site.


  • Make a brief Risk Assessment
  • Do familiarise yourself with the site and its exits
  • Do use a confident and friendly approach
  • Remember, people who live on the sites are often related – there may be four generations living on one site.
  • Beware of the dogs, large vehicle and quad bikes on site
  • Ask children to help.
  • Trust your instincts, if you feel unsafe then leave.
  • Be aware of small children walking around the site.
  • Get to know common Romany words/phrases so that you understand – if you don’t understand, say this
  • There is generally a low level of literacy in the Gypsy and Traveller community so be aware of using too much written material – most people will use mobile phones and this is a good way of maintaining contact.
  • Share your language and theirs.
  • Respect their language.
  • Avoid jargon or complex language and officialdom.
  • Work with the family as a unit, maintaining parental contact if working with children.
  • Parents and siblings are likely to be extremely protective of a child – as they will also be of relatives.
  • Make sure elders are respected.
  • The family name is protected and its honour is important and scandal, gossip and breach in confidentiality must be avoided. So for example, if you are calling to follow up a health issue, a children’s services matter or about school attendance don’t be tempted to leave a message about your reason for the visit with someone else.
  • Beware of discussing sexual health matters with people of the opposite sex to yourself. Plan to do so with a colleague
  • It is important to remember their families have been housed together, not necessarily out of choice.
  • Talk to people and introduce yourself, but be careful not to tell others on the site why you are visiting a particular family. If you are there for a reason which involves the whole site, make sure as many people as possible are aware of you. Be prepared for lots of questions.
  • When approaching a plot, firstly  call out, and wait to be asked on to the plot. Do not enter a Caravan or Shed unless asked to do so.
  • Offer to remove footwear.
  • Wait to be invited to sit down


  • Do not enter a trailer uninvited.
  • Don’t disregard traditions. For example, cleanliness is very important as there are strict rituals regarding utensils.
  • If you are providing refreshments which you are bringing with you – for example for a community meeting, it  is wise to use wrapped food and disposable cups and plates..
  • Don’t forget - the men often make the decisions on the site, but the women hold the domestic power. Male workers should be aware of being sensitive to females.


  • Whilst is can be said that the larger illegal camps sometimes look a mess with a lot of rubbish lying about, the following factors should be taken into consideration.
  1. Only some Travellers dump rubbish to the distress of the majority.
  2. Due to lack of sites with proper facilities, about two-thirds of all Travellers in this country are forced to illegally occupy land where no basic amenities (water, refuse collection and toilets) are provided. They are frequently harassed and regularly evicted.