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About Gypsies/Travellers

Gypsies/Travellers are people who are dedicated to living a travelling existence, or who come from a travelling background. This page explains more about who Gypsies/Travellers are and provides an overview of accommodation-related issues affecting Gypsies/Travellers.

Who are Gypsies/Travellers?

Gypsies/Travellers are people who are committed to a nomadic or travelling lifestyle and see travelling as an important part of their ethnic or cultural identity.

There is a lot of diversity amongst Gypsy/Traveller communities in Scotland, with different groups speaking a variety of languages and holding to distinct customs and traditions. Many Gypsies/Travellers place great importance on family networks, and on passing down their culture and traditions through the generations:

  • Scottish Gypsies/Travellers, have a long history in Scotland going back to the 12th century. Different groups of Scottish Gypsies/Travellers may refer to themselves as Scottish Travellers or Scottish Gypsies, or as Nawkens or Nachins.
  • Gypsies, or Romanies, are descended from the ancient Roma people and are a recognised ethnic minority group.
  • Irish Travellers are a distinct Irish ethnic group with their own customs, language and traditions. Many live in the UK for all or part of the year. Like Gypsies, they are a recognised ethnic minority group.
  • European Roma, descended from the same people as British Romany Gypsies, are Gypsies/Travellers who have moved here from Central and Eastern Europe, and are also a recognised ethnic minority group. Some have arrived as asylum seekers and refugees, fleeing persecution abroad.
  • Occupational Travellers, such as fairground and circus people, have a long history of travelling for a living. This group also includes bargees, who live on houseboats.
  • New Age or New Travellers choose to live an alternative travelling lifestyle for ideological reasons, for example, because they want to live in a more 'green' way. New Age Travellers have existed since the 1970s, so some are now second or third generation Travellers.

In this section, we use the term Gypsies/Travellers to refer to all these different groups.

Where do Gypsies/Travellers live?

Although all Gypsies/Travellers see travelling as part of their identity, they can choose to live in different ways:

  • Some Gypsies/Travellers are permanently 'on the road', moving regularly around the country from site to site.
  • Others live permanently in caravans or mobile homes, on sites provided by the council, or on private sites.
  • Some Gypsies/Travellers live in settled accommodation during winter or school term-time and then travel during the summer.
  • Others may be settled altogether in 'bricks and mortar' housing, but still retain a strong commitment to Gypsy/Traveller culture and traditions.

Where do Gypsies/Travellers stay?

When Gypsies/Travellers are on the road, they may stay in:

What kind of issues do Gypsies/Travellers face?

Accommodation provision

The traditional travelling way of life is threatened by a shortage of suitable campsites and stopping areas. In Scotland, there are currently no official 'transit' sites where Gypsies/Travellers can stop over while travelling, while many council-run sites are situated in bad locations, often due to historic reasons and travelling patterns, with inadequate facilities and limited access to services. This means that Gypsies/Travellers are often forced to stop in unauthorised areas, which can lead to problems and confrontations with local communities.


Laws that protect tenants in settled housing often don't apply to Gypsies/Travellers living on sites, which means that often you can be moved on fairly easily. The section on eviction explains your rights in different kinds of accommodation, and explains what you can do if you're asked to leave.

Discrimination and harassment

Unfortunately, many people are prejudiced against Gypsies/Travellers and their way of life, and as a result, travelling people are likely to face a great deal of discrimination and harassment - the page on discrimination against Gypsies/Travellers looks at ways of combating this.

What can I do to help improve rights for Gypsies/Travellers?

Working with the council

Councils should involve members of the Gypsy/Traveller community when drawing up plans and strategies that affect you. They may do this by, for example:

  • putting a poster up on your site notice board, inviting you to a meeting
  • working with Gypsy/Traveller liaison organisations or other voluntary agencies to recruit representatives
  • consulting the site's residents' association, if there is one.

This is a good opportunity to get involved in the decision making process and make your voice heard.

Campaigning to change the law

Organisations such as the Gypsy Council, the Scottish Gypsy Traveller Association and the Scottish Gypsy and Traveller Law Coalition campaign to change the law in the UK and Scotland and improve the rights of Gypsies/Travellers. You can find contact details for these organisations on the Friends, Families and Travellers website.

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This content applies to Scotland only.
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