Durham Diocesan Synod voted unanimously for a motion to work with local authorities to offer temporary safe stopping places for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller peoples in May 2022. It is the first synod to try and put into action the 2019 General Synod Motion (GS2321): ‘ Centuries of Marginalisation, Visions of Hope: Mission and Ministry Among Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities’.
Motion GS2321 has four strong elements which Durham Diocesan Synod has voted unanimously to support.
- Identify and Tackle Racism: Church leaders will speak out publicly against the racism and hate crime directed against Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities. Leaders will urge the media to stop the negative reporting and victimising of these communities.
- Appoint Specialist Chaplains: Every diocese will appoint a chaplain to Gypsies, Travellers and Roma to support pastoral care, church growth and help combat racism.
- Use Church Land: The Church will consider Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities in a review of the use of church land.
- Advocacy: The Church will use its relationships in Parliament and local government to collaborate on shared plans to make Traveller stopping points available across England.
Durham is one of the dioceses to have appointed a Chaplain for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller peoples since the 2019 resolution: Rev’d Dr Nichola Chater (Nicky). She informed synod of recent legislation – the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 – and explained how Part 4 changed stopping overnight with a vehicle (motorised or horse drawn) on land that you do not own from a civil to a criminal offence. The penalties risked can be heavy fines, impounding vehicles, or a three month prison term. Synod was aware of the potentially damaging effects of this on peoples’ lives and well being.
Mr Billy Welch, who lives in Darlington and organises the annual Appleby Horse Fair, was invited to speak. He held his audience spellbound as he described the history of English Romany people.
After the unanimous vote by synod members in Durham, Mr Welch expressed his surprise and delight. ‘I am so proud of this diocese today. I was never quite sure the Anglican Church was for our people but this has shown me it’s a church that wants us to be part of it’.
Mr Michael Bullock, a Managing Partner of ARC4 – and specialist in advising local authorities of housing need for communities of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma peoples – explained and demonstrated the lack of sufficient permanent and temporary sites throughout the country. He talked about the idea of creating Sanctuary Stopping Places on church lands for people to stop on while travelling and showed the huge difference this could make to communities and individuals.