Uxbridge Gazette

Face Grace, your grace


- By MARTIN ELVERY Local Democracy Content Editor

BACK in the day, if dukes or knights had a score to settle, they would charge on horseback at each other in bloody jousting matches.

But if the current Duke of Northumber­land, Ralph Percy, wants to win a battle he’s fighting in his own London backyard, he’s going to have to strap on his armour to face a much more deadly weapon – Grace and her giant rhubarb!

Grace Gray, 78, is one of a group of rebel vegetable-growing allotmente­ers in Isleworth who are determined to stop the Duke building flats on the community allotments.

When I visit the Isleworth Park Road allotments next to the Duke’s mansion at Syon Park on a showery day in May, Grace, 78, tends her plot with determinat­ion, expertly cutting some huge stalks of giant rhubarb and brandishin­g them in the air.

If I was the Duke, I’d think twice about tangling with her. These huge fibrous plants look dangerous.

But Grace is rebellious for a reason. The great-grandmothe­r has been working these allotments for 35 years.

“It’s been part of my family. My mum was a farmers’ daughter so I grew up working with nature and it’s being able to pass that down to my children and grandchild­ren,.

“I lost my mum three years back at 105 and I lost my partner last November and he used to love it down here, she adds,”

“I bring an old man I know who is blind down here. He lives in a flat but can come down here and listen to the birds and he loves it. This place saved my sanity when we were stuck indoors during the pandemic.”

Grace loves working the allotments so much she takes some of what she’s grown to the local Red Lion pub and offers it for free. She’s clearly a bit of a local legend.

But this oasis is under threat because the Duke who owns the allotments pleads that he needs the income from homes he plans to build, to do up his beautiful crenellate­d Syon Park Manor next door.

The trouble is, his ancestor, the seventh Duke, actually leased the site to the community during the Second World War to be used to grow vegetables for the war effort.

It’s obvious looking round why people love the allotments.

It’s a little green semiwild paradise tucked away down a track off the road. It’s a haven for foxes, birds and badgers and at least 23 trees including peach, sycamore, hawthorn, lime and ash which will be chopped down if the flats plan goes ahead.

Mum Carmella lives in a two-bedroom flat with her two children nine and six. She has had a plot at the allotments for five years. The whole family had Covid last year and the allotments helped them recover.

“It’s a fantastic opportunit­y for us to come in and enjoy nature. I can see my girls playing with worms, finding bees, not being scared of touching insects,” she says.

“The kids find out how food is produced and plant seeds and water the plants and pick strawberri­es and lettuce. They’ve done their own shed and have lots of creativity in nature. The kids are very happy here. We’re building memories,” she smiles.

A planning applicatio­n some years ago would have relocated the allotments inside Syon Park but it was rejected. Now new plans would see two-thirds of the site developed into flats with some community plots left behind for allotments with much reduced space.

It’s due to go to the council’s planning committee later in the summer.

Rich list

The campaigner­s think the Duke has more than enough cash without needing income from the flats. He’s on the Times rich list 2020 with a fortune of £445 million. Last year he added £26m to his stash and climbed from 321 to 300 in the list.

Annie Aloysius, secretary of the Park Road allotment associatio­n says: “It would mean a net loss of allotment sites replaced by much smaller sub-standard plots. It’s the loss of local open space. It’s hugely diverse and rich and it’s the loss of all of that habitat.”

The campaigner­s are working with the Isleworth Society to raise awareness of the space and highlight what will be lost if the flats are built.

The campaigner­s claim the site has been deliberate­ly run down since 2015 and that potential tenants refused plots despite the long waiting list – this gives the appearance that there are a lot of empty plots.

A spokesman for the estate said: “The allotments cover only a small area which is not open to the public and hence only used by a small number of people. It lies outside of Syon Park, which has large swathes of open green space available to the public all year round for recreation, exercise, and fresh air. The new developmen­t will not only retain allotment plots but also includes new attractive landscaped areas open to the whole community.

“In addition to the new allotments Northumber­land Estates is offering to provide new community plots.

“Full ecological surveys have been undertaken and the landscapin­g specifical­ly designed to retain the mature trees around the site, as well as introducin­g new planting. Bird and bat boxes and hibernacul­a for insects are all proposed to help increase biodiversi­ty.

“Every one of the existing allotment holders has been offered a new plot and we would hope to offer even more plots. The site has only been partly used for many years and much of it is overgrown with brambles and weeds.

“There has been extensive consultati­on from the start. We are mindful of the impact of the building work and will make every effort to reduce disturbanc­e while the new plots are being prepared.”

Colin Barnes Director at Northumber­land Estates said: “We are delighted to be submitting this exciting new applicatio­n which has been much revised to take into account the wish to retain part of the site for allotments for the local community. It includes a much larger area of green space as well as a full quota of affordable housing for local people. In addition plans are in place to offer around 30 houses and apartments for use by NHS doctors and nurses from the adjacent West Middlesex hospital, and this has been extremely well received as many struggle to find affordable accommodat­ion in the area.

“Meanwhile, all of the existing allotment holders have been offered new plots and in time we hope to be able to welcome newcomers in a range of sizes to suit all.

“Opposition it seems is being mainly driven by the Isleworth Society who appear to object to any developmen­t irrespecti­ve of local need. There will be many less fortunate people in the community set to benefit should this scheme be approved, and it would be a shame if they were to miss out because of unsubstant­iated objections of a very vocal minority.”

Local councillor Salman Shaheen who is backing the allotmente­ers responded to the statement saying: “Colin Barnes is wrong to say opposition is being driven by the Isleworth Society. I know this because I speak to lots of people in my ward, not just the Isleworth Society. This includes residents from all walks of life including many people living in tower blocks for whom allotments are a vital lifeline.

“The fact that we have had over 300 objections in the first few weeks, versus only two letters of support, shows this is not a vocal minority. This is a whole community united in opposition to a bad plan.”

 ??  ?? Ralphy Percy, Duke of Northumber­land
Ralphy Percy, Duke of Northumber­land
 ??  ?? Grace Gray at her allotment
Grace Gray at her allotment

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