Highlights from the study visit on Roma inclusion to Leeds


On 24-25 September, the working group Roma inclusion met in Leeds to learn about the city’s strategic approach to Roma inclusion and migrant integration.

The meeting gathered a record of 65 participants from 16 different cities from the UK and from Europe (Antwerp, Belfast, Bradford, Braga, Ghent, Glasgow, Gothenburg, Halifax, Leeds, Newcastle, Scarborough, Sheffield, Timisoara, Toulouse, Vienna, Wakefield). The meeting was a real success in portraying multi-level governance by bringing together all different levels of government to coordinate on Roma inclusion and migrant integration:

  • City level: Leeds brought together delegates from different services starting with the team and Director for Communities, from education services, safeguarding children and adults, etc.
  • Regional level: two representatives from Yorkshire county participated and presented their work at county level, which is a rolling out of the successful pilots in Leeds
  • National level: two representatives from the UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government participated actively throughout the meeting 
  • EU level: European Commission was represented by DG Employment and Social Affairs
  • International level: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Five Roma people and representatives of Roma civil society, including from the UK National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups, took part in all sessions and discussions.

The key messages from the meeting are:

  1. The key to successful inclusion and integration lies in building trusting relationships by working with volunteers as trusting partners in migrant communities. Such volunteers develop into community ‘champions’ who are trusted in their community to listen to their needs and bring them up to the city authorities. The power of networking through volunteering in the community is impressive in Leeds.
  2. Equal access to services is vital for inclusion and integration at local level. Working with champions in migrant communities is an effective way for the city to bridge the gap between services and their communities. It brings people out of isolation, removes the language barrier and accompanies them to access the relevant services. “When Roma see one of them in services, they are more confident to trust services”. 
  3. Inclusion and integration spams across many different areas and requires a genuinely integrated and coordinated approach across services and departments by working in partnership between social services, schools, healthcare, police, employers and NGOs.  
  4. Mapping migration trends is essential for an evidence-based approach to migration, for emergency planning with services targeting support in areas where needed most and improving the work of civil society with the migrant communities.
  5. Leeds’ inclusive approach of all diverse communities, not placing Roma as different or separate, but focusing on equality and inclusion for all people, works well to ensure coherence between policy-makers, practitioners and partners, all working together for a compassionate city.

Leeds as a compassionate city welcoming diversity

The meeting was opened by the Chief Executive of the Leeds City Council, Tom Riordan, who emphasised that Leeds is a compassionate city welcoming its diversity of 170 different ethnic groups, which makes Leeds the second most diverse in the UK after London. 

The Deputy Leader of the Leeds City Council, Cllr James Lewis, informed about the city’s equality strategy with a focus on inclusive approach to migration in Leeds. With over 11% of the city’s population being foreign-born and many newcomers arriving from Eastern Europe (8,000 newcomers in 2017), Leeds has also developed a strategy to tackle poverty and social exclusion in deprived areas in view of boosting inclusive growth in the city. 

The Director for Communities and Environment, James Rogers, explained the importance of improving access to public services for migrant communities and closing the gap between the newly-arrived and settled migrant communities. Leeds has championed a Migrant Access Project with excellent results in training ‘ambassadors’ of migrant communities to raise awareness in their communities of support services available and how to access them. 



Leeds migration map

The visiting cities were most impressed and happy to learn from the ‘Leeds migration map’. This interactive map was built on the existing data from census and national insurance number registrations to identify trends in migration in Leeds to inform policy-making with evidence. The map shows that since 2011 Leeds has been hosting increasingly more people coming from Eastern Europe than from Asia. The city’s services are now better equipped to target their support measures to the three neighbourhoods where the newly-arrived live. The tool is now rolled out in the whole of Yorkshire county. 



Leeds approach to Roma inclusion

Leeds does not have a specific Roma inclusion strategy but includes Roma within its strategic, inclusive and coordinated approach to migration in Leeds. Leeds has a team dedicated to Gypsy, Roma, Traveller Outreach and Inclusion that works in partnership with schools, healthcare institutions (NHS) and NGOs to support newly-arrived families to access universal services especially education and healthcare. Strong focus is placed on community building by supporting committed volunteers to develop inclusion projects, as well as on outreach work in areas where the communities live (with mobile bus). 

Study visit in Leeds

In the afternoon, the participants had the opportunity to do a study visit to one of the deprived areas of Leeds where many Roma people live. Ten passionate Roma volunteers presented their projects for Roma inclusion in their communities ranging from setting up a Roma café as a socialising space to helping access primary healthcare, giving women peer support, raising awareness of healthy nutrition and involving Roma young people in volunteering activities to develop their skills and self-confidence. What is the key link between all these projects for inclusion of Roma is the tireless dedication of these Roma community champions to help their peers feel included and integrated in society by helping them with information, peer support and referral to access public services. One Polish Roma volunteer said: “You have to be the change. You can have as many services, but you need to bring them to the people”.



A public debate followed on the foreseen impact of Brexit on Roma inclusion. The debate revealed persisting uncertainties around the settled status for EU citizens in the UK and the vulnerability of Roma and other migrants who may lack timely information and may need targeted support to register for this settled status. Leeds is taking a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime across all its services.

The day ended with a city tour given by a Kurdish refugee who shared his story and showed the city through his eyes as an immigrant coming to Leeds. 

Other participants enjoyed a facilitated discussion with 10 migrant community champions (Swahili, Jamaica, Syria, Slovak Roma, etc.) at the city hall. They shared their experiences as Migrant Community Networkers working in partnership with the city to bridge the gap between services and their communities. One volunteer said: “This project helped me to help my community and gave me an opportunity to contribute to the society. I’m really proud to be involved to making decision with the city council for better inclusion policies”. Another volunteer said: “I wanted to have someone to listen to me but there was no one there for me. To cover this gap, I now listen to other women and try to help them”. 

The second day of the study visit started with a workshop on safeguarding children and adults. The Leeds’ holistic approach to safeguarding by focusing on families and giving targeted support in a timely and coordinated way between services – police, schools, social services, healthcare practitioners – inspired many visiting cities to reflect on their own safeguarding policy and practice.

The meeting continued with the meeting of the Working Group Roma Inclusion. Members elected a new WG chair and vice-chair: Gordon Smith from Glasgow as chair and Maaike Buyst from Ghent as vice-chair. Members also approved the workplan for 2019-2020. Members also discussed a draft statement on cities’ perspectives to the post-2020 EU Roma Framework, which will be finalised by the end of the year.

The next meeting will take place in Toulouse in early April 2019 with a focus on facilitating access of Roma to decent housing and special emphasis on transitions from camps to sustainable housing.

Read here the blog article posted on the website of Leeds:  https://internationalrelationsleeds.blog/2018/09/26/sharing-knowledge-on-inclusion/

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EUROCITIES staff contact

Bianca Faragau-TavaresSenior policy advisor