Story by David Kandrac and Sabrina Ahmed. Photo by Shuna Beckett
On 25th October more than one hundred Roma people gathered for a Festival of Debate event to discuss the importance of voice in the Roma community. It took place at the Pakistan Advice and Community Association and gave our community the chance to talk about the challenges of inequality in Sheffield.
The Festival of Debate is a series of panel discussions and debates hosted by non-profit organisation Opus Independents. Managing director James Lock was delighted, saying “I didn’t expect this huge turnout.” This particular event, originally hosted in spring, had such enthusiastic participation that it has returned this autumn. It is estimated over 30,000 Roma live in the Yorkshire and Humberside region. They have come to the UK for a better life. People concerned about migrants coming to the UK fear they are here only for free health care, education, and
benefits. However, the debate explored issues of unfair treatment and discrimination in their countries of origin, demonstrating that this is not the case.
The Roma audience questioned a panel made up of Marek Pacan, Andy Shallice and Cllr Mark Jones concerning the lack of jobs available to them. They also asked where their children could go after receiving criticisms about them playing on the street. Marek said:
“We want to continue in Sheffield, we are here and we aren’t going away – we just need help.” Councillor Mark Jones said: “I can’t say what would be fair because I’m not Roma – but what we have in common is we are all people.”
He went on to say he was committed to helping the Roma succeed as part of the local community and he spoke about the Sheffield 100 apprenticeship scheme which teaches migrants key workplace skills. Councillor Jones was applauded and received a good response from the audience, one person saying that he has a “heart on the right side.” The tone among the Roma audience was appreciative and one person said, the council “want to do good for us, they are teaching us.”
Forging Fairness in Fir Vale
Story by Graham Jones
A further Festival of Debate event was held at St Cuthbert’s Church on the following evening. There was a cross section of local residents in attendance and a panel including Professor Alan Walker of Sheffield University, NHS and Chair of the Fairness Commission, Burngreave Councillor Mark Jones and associate vicar of St Cuthbert’s and diabetes specialist nurse, Monica Sutton.
Professor Walker highlighted various aspects of vast inequalities across different parts of the city. There was a lively and well informed discussion about unfairness across Sheffield and how residents of wealthier parts of the city had longer life expectancy by up to ten years and better health outcomes. There was discussion about healthy food, housing, litter, fly-tipping and road safety. It was widely agreed in the meeting that some of these issues are not properly addressed in our area because local people do not stand up together and make their voices heard as they do in more affluent suburbs. Councillor Mark Jones said he could take any local problems to the City Council.
Reverend Sutton said that the Fir Vale food bank is held in St Cuthbert’s every Thursday afternoon. The food bank has an open policy (no referral is needed) and provides a community meal each week. In both events it was remarked that there was a lack of forethought over the provision of interpreters. It was agreed by the panel that on future occasions it would be vital to recognise that fairness included the availability of translators.