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Moving On: A Survey of Travellers' Views - Research Findings

DescriptionThis research obtained the view of Travellers about the sites they use, information on their access to and use of other services, and their views on whether and how their lifestyle has changed.
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateSeptember 20, 2000
Development Department Research Programme Research Findings No. 94Moving On: A Survey of Travellers' Views

Delia Lomax, Sharon Lancaster (School of Planning and Housing, ECA/Heriot-Watt University) and Patrick Gray (Housing Research Centre, Magee College, University of Ulster)

This research was commissioned jointly by the Scottish Executive and Scottish Homes to obtain the views of Travellers in Scotland about the sites they use, information on their access to and use of other services, and their views on whether and how their lifestyle has changed. 83 Travellers were interviewed at authorised sites and at unauthorised encampments.

Main Findings

  • Travellers are not a homogeneous group and the survey findings reflect mixed views on many issues.

  • Site regulations appropriate to their lifestyle and fairly applied are acceptable to Travellers.

  • The use of a site barrier is a difficult and complex problem for both residents and site managers.

  • Travellers on LA sites were concerned about proximity to busy roads and to rivers. For those at roadside encampments, the most important issue was access to water, toilet facilities, and rubbish disposal.

  • Over two-thirds of the Travellers had lived in housing at one time or another. Some found it did not suit their life as a Traveller or they encountered prejudice and harassment from neighbours.

  • Finding work is the main reason for travelling; the time and distances travelled have fallen due to the lack of stopping places. Over a quarter of the Travellers had not travelled at all in the previous year, and a further quarter had travelled for less than 3 months in the year.

  • Some find it difficult or are reluctant to use LA sites, and see unauthorised camps as an appropriate option, despite the lack of services and threat of eviction. Over half of Travellers would like more freedom to travel, and there is some support for a network of transit sites or short-stay pitches on existing sites.

  • Travellers tend to use older family members and friends or trusted agencies and individuals for advice and information. Face-to-face contact is generally preferred, at least initially, to telephone or written advice.

  • Many had experienced prejudice and harassment during the previous year; Travellers tend to either ignore such situations or move away rather than complain. Harassment from other Travellers was a problem in some areas.


The aims of this study were to obtain Travellers' views about:

  • the sites they use, including the facilities and services available;
  • access to and use of other services, in particular accommodation and advice and information;
  • changing patterns in their lifestyle, including travelling, work opportunities and experience of prejudice and harassment.

The 83 Travellers included in the survey were 'mobile' Travellers staying on local authority sites, on private Travellers sites and on unauthorised encampments. Travellers settled in housing were only included if they were seasonally mobile. New Age Travellers were not included.

Site Management

The majority of those interviewed on local authority and privately owned sites were long-stay residents and using the sites as permanent accommodation. This has implications for the management, services and facilities expected from the site. Residents of authorised sites appreciated a flexible approach in the application of fair and appropriate rules and regulations. Views on regulations were mixed: over half found them helpful, one-third too restrictive. There was some concern about anti-social Travellers moving onto sites and, when such behaviour arose, some residents appreciated regulations that enabled action (including eviction) to be taken.

Over half of those interviewed at LA/private sites found the site manager or owner useful. Nearly all these sites had a barrier at the entrance, though not all were in use; a high proportion of interviewees appreciated the security provided by barriers, but many were also concerned that the barrier restricted access by the emergency services and prevented Travellers leaving the site if they needed to at short notice.

Site Conditions and Services

Travellers on LA/private sites and at unauthorised encampments expressed concerns about site conditions, especially health and safety. Travellers on LA sites were concerned about the proximity of busy roads or rivers. For Travellers at roadside camps, the most important issue was access to water and toilet facilities and rubbish disposal.

Respondents (on LA sites more than on private sites) commented on the lack of adequate facilities and services, a fifth of them mentioning the lack of play space for children. They made suggestions for improvements and the types of services they would like to see on sites.

The survey findings show some support for extending the range and choice of site accommodation to include a network of transit sites, short-stay pitches on existing sites, smaller, extended family-sized sites, and an expansion of site provision, including Traveller owned sites.


Housing is one component in the range of accommodation used by Travellers. It is not necessarily seen as a means of permanent settlement but may be used temporarily for a range of reasons:

  • providing security and safety for young children or during periods of family illness or crisis;
  • as a winter base to avoid harsh weather conditions and to provide settled periods for children's education, or;
  • as an investment, purchased for example to improve for resale.

At the time they were interviewed, 13% of the Travellers had a house; a further 57% had lived in a house at some time in the past and, of these, one third said that they had experienced problems, mainly prejudice or harassment from neighbours. Some respondents indicated that they would not choose to be accommodated on council housing estates due to perceived prejudice and harassment or proximity to non-Traveller values and morality. Nonetheless, one-third of those who had lived in houses at some time in the past said they would consider trying housing again.


For the majority of Travellers, the amount of time spent travelling has reduced, as have the distances travelled. The lack of suitable stopping places, due to the blocking off of traditional camps and the moving on of Travellers from roadside camps, has discouraged travelling.

'We dinnae travel as much as we used to 'cause there's nae stopping places' if there were more open sites we'd travel a lot more.' (Male Traveller on a private site)

The second main reason for not travelling was to provide more stability for children, particularly in relation to education. Travelling in larger family groups is a problem, as it can be difficult to find a site with vacant pitches for 6 or 7 caravans at a time.

The main reason for travelling is still to find work. Travelling for social contact with other Travellers and for the very experience of travelling is also important. Some respondents found it difficult to access, or preferred not to use, local authority sites, which were seen as too restrictive in terms of site regulations or potentially unsafe for their families. For some Travellers, roadside encampments were preferred.


There has been a decline in traditional types of work for Travellers, such as farm work and hawking. This has had a particular impact on women's ability to work and to contribute to the family income. In some areas, Travellers living on sites said that they had experienced discrimination by local employers and other service providers, the site address giving away their identity as a Traveller.

Advice and Information

Travellers were most likely to use word of mouth, especially with older family members and friends, as their main source of advice and information. A limited range of agencies were used for advice, where possible using trusted individuals and agencies. The survey findings indicated that women made the majority of these agency contacts. Face-to-face contact was overwhelmingly preferred, at least initially, either on or off sites and camps.

The advice and information most often sought was on access to services such as housing, sites, education, health care and benefits. Legal advice was also required in relation to evictions from unauthorised camps, criminal charges, planning for housing and sites and complaints about racism.

Prejudice and Harassment

61% of the Travellers interviewed had experienced prejudice or harassment in the previous year. Examples were given of incidents with police and council officers, public and private service providers and the general public.

'I don't know why they don't get pulled up for being racist. That's like saying no black people in there.' (Female on a private site)

The most common course of action in relation to such incidents was to ignore them or move on. Complaints concerning such incidents were not in general satisfactorily resolved; some respondents were reluctant to complain unless the matter was serious, having little confidence in the outcome.

Harassment from other Travellers was also a problem in some areas, but respondents were generally unwilling to discuss this.


Travellers are not a homogenous group and the findings from this survey reveal a variety of views across the range of issues covered. However, there are also common areas which relate to the experience of being a Traveller in the current policy and legislative context. The two key issues emerging across the range of subjects covered by the survey are:

  • the reduction in and changing pattern of travelling;
  • discrimination as an everyday experience for Travellers.

About the Study

The research involved two main stages. Focus groups were used to determine which issues Travellers themselves considered to be important for inclusion in the survey, which questions or topics were likely to be a problem for respondents, and the overall feasibility of the study and proposed survey methods. The survey, using a semi-structured questionnaire and face-to-face interviews, took place over two periods of fieldwork (March to April and June to August 1999). Traveller researchers were recruited to assist with access to Travellers and to undertake some of the interviews. Interviews were achieved with 83 'mobile' Travellers: 41 on 14 local authority sites, 18 on 6 private sites, and 24 at 12 unauthorised camps. The distribution of interviews closely resembles the actual distribution of Travellers on different types of site found in the Scottish Executive's seasonal counts of Travellers.

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