"Without services like Community Roots, a lot of people would be left by the wayside"

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Community Engagement Worker Friends Families and Travellers
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The Community Engagement Service can look at the barriers that make services harder to access for some people especially when they are specific to a community and there’s a lack of understanding.

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My name’s Angela, I’m a Community Engagement Worker (CEW) for Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) in the Community Roots network. 

Friends, Families and Travellers is a national organisation which works to support the rights of Gypsies and Travellers and those of a nomadic way of life, regardless of ethnicity. We’re based at Community Base on Queens Road in Brighton.

I’ve been working at FFT for nearly two and a half years but the CEW post began in October 2019 when the Community Engagement Service was created. I started off volunteering here because they had supported me whilst I was living on the roads. It gave me a first-hand understanding of some of the issues the community face.

I work with individuals who often have multiple complex needs that can cover a range of issues. A lot of our clients have high levels of stress, particularly those who have no fixed address – there can be constant stress and uncertainty. 

Accommodation is a massive issue particularly if people want to live their cultural way of life. There’s a lack of authorised site provision – in some areas there isn’t any. Rights are being eroded. The right to travel and move for work should be ingrained and certainly not criminalised.

Sometimes people want to move into bricks and mortar and it can be a big adjustment, even if it seems easier to access services. This is a culture where you have your entire community around you for generations. Moving away can feel isolating and confusing and you haven’t got the community around you to support you with childcare. 

Education varies across the community. A lot of people are happy to home school, a lot want access to mainstream education but being transient makes it difficult. There’s a lot of bullying in schools and a general lack of understanding of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities. People fear what they don’t understand.

Another common issue is accessing healthcare. A lot of people encounter problems when they register with a GP and are turned away at reception wrongfully. Until you’ve settled somewhere it’s virtually impossible to get help – and it’s really hard to have help move with you. 

I think the wider settled community lack an understanding of the effect of discrimination and refusal of service on someone and how that impacts on their mental health.

I provide a lot of face-to-face support in my work with the Community Engagement Service. It’s much more personal. As a CEW, I build trust with clients so that they feel comfortable to open up. I need them to talk about things that they might not have told anyone before so that can I provide the appropriate support.

Mental health might be the primary issue I see a client for but a lot of people worry about other issues like housing and finance. By looking at the whole picture and dealing with those, we can provide some relief and see what’s going on once those issues are out of the way.

The Community Engagement Service can look at the barriers that make services harder to access for some people especially when they are specific to a community and there’s a lack of understanding.

I focus mainly on individuals in this service and because I’m working with people with complex needs and crises can arise, I can be flexible with the number and frequency of sessions. A lot of the time I’ll visit them at home as some people are more comfortable there. For others, having an appointment to go out to in the community is good for them.

Quite often sessions are unstructured and clients tell me what they feel they need. If I’ve been working with somebody for a while, we catch up with what’s happening, how they’re getting on, if they’re going to groups, and if they need support with that. New issues can come up in sessions. A lot of the time I like to be transparent and ring other services when clients are with me. That way they know what we’re discussing and it also gives them confidence to make calls themselves later.

I really like working one-to-one with people. It gives me the opportunity to develop a more meaningful professional relationship. At FFT we’re very client-led, I really enjoy it. People know there’s support and confidentiality there.

The challenge is that no two days are the same, you never know what issues will present themselves. If a crisis presents itself you deal with the crisis. There’s no such thing as 9 to 5.

We get people at crisis point both locally and nationally contacting us via the advice line. As an organisation, FFT supports Gypsies and Travellers through local outreach across Sussex, national advocacy and casework, and a national advice line. We also campaign and work on policy issues.

I’m proud of working at a service where people have the confidence to talk to us. In some situations I might be the only person they open up to and though it’s a responsibility, it’s rewarding like no other.

I think Community Roots is great and really important for people. It’s an open door where a lot of others have been closed. Without services like Community Roots, a lot of people would be left by the wayside.

 

The Community Engagement Service works in close partnership with Primary and Secondary Clinical Services and other key providers in Brighton and Hove to ensure integrated pathways for people accessing support. Community Engagement Workers work with people who have multiple issues in their lives as well as mental health conditions. 

Friends, Families and Travellers work on behalf of all Gypsies, Travellers and Roma regardless of ethnicity, culture or background. The organisation seeks to end racism and discrimination against Gypsies, Travellers and Roma and to protect the right to pursue a nomadic way of life.