North East Wales

Oxford start for fairground family teen Shelby Holmes

A teenager from a family of travelling showmen about to start studying at Oxford University says she will never forget her roots.

Shelby Holmes, from Towyn, Conwy, is studying English literature, although she missed weeks of school every year because of her family's work.

She would travel to winter fairs around the country, working on fairground stalls and rides.

"It will always be part of my me, I'm never going to abandon it," she said.

"Whenever I'm not in university, I'm going to be travelling and keeping up the close family bonds I've got with my... family and my larger family of the travelling showmen."

The former pupil of St Brigid's School in Denbigh - where she was head girl - starts studying at Trinity College next week.

It will be a very different life from the winter fairs and summer months working at her parents' amusement arcade in Towyn.

"Here, I'm everything. I'm bingo caller, I'm a cafe manager, I give change, I fix machines, I do all sorts," she said.

"When we're working on the fairground I help my dad with maintaining the ride, fixing little things, putting children on and off the children's ride."

But she fully intends to embrace the opportunities Oxford will offer her, after achieving 2 A*s and a B in her exams.

"I just naturally enjoy learning," she said.

"My life would just be so much easier if I could just be a travelling showman but it turned out I enjoyed learning.

Family tradition

"I loved reading and it took me down this rather unexpected path."

Ms Holmes said it was unusual for anyone from her community to go on to higher education but she had great support from her family and school.

Her sister went to school but wanted to remain part of the family tradition that dates back five generations.

"My mum and dad had very little education," she said.

"My mum's parents couldn't read or write and I have friends who are illiterate.

"Education is not a major priority when you are a travelling showman because your career is already set out as a showman so there's no need."

Her mother, Kim Holmes, said she was "absolutely ecstatic" about her daughter starting at Oxford.

"Shelby's been a gift from God," she said.

"She's been an absolutely wonderful child, very dedicated to her work, and she really deserves what she's got because she's worked for it."

But she admitted she had some mixed feelings because she doubted her daughter would return to the family's way of life.

Bethan Jones, who provides advocacy support for traveller communities in Wales after working for Gwynedd council and housing charity Shelter Cymru, said Ms Holmes achievement should be celebrated but pointed out that children from travelling families had the same ability as the settled community.

"I know of very few members of the travelling family making it through education," she said.

"She is the only one I know to make it through to Oxford," she said, pointing out she was seeing more women from travelling communities returning to education as adults."

A spokesman for the University of Oxford said: "We are looking forward to welcoming Shelby to Oxford University.

"We select students who show the greatest potential for academic success at Oxford, whatever their background."

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