There are many reasons why Traveller children and young people leave school at an early age, some personal, some structural. The educational impact of this is obvious but what is often forgotten is that along with formal education, key health messaging can also be missed.

Through our casework and outreach at Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT), we’re aware that significant health messaging (such as the oft-repeated 5-a-day) was not making its way through to the Traveller families we worked with.

We were keen to raise awareness around making healthier lifestyle choices, and equipping young Travellers with the correct information was vital. The strong social links that young people have meant that this project had the potential to exponentially spread through the young people passing on their new-found knowledge to their peers.

FFT had previously run successful RSPH health improvement qualifications with adults for a number of years. We saw the value of this and decided to bring the concept across to young Travellers, in a way that resonated with them. We co-produced the project’s design and workbooks with young Travellers, which resulted in our use of Harry Potter and Fortnite as course materials! This method was highly effective because it not only made the project more interesting for the young people, but it also gave them a sense of ownership and empowerment that is too often reserved for the privileged few.

Winning the award for the Children and Youth Category at The Charity Awards was a major recognition of the project’s potential. The award not only validated the work we do with young people, but it let us know we’re on the right track, which is all you want to know when you’re running a new project!

More importantly, however, the project’s impact cannot be understated – every young person who took the course worked extremely hard, thoroughly enjoyed it and received a Level 2 (GCSE equivalent) qualification. A particularly poignant response from an Irish Traveller boy was, “I wish we learnt like this in school”.

The course shone a light on the way that structural issues manifest in the individual’s experience. Some of the young people who took the qualification had been out of school for a long time and writing in the workbooks to demonstrate their knowledge became an almost insurmountable task. But we got there, together.

Moving forward, we are keen to digitise the modules so that those who are unable to attend classes in-person can still benefit from the content. From our casework we know there are high rates of little-to-no literacy amongst members of Gypsy and Traveller communities, so we’re keen to incorporate a voice note system where young people could record their answers onto a digital workbook.

Having the setup we have at FFT, with a ‘multi-pronged’ approach to tackling various issues means that we’re able to provide unparalleled support and focus to those who want it. Whilst we tackle the big picture through our policy work, our helpline, casework and outreach teams continue delivering on-the-ground support and projects for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people.

As an organisation moving forward, our vision will not change. We will continue to provide the casework and outreach support we offer, as well as challenge the systems and structures that do not currently accommodate Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people.