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Striking a chord for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller culture

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Published on 27 June 2022

George Hoyle (left) and Richard O'Neill
George Hoyle (left) and Richard O'Neill

Multi-award-winning storyteller, author and playwright, Richard O'Neill and professional musician and songwriter George Hoyle have shared their unique insights into gypsy culture through story-telling and song at the University of Sunderland. 

The ‘Story into Song’ online interactive masterclass was held at the David Puttnam Media Centre, St Peter’s Campus, and streamed live to nearly 1,000 pupils in schools across the UK.

Through a series of songs, stories, musings and anecdotes, Richard and George provided a fascinating and humorous insight into a thousand years of Roma history, as well as what it was like being brought up in a large nomadic family and its interaction with the modern world, from the 1960s to the present day.

There was also a world premiere of Richard and George’s unique ‘Story into Song’ collaboration in the form of a live music event at the University’s Murray Library Lecture Theatre on City Campus.

The pair also performed and delivered storytelling workshops at the nearby Dame Dorothy Primary School and Hetton Lyons Primary School.

It was all part of the University’s Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month Event Series.

Wendy Price OBE, Head of Widening Access and Participation at the University of Sunderland, said: “It was a great honour for the University to be the place where Richard and George shared their first live music performance. 

“This was enjoyed by students, staff, children and other members of our wider community. Not only did we hear some wonderful stories and music, but we learnt more about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller culture and heritage.”

Currently only 6.3 percent of Gypsy and Roma people access higher education. The University has a deep-rooted commitment to widening access and recognises the barriers and challenges that Gypsy, Traveller, Roma, Showmen and Boater (GTRSB) communities may face within education and are working directly with students to provide personalised support based on individual needs.

Wendy said: “In January 2021 the University were one of the first in the UK to sign the GTRSB into Higher Education Pledge, a firm public commitment to support GTRSB students to access and succeed in higher education. 

“Inclusion, celebration and commemoration of GTRSB cultures and communities is an integral part of the Pledge, so it was important for us to celebrate Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month in June and extend these activities to the university community as well as local schools.”


Richard and George have been working together since 2020 to create these unique and exciting folk songs and stories to bring this culture to life.

Richard O’Neill

Richard is a multi-award-winning storyteller, author and playwright born and raised in a large traditional nomadic Romani family, whose history in England and Scotland goes back hundreds of years. Richard continues the tradition of travelling across the UK and mainland Europe, delivering storytelling sessions and storytelling skills workshops at school, libraries, festivals, universities, and theatres. He has a particular interest in using literature to promote inclusion and social mobility. Visit https://richardthestoryteller.weebly.com/ for more information. 

George Hoyle

George is a professional musician, songwriter and music producer with over 20 years of experience. He has toured extensively internationally as a bass player. He is currently the live bass player for acclaimed folk band Stick In The Wheel. George wrote a song which was a number 1 hit in Italy and has written music which has appeared on adverts for Nokia and Mitsubishi. George makes his own music under the name Cunning Folk. His music is inspired by magic and folklore and his last album was in the top 10 folk albums of 2020, according to Songlines magazine.

There is more information on how the University supports GTRSB students here.