YTT reporter Charlotte Donaldson on ‘landmark event for Scottish Travellers’

4 June 2018
Scottish Traveller Event

16 year old, Scottish Traveller, Charlotte Donaldson reports for YTT on what she felt was a ‘landmark event for Scottish Travellers’.

Mayfest, is an event held every year at Aberdeen University but this year it proved to be a landmark event for Scottish Travellers…………..writes Charlotte Donaldson

The event took place on the 25th -27th May and was probably the first time in history that Scottish Travellers were allowed to set up camp on the Aberdeen University quad! Davie Donaldson in collaboration with Dr Thomas McKean, of the Elphinstone Institute, set up a traditional bow tent and a trailer as part of a programme of events entitled ‘Tobar an’ Keir’ (at home and on the road).

A modern trailer and traditional bow tent were displayed to show aspects of Scottish Traveller history and culture.
A modern trailer and traditional bow tent were displayed to show aspects of Scottish Traveller history and culture

The programme provided a great opportunity for us Travellers to showcase our culture and allow the settled community to see Travellers from a different perspective. There was a camp to show the past and present of Scottish Travellers ‘shifting’ when families go on the road.

A bow tent, to show the past, built from bowed hazel and canvas, with a trailer to represent the contemporary. The camp raised awareness of traditional stopping places and ancestral camps being shut down; and gave the scheme of negotiated stopping as a fair solution to the conservation and protection of a nomadic lifestyle in Scotland.

We were privileged to be joined by Essie Stewart, Jess Smith and Grace Banks; who held both adults and children spellbound with traditional Traveller tales throughout the weekend. 

Scottish Travellers sitting around the campfire © Shannon MacDonald
Conversations about Scottish Traveller history around the campfire © Shannon MacDonald

I gave a talk about life as a young Scottish Traveller and my personal experiences. I also spoke about my experience of school, shifting and discrimination. The Gypsy Traveller Youth Assembly of Scotland (GTYA), and problems that Scottish Travellers face on and off the road. I received amazing feedback on my presentation and I was really pleased with the intimate discussion that followed. When speaking to people about things I’ve had to go through, especially for a girl so young, a lot of them were shocked but to me it was just normal.

Charlotte Donaldson speaking about her experiences of being a Young Traveller in Scottish society. © Shannon MacDonald
Charlotte Donaldson speaking about her experiences of being a Young Traveller in Scottish society © Shannon MacDonald

As well as talks there were a variety of exhibitions as part of the programme. 'The MacDonald collection' by Shannon MacDonald, a young Scottish Traveller herself, was premiered at the festival.

The collections of photos were of items she felt were important to Traveller life and culture. Shannon’s collection was well received; I feel she really captured the identity of a Traveller and the richness of our culture.

'The MacDonald Collection’ photo exhibition by Shannon MacDonald
'The MacDonald Collection’ photo exhibition by Shannon MacDonald

Shannon said after the event, “I felt very honoured and lucky to have my photos on display as part of the ‘Tobar an Keir’ event at MayFest this year, as most people don’t get opportunities like this, and because I had been working on this project for quite some time it was good to be given a deadline to motivate me to finish it finally!”

She added, “I was very pleased with the outcome, especially with the stories I had got from family members to complement the photos, I think they added a lot to the overall exhibition. I wanted to take pictures of old Traveller things mostly because people may not know what they are, but also I knew every one of them had interesting memories behind them, and I love taking photos to preserve memories”.

Also on display was the ‘Moving minds’ exhibition, created by MECOPP (Minority Ethnic Carers of People Project). The exhibition was produced by Gypsy/Traveller contributors from across Scotland, who shared their memories, artefacts, poetry, and photographs – to create the installation. The exhibit helped to reflect on the impact prejudice can have upon mental health and wellbeing.

Author  Jess Smith  © Shannon MacDonald
Author Jess Smith © Shannon MacDonald

HOTT (Heart of the Travellers) displayed their fantastic exhibition on Traveller history, with conservation of the Tinkers Heart at the forefront. There was also an exhibit of artefacts, which were either made or used by the Scottish Traveller community. This provided evidence of the craftsmanship and the contributions they have made during their long history in Scotland.

HOTT (Heart of the Travellers) exhibition on Scottish Traveller history
HOTT (Heart of the Travellers) exhibition on Scottish Traveller history

On the Sunday, everybody had the chance to enjoy a performance by Traveller children from Clinterty Site, and non-Traveller children from Kinellar primary school, which was based on traditional Traveller stories and playground skipping songs. They done a fantastic job and were a prime example of what can be achieved when both communities work together!

There was also a screening of a film made by HOTT called ‘Sense of Identity’, shown as part of a tour around Scotland, which was well received. On the last day of the programme, traditional ballads were sung and stories were told at the farewell gathering around the campfire. Travellers and non-Travellers celebrated together one of Scotland’s oldest indigenous peoples, a truly beautiful sight.

I’d like to thank the many supporters whose hard work successfully paid off! Special thanks going to Davie Donaldson, who took an idea and made it a reality, and last but not least Dr Thomas McKean and the Elphinstone Institute for their help in making this event happen.

By Charlotte Donaldson, with photography from Shannon MacDonald (Members of the Gypsy/Traveller Youth Assembly of Scotland)

Main Photo: Dave Smith and Davie Donaldson © Shannon MacDonald