Prejudice towards the Gypsy Traveller community has led generations of community members to hide their identities, organisers of an event aimed at breaking down barriers have said.
Travellers at the Gathering, held in Perth at the weekend, say attitudes have been slow to change but they hope efforts by councils to provide stopping sites will go some way towards reducing hostility.
Perth and Kinross has been the scene of numerous disagreements between Travellers and the settled community in recent years.
The council recently announced a pilot scheme which will allow temporary encampments on its land.
Organisers of Saturday’s event said they were hopeful that relations would continue to improve as a result.
The Gathering, held at Perth’s North Inch Community Campus, showcased some of the skills and lifestyles of the Gypsy Traveller community.
It featured a number of story boards telling of the lives of prominent members of the local Gypsy Traveller community, including those who fought in the First World War.
Jacqueline McCallum, who lives in Perth and helped organise the event, said it was an attempt to break down some of the barriers she had experienced as a child.
She said: “Just because we move into a house doesn’t make us any less a Traveller – we actually crave it more. I travel when I can and would travel more if I could.
“I think there is a lot of ignorance – there was a whole generation that was brought up with prejudice. When I was growing up I had to hide my identity.
“People think with Travellers our education stops at 12 but many of us go on to high school and some even go to university.
“Today is about welcoming people in and showing that we don’t bite. We want it to be a better life for our children – we don’t want them to face the same prejudice or have to hide who they are.”
Fellow organiser Betty McAllister added: “Travellers have a lot in common with the American Indians – where they were moved off land because of prejudice, Travellers are shunted from one camp to another because they are not accepted by the community.”
Margaret McKenzie, who has campaigned for traveller’s rights, said acceptance of Gypsy travellers was “slowly growing”.
She said: “There’s still a lot of discrimination. If we are on the road people don’t want them near – that’s what the stopping places are meant to help.”
The Gathering featured a number of activities, such as making paper flowers and crafting items from used tin cans, as well as traditional music and storytelling.
Members of the community also built a traditional bow tent, made from stripped down tree branches, next to the school football pitch.
Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Barrett, chairman of the Equalities Strategic Forum, said modern day environmentalists could learn a lot from the Gypsy Traveller community.
He said: “They can show us how to live without so many possessions and how to reuse things.
“I would suggest that there could be real benefits to Gypsy Travellers going into schools and showing how to use and reuse resources. That could also help break down barriers between them and the settled community.”