WHEN Shantele Janes visited a Chester tanning salon she was in for a shock.
As director of the Cheshire, Halton and Warrington Racial Equality Council, Ms Janes was amazed to see a sign at Heatwave on Frodsham Street reading 'Strictly No Gipsies Or Travellers Due To Bad Behaviour'.
Having just spearheaded the launch of a new campaign group - Cheshire Gipsy and Traveller Voice - based at Hunters Walk in Chester, she complained to staff.
But the sign was not removed until the intervention of Sgt Andy Pickup of the Chester Inner Neighbourhood Policing Unit.
'Discrimination against gipsies and travellers remains the last acceptable form of racism,' says Ms Janes.
'As I said to the shop, they wouldn't put a sign up saying 'No Black People' or 'No Irish People' due to bad behaviour. 'The actions of one or two people should not tarnish a whole group.'
Sgt Pickup said: 'I told the manager the sign could leave herself and the staff open to prosecution, I don't think she had been aware of that.
'She said she believed travellers had been stealing, urinating in tanning booths, using a bin as a toilet and being intimidatory and rowdy.
'I told her they needed to report these things.'
The manager of the salon admitted they had put up a sign after experiencing problems with travellers but declined to comment further on the matter.
Ms Janes said dealing with gipsy and traveller issues accounted for around half the Racial Equality Council's enquiries.
'However, we have always recognised that the key thing missing was the voice of gipsies and travellers themselves,' she said.
Funding for the group was provided through the Government's Change Up initiative, which aids voluntary organisations, and it was officially launched at Halton Stadium in Widnes on Wednesday.
A steering group of gipsies and travellers formed through the council's contacts has surveyed 93 members of their communities to find out their priorities.
It revealed that while most are satisfied with health provision, refuse collections and their neighbours, there is often disgruntlement with local authorities, the police and benefits provision.
The group, which already has 26 volunteers from the gipsy and traveller communities dealing with different issues, operates through a hotline number, and works with the likes of police, the local education authority and landlords to resolve difficulties.
Chairman Joe Hurn, a settled gipsy living in Winsford, said: 'It's seen as a lifestyle choice but you don't choose to be a gipsy, you are born a gipsy, it's in your blood.
'We don't want special treatment, we just want to be treated the same as everyone else.'
Asked about instances where residents have alleged that crime and litter has come from unauthorised sites, another volunteer, Angela Hulme, a settled traveller in Warrington, argued: 'Our communities have their good and bad people but so do all different groups of people and they are not all tarnished with the same brush.
'We have lots of good points - for instance there are much stronger family ties and fewer relationship breakdowns.'