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Suffolk heroes: Shirley Barrett

PUBLISHED: 00:16 23 February 2011 | UPDATED: 17:49 20 February 2013

Jane Basham, chief executive of the Ipswich & Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) has an enormous regard for West Suffolk-based Shirley Barrett, development and outreach officer for OneVoice4Travellers

Jane Basham, chief executive of the Ipswich & Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) has an enormous regard for West Suffolk-based Shirley Barrett, development and outreach officer for OneVoice4Travellers




OneVoice4Travellers is a charity that works towards reducing violence to and within that local community.
I met Shirley at an event nearly four years ago and was struck by the articulate way in which she described the acceptable face of racism aimed at her community because she simply stated it as fact. She was not angry or accusing but spoke about the importance of positive engagement in order to reduce the fear and prejudice on both sides.
According to Basham, her hero demonstrates the very Suffolk quality of huge patience, in that Shirley believes over time the barriers and racism will break down. She exemplifies an unassuming pride in her heritage as a Gypsy and because of this makes people check their prejudices automatically and, therefore, generates increased respect for the community she represents.
She is also incredibly brave and never complains as she has some serious health issues that she overcomes on a daily basis. Although Shirley is employed by OneVoice, because of the gaps in services and the barriers the Gypsy and Traveller community faces, Shirley and others do a significant amount of volunteering within the community.
Their group works in particular with women and children and families from the Traveller community. They work with those who live on sites, those who live in houses and those who live by the side of the road.
Jane Basham observes that Shirley talks easily about how because you stop Travelling, that does not take the Traveller out of you.
Many Travellers have had their lifestyle legislated against and many of those who live in houses or on sites miss the Travelling lifestyle.
OneVoice stands against violence against and within the community and this is particularly important.
I remember a young woman saying how Catherine Tate had given the word pikey, a word that is used as a weapon against Travellers the Royal seal of approval when she used it at the Royal Variety Show a few years back and of Shirley telling me how many parents took their children out of school because of racism.
Shirley Barretts own life history shows the enduring importance of the Travelling culture even when ones lifestyle changes. She faced real issues when she decided to marry someone who was not a Traveller. Im so impressed by the way in which Shirley has taught her dual heritage children to embrace their Gypsy and Traveller heritage and how obviously proud her children are of this.
Also, I admire her role in supporting some of the young people, who even at 17, think things are not going to change. However, that is a job not just for Shirley but for all of our Suffolk society!


For more information on OneVoice4Travellers go to www.onevoice4travellers.org.uk and for the Ipswich & Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) go to www.iscre.org.uk



BY PAUL SIMON

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