"Very Important Pikey"
By Linda Walker
Gloria Buckley, MBE, is a tireless campaigner for the understanding and better treatment of the gypsy and traveller community. She manages sites across the East and is passionate about educating people about gypsy life and history.
Today she lives at the Sandy Park caravan site in Beck Row near Mildenhall in a beautiful bungalow which sits at the entrance of the site, affording her a prime position for moving around and talking with the residents.
Although Gloria is now what some might refer to as a 'settled person' she is still very much part of the gypsy community and working to promote better education of and for gypsy communities.
"Growing up like a traveller was what it was because I didn't know anything else but we were fortunate because we used to travel in the summer and have winter stops and that way I got to go to school," said Gloria.
"My very first experience of going to school was when my father was doing war work and my mother was given the opportunity to put me into school.
"It was a lovely school, it was Ford School in Dagenham and that was the best start I suppose a child could ever have, especially a child on the road."
Gloria left the travelling community when she got married to live in Beck Row with her husband Trevor and work on managing his business.
She became fully engaged in local life, supporting the development of the play group and operating a meat run on behalf of the local butcher, but soon she became re-connected with travellers when a group called on her for help.
"After a while we had some gypsies pull up here and say we want the winter with you.
"I looked at the field here and I looked at them and thought, well why not? Because there were times when we were looking for winter stops, and so they pulled in.
"When people first started pulling into the field for winter stops we didn't have permission for them so I had this enforcement officer come every so often and he would say 'Mrs Buckley you don't have permission for these people' and I would say 'yes I know, but it's only temporary'."
Over the years the site grew and grew and gradually began to integrate with the settled community in the village. As the number of residents grew Gloria was suddenly faced with the fact that she had a full site within her field.
"We had a summer where we had a family where someone died tragically so they didn't go away because they were resting and we also had one woman who had difficult pregnancies and she stayed because she was booked into the local hospital.
"The next summer we had a few more people that didn't go away and we used to have people come and say 'granny doesn't want to travel anymore, she wants to come and stay with you'. So that's how it grew.
"But one day the enforcement officer came, and I could see him coming with a funny look on his face, and he said 'now look Mrs Buckley your hospitality is second to none, your tea and your coffee, your bread pudding is wonderful, but the fact remains that you've got 21 families in that field'.
"Well that took me by surprise because they crept up on me, but there were 21 caravans not 21 families, but we do look a lot."
Gloria went on to apply for the appropriate paper work and today the site, and others like it in the region are home to a number of gypsy families.
Crossing the border
Today the Sandy Park site is flourishing, but Gloria is perhaps better known for her work across the border in Norfolk at the Roundwell Gypsy and Traveller site at Costessey.
When she arrived, the site was "like Bosnia on a bad day", but her determination, her partnership with Trevor and, I have no doubt, her amazingly warm and powerful persona have turned things around.
Together they have transformed it into a model of what a permanent and well managed Gypsy and Traveller site can be like.
At first, she and Trevor were not welcome, but Gloria saw something in the site which inspired her confidence.
"I looked around and saw the line of trees and Costessey village was such a nice little area and I thought what a lovely place this could be.
"So once it was refurbished we moved over there to get going and I thought it was important to move on to get to know the families and I asked for security of tenure and I asked for vacant possession so I could interview the campers as they came on.
"The people of Costessey didn't want that because it had been a trouble spot and a real no-go area.
"We got to know members of the Parish Council and the villagers and I was asked to be on the board of governors at the school which worked out really well for us."
Her tireless work for her people and for community relations has now been recognised in what Gloria sees as the ultimate symbol of acceptance from the people who were very sceptical of her 'breed', an MBE in the 2008 honours list.
"When the MBE came it was a wonderful thing because I felt someone must have noticed.
Gloria Buckley with her MBE
"But then I got this feeling come over me where I thought, this MBE, drawing attention to yourself, I really don't need to be doing that.
"It was because there's always someone out there, I feared, who was going to tap me on the shoulder and say "you dear, who do you think you are and where do you get off at, you're a gyspy, you're a pikey"
"It was a little bit scary really, but I was a VIP before, Very Important Pikey."
Now she wants to see real action to provide more permanent and temporary sites for gypsies and travellers to give better education to gypsy children and aid better understanding of gypsy life.
"I don't believe we're any different from anyone else apart from our culture and our lifestyle.
"I think we're all the same in that we want to see our children with literacy and numeracy, so that they can come out the other end to be upstanding in the community and in society as a whole."
During the course of her work as a campaigner and a public speaker Gloria has encountered almost every possible perception of what a gypsy is and how they live and is confident things are changing for the better, though prejudice is sadly still in existence.
"Sometimes it’s not actually an experience that they've had but it's something that they've seen or something they've read but we are as a race of people, a microcosm of every other walk of life and you get the good and the bad in every walk of life.
"We've had a lot of bad press you know and it's like we've got to pick up the flack for every ASBO litter leaving person on the highway and not all gypsies are like that."
Pikeys and Didicoys
Gloria is very happy to refer to herself as a pikey, something which many people from the non travelling community, myself included initially, may find somewhat uncomfortable, but again she is happy to point out this is just because of a lack of knowledge.
"I really don't mind what you call me as long as you call me, because father always used to say you should be proud of it.
"One day I went home from school and told him that a boy had called me gypsy and he asked me if I had thanked him.
"When I told him no he said "well next time somebody calls you gypsy look at your mother, look at your things, look at the food at the table and look at the open road".
"Then there was another word, didicoy (a Romanichal term).
"Now people see that as an insult and get offended by that, but we didn't because father used to say that it was like decoy, are they gypsies or are they not?
"So we don't get insulted when anyone calls us didicoy.
"Then there was the other one, pikey, and that was because we used to gather around the turnpikes.
Gypsy traveller camp (Getty Images)
"We could either go through or stand there to sell our wares and apply our trade. So we never thought that was anything to get insulted about."
Gloria has seen a number of changes in the public perception of travelling communities during the course of her work and though she can acknowledge that there is still some way to go, she believes that a better understanding of gypsy history would be a huge help.
"The idea that the gypsy people and the way they travelled from 1700 onwards was that they had the heaths and the woodlands.
"They had the forests, they had a source of food which could be gathered.
"It was like providence which is nature given to which we are all the beneficiaries so they didn't have to steal.
"In fact they were organic conservationists before the words started being bandied about as being fashionable."
During the later 1770s the enclosure acts were a series of UK Acts of Parliament which enclosed open fields and common land, changing for ever a large part of the gyspy way of life.
"Bit by bit things were taken away from them and they were pushed on the road and up the road that forced change on the gypsies.
"The ones that knew how to talk and earn a pound often got a bad reputation because they got lumped together with every vagrant and vagabond on the highway, so no change there then.
"I would say there hasn't been enough written about that and I've written a piece about it which is going to be included in the curriculum for schools and college in September 2009."
last updated: 29/06/2009 at 06:24