There is more to the temporary gypsy encampment at the Eye of York than meets the eye, says STEPHEN LEWIS.

IF you've been down to the Eye of York recently, you won't have missed the fact that a family of gypsies have pitched camp on the green opposite the crown court.

There's a caravan, a transit van, a small shelter/ studio made out of reclaimed wood – even a chemical toilet.

Before you get upset at this invasion of York's green and pleasant heart, listen up. Three members of this family are artists with an international reputation. And they're here with the city council's permission as part of PH1 'Artists In Place', a six-month artists in residency project commissioned by the New Schoolhouse Gallery and supported by the Arts Council and City of York Council.

The aim is to try to counter misunderstandings about gypsy and traveller people – and also to raise awareness about homelessness and insecurity, says Delaine Le Bas, an English Roma Gypsy whose work has been exhibited all over the world, including at the Prague and Vienna Biennales.

"We're here to have conversations with people," she said. "Most people will never have had a one-to-one talk with anybody from our community. So we want people to come and talk to us. There is a lot of misunderstanding, fear on both sides."

That fear is evident in the response of many people to the York local plan, and its attempts to identify sites for travelling people, Delaine said.

In total, the local plan identifies something like 66 traveller plots, she said. "That's nothing compared to the 17,000 or so new houses - but it always causes controversy."

For the past few weeks, Delaine and her family – husband and fellow artist Damian; son Damian James, who has a first class degree in Theology from Oxford and is now a poet, writer, filmmaker and editor of the Travellers' Times; and Damian James' wife Candide – have been talking to anyone who has come to see them at their 'camp' at the Eye of York.

They've also held workshops with local schools – some artwork made by children from St Lawrence's School hangs in their temporary studio an on lines strung around the camp - and have given a series of 'artists' talks'.

The nomadic lifestyle is nothing new, Delaine points out. For millennia, early humans were forced to live a nomadic existence in order to survive.

Those who choose to continue to live a nomadic lifestyle simply have a different concept of 'home' to the rest, she says.

The recession has meant that, across Europe, many people with formerly secure homes and jobs have suddenly found themselves homeless, or struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

"Across the planet, migration and nomadism is on the increase, as people try to change their way of life or just to escape the misery of their circumstances," she said.

Yet in the UK, spikes in doorways to stop homeless people sleeping there are a sign that many British people are still reluctant to confront homelessness.

Nevertheless, with some people having lost their homes during the recession and many others now working zero hours contracts with little security and little prospect of buying a home, now is a good time to try to break down some of the barriers, she says.

The Le Bas family's residence at the Eye of York comes to an end a week today, when there will be a big 'closing event' from 2pm to 4pm.

Before then, there will be an 'open mike' event at the Eye of York (today, Saturday October 11 from 3-6pm) and an artists' performance evening at School House Gallery next Friday, from 6-8pm.

And of course, you're welcome to drop along at any time over the next week for a chat.

"We're here 24/7," Delaine said.

"We're hopefully giving some people a slightly different perspective."