A campaigner for gypsy rights is using her newly-gained law degree to assist traveller communities in Derbyshire.
Siobhan Spencer, 53, of Beeley, graduated with a 2:1 grade at The University of Derby’s awards ceremony last Thursday.
Kevin Bampton, head of law and criminology at the university, said: “Siobhan is an inspirational figure.”
“I loved teaching her, as did my colleagues, and it is a matter of pride for us that what we have taught her will be put to good use fighting intolerance, exclusion and racism.”
Siobhan, who has also received an MBE for her community relations work, says the knowledge gained from the course is proving invaluable in her work for the Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group – an initiative she set up almost 25 years ago.
Siobhan has also begun drafting a proposed UK strategy for gypsy, traveller and Roma communities in the light of the 2011 EU declaration that all member states should produce a strategy to show how they would work with traveller communities.
Despite Siobhan’s overwhelming success, she said it was only the persuasion of influential lecturer, Kevin Bampton, that got her back into education.
Siobhan said: “I went to the university to speak to Kevin about organising a short course for people from the traveller community.”
“We ended up having a long chat and he suggested I should try a Law course module for myself.”
The move was a big step for Siobhan as O-levels were the highest qualification she had at the time.
Siobhan also had to juggle the responsibilities of looking after children and grandchildren during her five years of study.
She said: “People from my community tend to marry early. I was married at 17 and had four children by the time I was in my late twenties.”
Despite the pressures of family life and the heavy work load of the Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison group, Siobhan said she was ‘ecstatic’ to have finished her degree with such a high mark.
She said: “I was starting to feel like a rung out dishcloth with everything I had on.”
Siobhan celebrated her success last Tuesday with a party for close friends and family as her mother wasn’t well enough to attend the graduation ceremony with her.
Siobhan had another reason to celebrate, though, after the Derbyshire Gypsy Liason group recently secured funds from the Health and Social Care Volunteering fund.