0131 651 6444/ 07399786445 step@ed.ac.uk

About nomadic and travelling communities

Travelling and nomadic communities in Scotland

This section provides information about communities in Scotland who are currently mobile or have a tradition of mobility.  Travelling communities in Scotland are not a single group. There are many different groups. Each is defined by its different history, culture and lifestyle.  While each group is made up of extensive family networks, these may have little or no connection with other Traveller groups.

Central to each community is its right to self-identity, and to be recognized and respected by the society it lives in. The idea or actuality of ‘nomadism’ is a shared feature of these groups. In some places, this website uses the umbrella term ‘Travellers’, a traditionally accepted terminology among the communities in Scotland. Written references to Traveller groups should use non-derogatory terms and capitalize the first letter, e.g. ‘Gypsy’, ‘Roma’, ‘Traveller’ or ‘Showmen’.

Obtaining clear understandings about the distinctions between Travelling groups is an on-going challenge for policy makers and providers of public services, e.g. patterns of Travellers’ public service needs vary across the communities so ‘one size does not fit all’. A clearer understanding of the groups, and flexibility in service delivery, would be of economic, social and cultural benefit to Travellers, the local communities where they live, national and local policy makers, and public service providers. Drawing on education as an exemplar, we provide brief descriptions and background information on some of the groups.

Gypsy/Traveller communities

The complex and proud history of Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland is not fully understood. Historical records of Romani people, whose ancestral home is India, date their arrival in Scotland as the late 15th century. Over the centuries, Romani people mixed with indigenous groups in Scotland, some of whom may also have had nomadic traditions.

Read More

It is suggested that some Gaels, displaced from their lands following the Jacobite Uprising and subsequent Highland Clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries, joined communities already travelling in Scotland. This complex history is reflected linguistically in the ‘cant’: a language used by Gypsy/Traveller people, which draws on Romani, Scots and Gaelic words. An indigenous, nomadic ethnic minority Gypsy/Traveller history has been entwined with, but distinct from that of the wider Scottish population for many centuries.

Mary Hendry, Scottish Gypsy/Traveller

Showpeople communities

Showpeople or Showmen bring fairgrounds to urban and rural settings all over the UK. Many Showpeople also travel further afield to attend European fairs. Wherever they travel there is an expectation that the whole family will contribute towards the life of the fair.  Showpeople make up a business/cultural community who self-define in terms of their livelihoods.

Read More

Much of this business could not be conducted without a general education which explains why education has always been valued by the community and why Showpeople have such a long history of engagement with the Scottish Education system. Nowadays, most families live on permanent Showmen’s yards and commute to fairs. This allows children to attend local schools.

Showpeople seek official recognition of their distinctive identity, not least so that their children and young people’s interrupted learning needs will be recognized and supported. Many Showpeople belong to The Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, a national non-profit Trade Association that governs the setting up of fairs in partnership with local government officials. There are 4000 active members of the Showmen’s Guild representing 20,000 or more travelling families, whose lives, and those of their ancestors for several generations – have been devoted to entertaining the public” The Scottish Section of the Showmen’s Guild is the largest in the UK. It represents nearly 400 members, each being a small business in its own right. The overall population of Showpeople in Scotland is estimated at around 2,000.

Scottish Show families are mainly based in the east of Glasgow, although there are also families in Edinburgh and other places. Showpeople are usually based in a yard (a place where chalets are sited and where rides are located for repair and when not in use), though some families live in houses. Over the travelling season, which extends from early spring until around November 5th,, families may return to their yard for short periods of time to catch up with others, make contact with schools and carry out repairs to equipment.

Other Traveller communities include circus and bargee families. (The latter are generally not found in Scotland as the canal systems of England and Wales are not connected to Scotland’s.) More information about Circus communities is available from their magazine ‘King Pole’, a quarterly publication: contact joditimmscfa@aol.com or mobile 07812647678. Information about Bargee families is found on their website.

More information is available at the National Fairground Archive website.

For more information go to The Scottish Showmans’ Guild

European Roma communities in Scotland

Roma refers to a group while Romani is singular or referring to an individual.  The Roma are thought to be the largest ethnic minority in Europe. In the European context, the term ‘Roma’ officially refers to a variety of groups of people who describe themselves as Roma, Gypsies, Travellers, Manouches, Ashkali and Sinti, as well as other titles.  Movement may be triggered by the need to find work or escape violence, racism and discrimination.

The Romani people arrived in Europe from India over 700 years ago (Roma refers to a group while Romani is singular or referring to an individual). The Roma are thought to be the largest ethnic minority in Europe and it is estimated that they number 10 to 12 million people. Despite consistent negative attitudes towards them, they have maintained their culture and language wherever they have settled.

Read More

The Romani people arrived in Europe from India over 700 years ago (Roma refers to a group while Romani is singular or referring to an individual).  The Roma are thought to be the largest ethnic minority in Europe and it is estimated that they number 10 to 12 million people.  Despite consistent negative attitudes towards them, they have maintained their culture and language wherever they have settled. 

Although Romanichal and Kale Romani groups have lived in the UK since the 15th century, the recent  enlargement of the European Union enabled Roma to come from many new European Union countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. Most families have travelled with the aim of finding work and to seek a good education for their children. The majority also seek to escape violence, racism and discrimination in their countries of origin. 

Family networks make up the diverse Roma groups. Group pride is strongly related to the traditions that arise from specific trades. Key to any Roma family’s economic and social survival is its strong sense of responsibility for all family members. Importantly, families will generally identify themselves first in national terms and then as Roma e.g. Slovak Roma or Romanian Roma. 

In the European context, the term ‘Roma’ officially refers to a variety of groups of people who describe themselves as Roma, Gypsies, Travellers, Manouches, Ashkali and Sinti, as well as other titles. 


For more information, read: 

The Roma: an introduction to their history and customs is an introductory information pack, providing additional course outline/ teaching materials for developing a Roma project for primary schools. Published by and available to order from The Roma Support Group. 

Ian Hancock, (2002) We are the Romani people. 

Mapping the Roma community in Scotland 

Roma face racism, discrimination and social exclusion and live in deep poverty, often lacking access to decent housing and healthcare. Their living conditions are often well below acceptable standards and fail to meet basic human rights. Many Roma are living in substandard, segregated and overcrowded conditions, often without access to sanitation and basic utilities like heat and light. 

Both poor education and labour market discrimination have led to high unemployment and inactivity rates, and low quality, low skilled and low paid jobs for Roma. Roma women and children are regularly found to be victims of violence, exploitation and trafficking5, including within their own communities. 

The Roma population already represents a sizeable share of the working age population in many European countries: a share that will continue to rise given the relatively young profile of Roma populations. It is now widely accepted that integration of Roma is both a moral and economic imperative, requiring a change of mind-set from the majority of people, as well as from Roma themselves. 

Mapping the Roma Community in Scotland, Scottish Government, 2013