Threats and claims of “playing the race card” in a battle over greenhouses at Dulwich allotments

By Callum Cuddeford

A white allotment member has accused a black pensioner from Balham of “playing the race and sexist card” after she claimed her eviction order was the result of racist attitudes.

The row is over the size of a polytunnel Vaulda Simmons has put up at the Grange Lane Allotments in Dulwich.

Treasurer Martin Beard made the comment to the South London Press in which he outlined why Guyanese born Ms Simmons, 68, of the Weir Estate was given the eviction order.

He denied race was a factor in the decision. Mr Beard said: “Because her background is from Guyana, she is playing the race and sexist card, which is wholly inappropriate and defamatory.” He also rebutted her claim that all existing structures were created by white males as “completely racist,” claiming the allotment was “ethnically diverse”.

He said: “We are non-discriminatory in the way we apply the rules. You can see Canary Wharf, Wembley and Heathrow and we do not want anything that blocks the view.

“[Chairman] Nigel is not the only one who has been allowed a structure which breaks the rules. But it is nothing like as high as Vaulda’s.

“We do allow some which have been there for decades, but hers stretches way beyond. We can’t change the rules because we would be kicked off by the Dulwich Estate.

“We are not racist in the way we deal with issues. If anything, we are very sensitive about it and have had a committee member from the Caribbean, Verny.”

Vaulda Simmons and William Stanley

The committee of the Grange Lane allotment said Mr Beard’s accusation that Ms Simmons is “playing the race and sexist card” does not reflect its views.

Singer-songwriter Ms Simmons was told “failure to comply threatens your tenancy” after her helper William Stanley, 39, put up a polytunnel and 130cmhigh tool box that went against site rules.

The South London Press has seen photographs that show the rules are not followed across the rest of the plots, with several tool boxes also exceeding the 100cm limit, including chairman Nigel Grant’s at 120cm.

Leaseholder The Dulwich Estate will review the site after it was alerted to other structures deviating from the terms of the lease.

Ms Simmons said she felt the decision was the result of racism as she is one of a minority of BAME plot holders and was “punished” by an all-white committee, despite her plot being in excellent condition.

In an email sent by the honorary secretary on behalf of the committee, they say that they have tried to enforce the rules irrespective of race and gender and are merely seeking to ensure that the site is properly maintained.

Some of the structures complained about had received permission in the past and this could not now be retracted. Ms Simmons was issued with a formal warning in April but has failed to alter the offending structures.

Ms Simmons said: “It is not fair what they have done to me. They are trying everything to get me out.

“I need that plot, that’s where I go to meditate, that’s where I go to write my songs and get my inspiration. It is my healing place.” Ms Simmons had a heart attack in May 2020 and suffers from diabetes and hypertension.

Another structure on the allotments

She said Mr Grant’s tone was “condescending” and “unprofessional”, with one email sent to her by mistake accusing her of “magical thinking” and being on another planet, with more emails sent by the committee stating “we are sorry to embarrass you” and “we trust you will see the foolishness”.

In the email sent by the honorary secretary on behalf of the committee, the charge of racism is even levelled at Ms Simmons after she pointed out the all-white make-up of the committee and the low number of black plot holders.

It said: “The allegations made in this paragraph contain more unpleasant racist and sexist material”.

The committee comprises of six white females and five white males, although a long-standing black Caribbean member has recently died.

Ms Simmons’ eviction has been suspended while The Dulwich Estate reviews the historical structures to check if the terms of the lease have been broken.

The committee said: “The committee believes in following a fair process in implementing the terms of our lease.

“The committee does not believe there has been any racism or sexism in our decisions.

“The committee are aware that we will be required to conduct a review to check that we are fulfilling the requirements of our lease concerning the size of structures on the site.

“Given this review, and because of the issues involved, the committee consider it sensible to pause the eviction, and await the outcome of the review process and the impact, if any, on the status of the structures under challenge.

Vaulda Simmons’ tool box

“If the outcome of the review we are being required to undertake allows the structures, then Vaulda can remain a plotholder for her plot.

“If the outcome of the review does not allow the structures, then Vaulda’s position will be reviewed in the light of any action she chooses to take as a result.”

 


 

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