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How a toy shop closed to pay for pupils at Dulwich College (and Alleyn’s and JAGS)

Photograph: Sebastian Morrison

Photograph: Sebastian Morrison

A couple of weeks ago a few hundred people gathered in Herne Hill, close to where I live, to demonstrate against the behaviour of the Dulwich Estate, a local landlord. The Estate owns 1,500 prime acres of Dulwich and the surrounding area, including the freeholds on 600 flats and maisonettes and the vast majority of the shops and pubs as well as local amenities. The focus of the demo was the closure of a much-loved toy shop, Just Williams, forced out of business by a 70% rent rise combined with a more general concern about the threat of similar rent rises forcing out other shops. They are likely to be replaced by ones which, to pay those increased rents,  will be prohibitively expensive to shop in. The Estate has also proposed selling off a piece of land used as a play area by children at the local Judith Kerr Primary school for flats, and left a popular pub, the Half Moon, closed and empty for over two years. Now that they finally have a proposal for the pub they seem set to accept, it does not include a live music room, which has been a part of it for decades and which locals want re-instated.

The glib response to all this is ‘first world problems’. Boo hoo! for the middle classes of Herne Hill and their closed toy shop. And yes of course, in the face of, say, the migrant crisis and the Syrian war, there are clearly more acute life and death problems. But the existence of those issues doesn’t mean we simply forget about those that seem more banal. The ability of rapacious landlords to clean up financially without any regard or respect for the local community must be challenged. Otherwise our cities will simply become unaffordable places to live for all but those on the biggest incomes.

The Dulwich Estate was established in the early 17th Century, to give an education to poor scholars and the children of Dulwich. Today it is a registered charitable trust and has a number of beneficiaries, including some maintained schools and a chapel in South London. But the vast majority of their revenue after costs – over 85% – goes to three, very expensive fee-paying schools in Dulwich: Dulwich College, Alleyn’s and James Allen’s Girls’ (or JAGS).  Between them they shared £5,815,840 of moneys from the Estate in the most recent year for which there are figures (to March 31, 2015). These are also registered charities.

Given that a year’s boarding at Dulwich College costs £38,000 – it’s £18,000 to be a day pupil – that charitable status is somewhat controversial. Certainly, to maintain their charitable status these schools are required to show that they provide a ‘public benefit’, something of which they are acutely aware. As indeed they make clear on their websites.

The ‘Master’ of Dulwich says in his welcome message that, ‘We are committed to nurturing a supportive community which encourages a sense of social responsibility.’ Likewise, one of the Governors’ objectives at Dulwich College is ‘to promote  partnerships between the college and local community’. At Alleyn’s the vision underlying the School Development Plan includes that the school should be ‘recognised within the local and extended community as a force for the public good’. JAGS describes itself as a school ‘with a heart and conscience and one which reaches out beyond its own community’.

So I sent the same email to the three head teachers, Dr Joseph Spence at Dulwich College, Dr Gary Savage at Alleyn’s and Ms Sally-Anne Huang at JAGS. I wanted to know how they squared their pronounced commitment to the local community, with the fact that the Dulwich Estate, of which they are massive beneficiaries, is set on a course which is doing extreme damage to it.

All three gave exactly the same response: that the money from the Dulwich Estate enables them to provide bursaries and scholarships to pupils who would otherwise not be able to afford to attend.

There are two issues here. The first is the implicit assumption that there is a moral or practical good provided by these highly exclusive fee-paying schools. For what it’s worth I went to exactly that kind of school. I hated it and I do not see it as a model to which we should aspire. That said I accept this is a difference of political opinion.

More striking is the assumption that it’s okay to force viable shops out of business if it pays for the bursaries.  The bursaries and scholarships are a charitable act. You don’t pay for charity by taking away people’s livelihoods. What’s more, the vast majority of the recipients are not getting 100% bursaries or scholarships; they come from families with the wherewithal to pay the majority of the fees themselves.

I wrote to all three head teachers asking why all this was okay. None of them replied to that point.

It’s also worth considering the detail of the finances. All three schools say the Dulwich Estate money enables them to pay for bursaries but, certainly in the case of Alleyn’s and Dulwich College, they use it to fund other things too. In its accounts to 2014 Alleyn’s reveals it spent £1.293 million on bursaries. However it received £1.624 million from the Dulwich Estate. Dulwich College received £2.176 million from the Dulwich Estate but spent only £1.78 million of that on bursaries (they spent more, but it came from their Bursary Appeal Fund). The picture in 2012 was even more striking, because the schools received significantly more from the Dulwich Estate, presumably because of the sale of assets. Dulwich College spent £1.662 million on bursaries but received £5.617 million from the Estate. Then again, they are building a new £21 million science block so they do have things to spend it on. For sake of doubt, they are legally entitled to spend this money as they wish. Whether it is moral to do so given how it is raised is a different matter.

The head teachers of both Dulwich College and Alleyn’s also told me that they had no authority over the trading methods of the Dulwich Estate. Dr Spence, Master of Dulwich College, said they have a once a year meeting with the Estate where they can express an opinion to its commercial practices, but that the Estate is not obliged to take any notice of their opinions. It’s perhaps worth noting that the Estate has 11 trustees, and that the three Dulwich schools nominate two each. So, between them they have six trustees; a majority. Again, Dr Spence tells me the schools have no influence over those trustees once they are appointed. That being so they could issue public statements declaring themselves opposed to the way the Estate is behaving. All three have stayed silent.

The Dulwich Estate and its Chief Executive John Major (no, not that one)  can point to Charity Commission rules which require them to get the best financial deals they can, and therefore argue that they are merely performing their legal duties by pricing out the toy shop. Except they’re not doing so consistently, because, for example, they’ve left the Half Moon Pub empty for over two years, when it could be earning them rents. They don’t even seem to be applying their own policies as laid out in their Scheme of Management drawn up in 1995. That requires them to behave in such a way as to have ‘a positive impact on the community, is attractive to the public and thus stimulates local businesses‘. There is nothing attractive or stimulating about their current behaviour. Indeed, the Charity Commission also requires trustees to consider ‘reputational damage’ caused by their trading policies. Right now they are doing themselves enormous reputational damage. So much so that there are many of us who question why a body like the Dulwich Estate, with property worth hundreds of millions, should be a charity at all, given the tax benefits that status brings.

 

After my first email exchange with Dr Joseph Spence of Dulwich College I asked whether I might quote directly from our correspondence. He refused the request because he said it was clear from what I had said that I was determined to divide the local community rather than unite it.

One of us is the head teacher of one of the most expensive schools in the country benefiting from a trust that’s putting toy shops out of business. The other is a concerned local resident. I’ll let you decide who’s dividing the community.

Jay Rayner, SE24

91 comments on “How a toy shop closed to pay for pupils at Dulwich College (and Alleyn’s and JAGS)

  1. Carol on

    This makes my blood boil so much. Keep rallying your community to overcome this greed. The journey will be frustrating, but determination must win the day. Good luck.

    Reply
    • Heather P on

      Well done Jay. I am a resident fortunate enough to enjoy purchasing all my Christmas presents in Herne Hill including a good deal from Just Williams. If the shop closes I will miss it greatly, althoudh I do take the point made my several people that there are already too many of our neighbours who can’t afford prices in many of the current establishments; and increasingly so. But then over tie they are being priced out of HH altogether.

      Dulwich Estates should address “best consideration” i.e. the Charity Commssion’s requirement that they make best use of their assets but as you point out they need to do so in the round rather than simply through a narrow commercial lens.

      On another note I suggest that Theresa May ask private schools to help her provide fr the increasing number of asylum seekers under 18 yrs who are arriving from conflict zones and could benefit from a from their ‘public’ education.

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  2. Richard Leeming on

    I’m an old Alleynian and this article once again makes me feel rather dirty and ashamed.

    The self-regarding pomposity of Dr Joseph Spence Jay quotes way typical of what I encountered at Dulwich. And I had a very poor education too.

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    • Katie on

      Richard I can assure you that if you went to either Dulwich College or Alleyn’s your education would have been well above-average. As you say your education was “poor” I can only assume that you did not make the most of the opportunity given to you. I can also say with strong assurance that each of these Foundation schools constantly gives back to the community and to charities locally and across the world. Although I agree that these schools are more privileged than others and do not spend every last penny on bursaries, they offer an extremely high standard of education and are an asset to the local community. I hate to think were Dulwich would be without these schools.

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  3. Dave Porter on

    Well written, sir. It seems to me that the “Master” is rather more concerned that you will unite the local community and give it a voice, rather than that you will divide it 😉

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  4. Patrick Toomey on

    Dulwich Estate, and its trustees, honour your charter and act for the benefit of your beneficiaries AND the local community from which you derive your funds.

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  5. Sebastian on

    Thank you so much for bringing a serious journalistic slant to this issue. You’ve managed to navigate your way around the “First World Problem” naysayers and managed to remind us that all politics is local.

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  6. Stacy meadows on

    keep fighting. And take this national. Shame them and the colleges. Print the accounts and ask where the rest of the money has gone, being a charity!!! Don’t give up.

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  7. Phil Sonenthal on

    I can see you have done your homework . I like what you have to say , and wish you luck with trying to change things kind regards Phil

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  8. Susan on

    Thank you Jay Rayner. This article embarrasses us all. We should all be doing more to save our local traders who work so hard to make a community. Dulwich Estates, shame on you.

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  9. Danny Nutt on

    Great piece. I’ve been following this all myself and know Vicky- the owner of Just Williams. I have also had email correspondence with John Major to satisfy my curiosity over this- who has blatantly twisted the truth about the rent hikes as it completely juxtaposes Vicky’s testimonial- and she is not in a position to make stuff up about this. Keep fighting people- one day these money grabbing, selfish people will (hopefully) learn a lesson…

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  10. Frandrew on

    I would like to point out a couple of things. 1) Herne Hill has undergone a huge amount of gentrification which has meant original local families have been priced put of the area no longer being able to afford rent or to buy. The area has changed hugely over the last few years with many original shops being closed down and prices beyond what many families in the area can afford (check out if people from the estate round the corner use the new pizza place or deli or butchers). Just Williams was very nice but like the one in Dulwich massively over priced frankly.

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    • Thomas on

      You are spot on sir although i would suggest checking out the pizzeria it’s actually very well priced considering the quality , certainly not expensive if you compare an equivalent meal from Minas carribbean shop or pizza express

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    • Sebastian on

      I have bought toys in many establishments with my children and I must tell you that you are quite wrong. Just Williams was competitively priced. It was also a community resource which drove family trade to that end of Herne Hill. Now it’s gone I’d be interested to know if Mimosa have noticed a fall off in passing trade. I bet they have.

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  11. Ben Tunstall on

    The other assumption being that providing “bursaries and scholarships to pupils who would otherwise not be able to afford to attend” does anything other than reinforce the class advantage of the fee-payers by making independent schools seem de facto more desirable and worthwhile than state education and by making them seem to be somehow beneficent. As you say, there’s a matter of politics here, not just the behaviour of the Dulwich Estate. No comprehensive school ever behaved this way.

    Lets just hope the pupils of the Dulwich Estate are feeling sufficiently ashamed of their parents that they rise up and insist they want to go to their local school. They might find they’re actually quite good.

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    • Patric Peyton Jones on

      As a pupil, I feel extremely lucky to be able to go to DC on a scholarship (without which I would not be able to attend). It is a great school and the wealth of opportunities that come with a fee paying school I will always be grateful for. I honestly believe, having been to both a comprehensive and public school, that the environment and ethos in the latter is far better and yes, there is a class divide and most of the pupils are from middle class backgrounds but not all, and those who aren’t fit in just as comfortably. I would love to give this opportunity everyone I can so I think that bursaries and scholarships are definitely a good thing and their availability should be increased like in the Gilkes Experiment. However Dulwich Estate is all about maximising profit etc. and they should definitely be stopped and I also have personal reasons why. I think that this article paints a fairly biased picture of the schools and unfairly portrays Dr Spence as in cahoots with the Estate as I have no doubt the man himself if against their practices. I would like to say more but it is hard to get my viewpoint across in words (and I really should be revising right now). I’m sure that some may misinterpret my comment I can’t be bothered to explain any further

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      • Ben on

        I have to say that the way to give this opportunity to everyone would be for all those currently independently-schooled children to attend state schools, and thereby help raise the standards for everyone. Just think what those sharp elbows could do for raising standards for everyone! And just think of all the savings parents would make on fee money – they could spend a bit of it on tax instead!

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        • Sarah on

          Didn’t they try this when they abolished most of the grammar schools, only proving that it ultimately lowered, rather then raised, standards? It seems your argument isn’t really about state vs. private schools, but rather about comprehensive vs. selected entry schools. Surely this route would have to include moving all the kids who are currently grammar educated into comprehensive schools too? As far as fee-paying parents spending a bit of the money they’d save on fees as tax – I already pay plenty of tax and don’t (rightly) receive a rebate for not using the state system. As most councils seem to be seriously struggling to find places for the kids they’re required to, I dread to think what would happen if all the kids who are currently privately educated were moved into state schools.

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    • Sarah on

      “They might find they’re actually quite good.”. ‘Might’ and ‘quite’ being the operative words, neither of which should be connected to ‘good’ if we’re discussing education. I’m not condoning (or even condemning) the Dulwich Estate’s behaviour here as I don’t know, or understand, enough about it to comment sensibly on their income and spending, but I believe that private education is worthwhile and that people should have the choice to use it if they can, For the record, I’m one of those Dulwich College parents that you hope pupils will be “sufficiently ashamed” of, but I would hope this doesn’t colour anyone’s perception of my comments here. I don’t believe this debate is about private v. state education – it’s only about how the Dulwich Estate organises its business.

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  12. Bethan Ryder on

    Don’t get me started on Dulwich Estate… I was a tenant for five years in the village, they raised the rents without fail every year by at least £50 pcm and our flat had such a bad condensation problem we had green mould on the walls, and we had small children. The most they did was to redecorate once. We bought our own dehumidifier. I know it’s a different issue but they do not behave charitably or consider their local community in my experience. They like to match the rents with the market, despite making a huge profit on properties with no mortgages.

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  13. Herne Jill on

    It may interest you to know that the Almshouses, funded also by the ‘charity’ are set to close. They will if course rehouse the (many very elderly) residents in much newer accommodation within the Dulwich estate but the beautiful 400 year old homes will no longer be used for the purpose Edward Alleyn had them built, much like the college lost its original purpose.

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  14. mick on

    You fail to point out that the bursaries are purely used to inflate the schools academic results, whilst deflating those community schools which the recipients would have attended otherwise.

    There is no community interest in these institutions.

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      • Sarah on

        Good point Patric. And in answer to mick – you can’t automatically assume that the recipients of the bursaries would have achieved academic grades sufficient to “inflate the schools (sic) academic results” at the “community” school, can you?

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  15. Eileen Futter on

    Hello Jay, I’m an Alleyn’s Old Girl and was a scholarship pupil myself. I hate the idea that a charitable organisation is putting local traders out of business and I’m heartbroken about the way the Half Moon – a place I frequented in my youth – has been treated.

    Edward Alleyn definitely did not set up this organisation to do this kind of damage and I’m sure we can do something about this. There are thousands of former pupils from the three schools and many of them are very influential people. We need to band together to stop this injustice.

    Can you set up a FB group as a starting point?

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    • Litsa on

      Thank you Jay – I am an ex Jags pupil concerned at the conduct of the Estste and the schools. I was devastated to see the run down condition of the Half Moon and recently signed a petition regarding these rent hikes. I would like to lend my support – an FB page is a great idea.

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  16. Poppy Hasted on

    Thank you Jay. I have lived in Herne Hill for nearly 30 years and I love it dearly. Please keep up the pressure on Dulwich Estates to stop them ripping the heart out of our community.

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  17. joan ryder on

    Dulwich Estates also rents houses in a street quote ‘built for poor people’ they charge huge rents for these small flats and houses, some of which need massive updating to todays standards, they have many people happy to rent them in order to get their children into the small schools nearby in Dulwich village. Without these local village schools, less people would be prepared to pay such huge rents however the estates don’t seem to feel that some of the excessive rents should be spent supporting these local authority schools. Public schools support very few ‘poor’ pupils and should have their charitable status taken from them unless 50% of the pupils are ‘poor’

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  18. David Beck on

    Brilliant piece of writing and many congratulations on putting so much effort into such a worthy cause.

    It’s disgusting how these ‘public’ schools are charities and are perpetuating this ‘us and them’ mentality. They really do seem to divide a society, rather than unite.

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    • Emma Grover on

      You’re absolutely right. Children at these schools are considered the “privilege” few and the other children who “have” to attend state or academy schools are much “less fortunate”. I hate this class system that divides British society so and makes the rich become even more greedy.

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  19. Tracey Smith on

    Thank you for this investigation. In what world could the Dulwich Estate possibly be a charity? If you have the time and inclination, please pursue this almighty injustice? Thank you.

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  20. Tracy Hill on

    Brilliant article Jay! All angles covered. Thank you for supporting this fight. Perhaps you know of other well known or high profile local residents that could help spread the word more quickly. No matter how powerful the Dulwich Estate are we must keep fighting this!

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  21. Robin Cole-Hamilton on

    Good on you, Jay. I wrote to a Mr P Bagley, the chair of the Dulwich Estate trustees, to make very similar points, and received an extremely snotty and self-satisfied reply in return. They appear unused to having their dealings questioned, let alone criticised, so the more this issue can be raised publicly, the more uncomfortable they may become, and who knows, may wish to rebuild their relationship with the community.

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  22. Vanessa on

    Great article, really insightful. It’s made me furious, I had no idea Dulwich Estates was a charity, with funds raised, put back into the schools. Seriously, how many scholarships are given every year..not to the tune of £5 million surely?! It’s shameful. Keep at this, it needs to be heard.

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  23. Sarah on

    You are right to see this as an issue which goes far deeper than the closure of local businesses in an affluent part of London. It’s inequitable that schools which exclude the vast majority of local children should benefit from charitable status as they are clearly not charities but thriving businesses, albeit focused around education in its broadest sense. These schools may seek to justify that through their suggestions that a handful of local children may be awarded bursaries, but as you say, this presupposes that in itself justifies their income ( and by implication suggests all children attending state schools are concomitantly disadvantaged) and meanwhile the figures you cite show that even this is not the whole story of how they use their Dulwich Estates income. I hope you continue to bring this to wider attention.

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  24. DC parent on

    Actually Dulwich college organised a great number of events to pay towards the science block. They canvassed parents for money to fund it.
    The mojority of pupils are also local residents and obviously would not want the toy shop to close!
    The college fund a great many burseries for deserving students who otherwise would not be able to get such a good education. I am a fee paying parent. I grew up on a council estate and had a full scholarship to a private school. Ditto my husband. We have worked incredibly hard to send our son to the college and made sacrifices. We also pay for states schools through our taxes but do not use them. That benefits others.

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    • Jay Rayner on

      As I say I accept that my qualms about the value of those bursaries is a political point. The idea of shops being put of business to fund those bursaries is rather different. If you are uncomfortable with this situation make representations to the school.

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  25. anonymous for personal reasons on

    I attended a lecture at New London Architecture week that stated that the population of London will increase by that of the City of Birmingham by 2030 – that’s 14 years. There is going to be huge pressure from the Mayor of any political party to build homes across London. Dulwich will be a prime target as it enjoyes very low densities at present. The temptation for the Dulwich Estate to start selling of large tracts of green space will increase over the next few years as it did in the 70s with the construction of the Wates Estates. Residents need to understand this and prepare themselves accordingly for a period of friction. We have a major landowner sitting on large tracts of developed land who, at the root of everything, only interested in finacial gain. The Estate are not a charity, they are a property company and will be rutheless and aggressive in making money at the expense of all else. Their Scheme of Management is a foil for much of this which conceals the fact that they have no vested interest in strong communities, decent public space and public well being. Most of the students that recieve their monies are not residents – there is no vested interest in Dulwich the place. People must see the Estate for what it is and draw battle lines accordingly. Stop viewing them like a charity that should behave better but as an aggressive property company with whom significant battle lines must be drawn.

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  26. Dan on

    Speaking as a former Alleyns pupil I am disgusted by the actions of the Dulwich Estate, but sadly not surprised.

    I will be writing to my old school asking for their opinion on the issues raised by Jay, but if they are anything like they were when I attended I expect the same pompous attitude that Jay and others have encountered.

    Thank you for writing this. For too long Dulwich Estate has pushed the boundaries of acceptable behaviour while hiding behind its charitable status – which is frankly debatable. It is about time they were held up to greater scrutiny.

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  27. East Dulwich neighbour on

    I just wanted to congratulate you on a “nail on the head” piece of writing. Someone I know is in receipt of a very large bursary at Dulwich College. Unsurprisingly, he is a white middle class child whose parents work in the arts, one of them part-time (hence the low family income). Needless to say he is academically gifted – and was tutored to pass the tests – but I do wonder how many children whose parents work, say, 50 hours a week in minimum wage jobs, are actually benefited by the bursary system? It is a dubious at best and, as you say, no guarantee of a better education in the end. I am very sad to see the toy shop close. Yes, it is more expensive to shop locally than via Amazon or Argos, but not cripplingly so when you factor in petrol, parking and the stress of making a dodgy choice when opting for Amazon

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  28. F Swann on

    I am a resident of the Dulwich Estate. This unaccountable fiefdom is long overdue for some serious scrutiny, as many residents will testify. I am happy that a high profile journalist is finally on to them.

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  29. Alice on

    I’m so pleased you’ve covered this. Like others above, I’m an ex-JAGS girl and am horrified by all that it and the estate stands for. I “revolted” at 16 moving myself back into the state system because I believed parents like mine should push for better standards for all rather than focus on the benefit of their children. I’m saddened that the estate has drifted so far from its purpose/mission and is hiking rents up – if it’s happening for businesses who knows what it means for tenants. Sadly though this is only a microcosm of what’s happening across London. Maybe the focus here can shed light on what’s happening all around.

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  30. Tremayne Parvin on

    Isn’t it a shame that the Dulwich Estate and the Schools that benefit from this charity are not embracing the new schools in the area. All three schools have so much green space I’m sure that they could donate some of their green space for the Estates use rather than this little section on Half Moon Lane.
    With the work that National Rail are doing under the arches and the estates work in both Herne Hill and Dulwich Village it makes living in the area quite unpleasant. At least Bational Rail are providing options for the local business rather than letting the business go bust!
    Great article and thank you for the insight and the research that you have done in producing this.
    I am also an Old Alleynian and am very supportive of the school but I have always been (possibly naively) under the impression that their relationship with the local community was important to them.

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    • Rachel Clare on

      Thanks Jay, very concerned about the almshouses too – when at Alleyn’s, as part of voluntary services I used to visit an 80 something lady who lived there, do a bit of shopping for her & have a chat; it felt like a very positive connection between the school and the community. If you want to take this further, happy to engage & support in any way.

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  31. Dave P on

    I used to attend Dulwich College, I even think I remember Dr Spence. I cannot believe that this is the action of the Dulwich Estate, it makes me feel embarrassed to have been any part of it.

    In my defense I did get asked to leave because I didn’t match up to their high standards, stress caused a bit of a break down, something I recognise now but not then, however they couldn’t be bothered to try and help they just got rid of me for somebody else who would pay and wasn’t ill.

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  32. Ben Marshall on

    I completely agree with you Jay. I have been paying some sort of ground rent to the Dulwich estate for over 20 years, since moving to Lordship Lane. I asked them why and got threatened with legal action if I refused to pay. No explanation. Just a threat. So lets all ask ourselves a few questions. Who elected them? Who are they accountable to? How can the trustees be removed? What exactly is the point of them? How do they serve our community?

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  33. Judi on

    Dulwich Estates also charge property owners a ground rent for homes bought freehold on roads owned by the Estate in Herne Hill. We were fined for renting out a house owned at the time on Carver Road because we had not ‘asked their permission’.
    The local community are also now very well served by some excellent state schools. If The Charter School had existed in Edward Alleyn’s day, undoubtedly he would have invested his money in a different cause. And you can literally spit on The Charter School from JAGS. If you choose to.

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  34. Rachel Anderson on

    Several people here mention high prices at the toy shop. I must point out that when commercial rents are extremely high, shops have to charge high prices to survive. What choice do they have? Unfortunately, business rates are matched to rents, rather than floor space, which creates a double bind.

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  35. Eliza Doo on

    Well done Jay. About time the truth will out. I lived on the Dulwich Estate for over 30 years and was unaware that my exorbitant fees and quinquennial charges went to the 3 poshest schools in the district. SHAME ON DULWICH ESTATES. Whenever I had dealings with them, they were utterly useless and all seemed to live in a past era. Keep up the pressure.

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  36. Oggi on

    I teach in a state school close to this toy shop. Often after school I would treat myself to a browse and a small purchase before going home to complete my marking and planning. I used to know where the best toys were and I would use my polished questioning techniques to help little customers make the best purchase they could with their spare change. My long term lesson planning even used to include toys and prices from Just Williams.
    Last time I visited the shop I opened the door to go in and a very confident and pushy middle class lady pushed a push chair past me, making me hold the door open for her if the small space she allowed me. Not a thanks, not a “sorry”. She had a booming voice, used, for effect or habit, to loudly greet the staff behind the counter. The same staff behind the counter who looked through me when I was ready to pay at the till and she should have been queuing up.
    I like Tales on the Moon Lane, opposite. It is a really friendly shop that sells books and toys.

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  37. John Thornton on

    Whilst it is sad and you raise very good points, I’d like to invite businesses to open up shop just up the road by Tulse Hill railway station. Plenty of vacant plots to be had.

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  38. Vera on

    My son goes to Judith Kerr Primary, the school whose green space Dulwich Estates is trying to sell off. When you realise it boils down to Dulwich Estates taking away state school kids’ only outdoor space to pay for more playing fields/science labs/China trips etc. for public school kids – well, it is pretty ironic if it wasn’t also incredibly sad.

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  39. Sarah on

    Thank you for this piece Jay. Yet another former pupil of a Dulwich school appalled by the Estate’s behaviour.

    I do think there is scope to put some pressure on them though, there are a lot of local people fed up with what they are doing.

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  40. Rhian on

    the charitable status of these institutions simply has to end. The lost tax revenue means these pupils have vastly more of what should be taxpayers money spent on them than children in the free school system. This area has vibrant and diverse high streets and we must keep that, though many places have already closed due to high rents already.

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  41. David Hayward on

    I am curious, the bursaries involve the College and the schools spending their own money that comes from Dulwich Estate, but the bursary money goes to themselves! If they would have made profits without the bursaries being there, that would make the exercise much less valuable to society and could be seen as feathering their nest or empire building at the expense of the local community. This arrangement seems to be generally understood, judging from the comments and the main text above. The best way forward will be to research the detailed facts And figures surrounding all aspects of the Estate and publish a report, inviting comment from the media and the public. It would make a very interesting subject for a public debate on TV!

    I played rugby against Dulwich College in 1969. I remember kicking the ball over the wall onto the South Circular Road.

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  42. Lee Herbert on

    My parents owned the Dairy in Dulwich Village many years back. They were forced to sell the business for the same reason in the early 90’s, an extortionate increase in the rent rendered it unprofitable. I’m not surprised this is happening they’ve been doing it for years, but I am annoyed they’ve been allowed to get away with it for so long. Thanks for writing this piece to show the sort of things they are doing and getting away with.

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  43. Yvonne Everitt on

    I am an ex JAG’s girl who has kept in touch with the school and I must assure all these protesters that JAGs does do a great deal with the community. The local community can use sports facilities and swimming pool at weekends and holidays for a SMALL yearly fee and these are also shared with local state schools. The teachers give their time to teach in adjacent schools and the senior girls also help in these schools. I also believe the science facilities are shared. They have a shared orchestra with again local state schools and the school theatre is also used by other schools. I believe there are other co-operations with local state school teachers. The school takes its charitable status very seriously and the recently retired headmistress (Marion Gibbs CBE) was very proud of the school’s part in the local community. She has inspired many girls to volunteer and to make a career helping others and that this is an essential part of life.
    Yvonne Everitt (Vero)

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    • Catherine on

      My children have been fortunate enough to be part way through their education at the fantastic state schools in the area – although I am sure there is cooperation between neighbouring schools I think your description is a bit optimistic. I don’t think the monthly JAGS sports club fee is especially SMALL and although local schools have had some access to the JAGS pool the availability has shrunk dramatically over recent years. And yes they used a beautiful private school theatre once in their school career – and I am also fairly their state primary school PAY several thousand pounds for the privilege. I believe that part of the Dulwich Estates funding to the private schools is ear marked for capital expenditure. These facilities are operated as commercial ventures but at the same time enable these schools to keep their charitable status. Meanwhile my 2 sons and the 1000 other students at the Charter School look out of the windows onto JAGS lovely green playing fields and take the bus/train to Crystal Palace for Sports Day… I will carry on shredding the quarterly bill from the Dulwich Estates to avoid the irritation that I’m paying for all of this…

      Reply
    • MB on

      Have you actually seen the membership fees for Jags sports club? They are on a par with private health clubs (where you can use the facilities during school term too, so per hour JAgs actually is far more expensive!). I know, I am a member, though this article is making me reconsider. Does Jags sports club provide subsidised membership to people on low income/benefits I wonder?

      You list many things Jags do in the community but it all sounds a bit vague, can you supply specific details that we can follow up on?
      E.g when do the teachers volunteer, how many volunteer each year, what subjects are covered/what do they actually do/teach, which schools do they volunteer at and why, do state school teachers return the favour (or is the implication that Jags teachers are somehow “better”), how many hours per year are they volunteering in each school, has there been a measurable benefit, etc.

      Reply
  44. steve coombes on

    Well done, Jay.

    I was a pupil at DC during late 1960s when the majority were on “free places”. From the age of 12 I was also a member of SAU (Schools Action Union). We had some successes, particularly around corporal punishment, uniform and paedophilia, confronting and exposing the abuse of the lower school headmaster among others. But we failed entirely in our challenge to the way the Dulwich Estate worked. Our argument then was that it was willfully refusing to deliver on its initial and only purpose: namely, the education of poor children in the parish. As memory serves, Edward Alleyn specified “6”. The Estate has hidden behind that figure ever since, claiming that it technically exceeds its original brief and implied constitution.

    However, no modern charity could get away with such sophistry and would be taken to task by the commissioners. I don’t know how the reserves of the Estate currently stand – but they exponentially exceeded the Estate’s yearly liabilities in 1970. So I have always wondered whether the actions and behaviour of the trustees of the Dulwich Estate could withstand real legal scrutiny – be it: a judicial review or a formal action for breach of constitution. Still, if there is outraged lawyer living in Dulwich who fancies a spot of pro bono work maybe that can be tested,

    More importantly, what’s good for the goose is for the gander and any such precedent would apply to all private schools who were almost universally endowed to help the under-privileged rather than the over-privileged.

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  45. Dulwich resident on

    They also own the Crown and Greyhound pub in Dulwich village which they have shut to turn into a boutique hotel for Dulwich College parents to visit their kids. Plus the Plough pub on Lordship Lane, which has been boarded up for about 4 years after a fire. This is a huge site which could be of benefit to the community but the DE submitted plans for luxury housing which were rejected and now they’re sulking and just pocketing the rent from the pub chain’s lease while the site rots.
    Not always a fan of JR. But this is sterling work. Thank you.

    Reply
  46. Tom Robbins on

    So true – in order to fund schools for billionaires they avoid tax twice – once as the estate and again as the school, all of which have charitable status for no good reason. Obviously pulling the brightest kids out of the local state schools hinders rather than benefits the local community.
    And what about the other pubs the estate owns – The Grove and the Crown and Greyhound, both boarded up for more than a year!

    Reply
    • ROKLE on

      I have read many of the comments and agree that Dulwich Estates is acting in an abhorrent way. Your comment however that these are schools for billionaires is just ridiculous and sends the debate in the wrong direction. I went to JAGS – my parents were state school teachers. They worked hard and were frugal so that I could go there. I was also lucky enough to get a 1/3 scholarship and I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to attend such a brilliant school. Whilst of course there were some rich parents many of my friends had parents of average means. I expect if you asked people in the wider community whether they would consider sending their children to such schools if they somehow had the chance, for many the answer would be yes, because your children come first.

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  47. Tom Fahy on

    Totally agree with this article – given the size of their property portfolio The Estate has a pivotal role in maintaining quality of life in the area, but they have antagonised residents and people who use the shops, pubs and facilities of the Dulwich/Herne Hill area. The two largest pubs in the area have been closed for 2 years and the village shops are increasingly bland. The Estate have displayed an abject failure to engage effectively with local residents or to exercise a responsibility to maintain the unique character of the area.

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  48. Katy B on

    I worked at Just Williams for a few years and loved being in the heart of the Herne Hill community, It was a great shop and I always enjoyed seeing the kids grow up as the years passed. Their prices reflected the fact that they don’t have the huge purchase power of Argos, ToysRus etc and were never over-inflated.
    My daughter also benefited from a scholarship at JAGS which was a major help with the fees at the time. I believe that other fee paying schools outside Dulwich also offer scholarships and bursaries without ‘taxing’ the local homes and businesses, so why can’t the Dulwich Estate?
    The Estate in my experience is solely interested in raising money and is not interested in the local community. Their tight control over this community is not warranted, is old fashioned and out of step with what the majority of those who live, work and shop in the Dulwich area are looking for.
    Many thanks Jay for your well thought out piece, may it reap dividends!

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  49. Rosemary on

    I have lived on the estate since 1970 when there was a butcher, fishmonger, greengrocer, baker, hardware shop and electrician in Dulwich Village. All have been priced out long ago as have so many subsequent useful shops over the years. No longer can mothers pick up shopping on the way home from leaving children at school or the very elderly get what they need at local shops. As for the schools, my brother went to Dulwich College in the 50’s when the majority of places were paid for by the state for scholarship boys, a lot from poor backgrounds, Alleyns was a boys’ grammar school totally state funded and Jags must also have had state funded places. In the 80’s there were assisted places for poorer students and the local professional middle class parents could afford the fees. That is no longer possible, so a lot of children come from all over London or beyond by coaches and cars which cause havoc for local residents at school opening and closing times. I couldn’t agree more with all the comments made and so glad at last the Dulwich College Estates are being criticised by such a distinguished journalist.

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  50. Mary Thomas on

    I have paid out to Dulwich College Estates for half my life, living in Dulwich. Now the costs associated with living in Dulwich, love it as I do, are really beginning to become questionable. They are so unbelievably high-handed! For a long time, 30 odd years ago, the shops at South Croxted road/Park Hall road were shoddy and run-down, many were empty, and the College rents were impossibly high (the dairy was forced out of business). Many of us wrote to the Estate and asked them to consider the local people and environment, but to no avail. They have no conscience. There is no point in appealing to their better nature, threats of exposure are the only effective way to influence them (if then).

    Reply
    • JQ on

      Mary, The tenant of the old dairy closed because we local residents no longer ordered milk to be delivered to our doorsteps, therefore they no longer required a depot to park their Milk floats in.

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  51. ronnie Fairweather on

    Brilliant article on a very suspect organisation. I agree with all you have said, however I think it’s only fair to point out that the Dulwich Estate also support the Central Foundation Schools for Boys and Girls. The girls school is situated in Bow Road E3 (I went to school in the same building when it was Coborn School for Girls) and I can asure you it has a very different demographic from JAGS or and of the other Dulwich estate schools. Maybe it helps their concienses to ‘help the poor’ of the East End, how very victorian!

    Reply
    • Jay Rayner on

      This is true, but it’s also worth pointing out that between them the three Dulwich schools get over 85% of the circa £6 million distributed each year. the others get a couple of % each.

      Reply
  52. David on

    It seems to me that these complaints are morally justified and it is very important that local residents speak up about what angers them. That being said, it strikes me that Dulwich Estates are not any more “evil” than any other corporation would be in the same situation. We have a free market economy, and London has a serious space crisis i.e., demand is way greater than supply, so prices naturally soar. The question is, what to do about it? The only solution to this root cause is to increase the supply of buildings – commercial and residential – to put a downward pressure on rents. However, residents tend not to want new developments, not to mention other planning problems faced within London.

    For what it is worth I went to one of these schools and believe I received an excellent education, although of course I do not know how it would have been elsewhere. I would join you in questioning their charitable statuses (although I think that it is more disagreeable that Dulwich Estates enjoy this status), but do want to point out one benefit this has that may be lost if you remove the status: I believe that they have to invest any profits in themselves e.g., for new buildings, staff etc. which make them better schools.

    Reply
    • Catherine on

      They are not a corporation – they are a registered charity and therefore are not slaves to the market economy…
      Meanwhile other charities are increasingly (and rightly) expected to be more accountable to their stakeholders… why not them?

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  53. Caspian Pike on

    Damn well researched piece. Frankly (and with respect) I am surprised. The College has a lot to answer for. The shop rents are obscene not just in Herne Hill. The Heads in particular need to stop thinking about their own self-worth and well-being and really start thinking about what it means for a school to “serve the community”. They are becoming detached from a community they were once a very real part of. Not least – a band called The Beloved plying their trade at The Half Moon and the haunting melody of The Glass Blower.

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  54. sdf on

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  55. Mark Starling on

    Protestors really need to launch a complaint against the college with the Charities Commission.
    All charities are legally required to act in the public interest. The closure of a school, damage to local society and business and clear moral conflicts that Jay outlines above suggest that there is a strong case that this charity are not operating in the wider public interest.
    Look up the Charities Commission website, check out public interest obligation and lodge a complaint. It’s free to do this and could stop this and other charities acting outside their legal remit.

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  56. Withheld for personal reasons on

    There’s also the housing development on the site of the old S G Smith garage – no affordable housing or variation in the size of homes to residents lucky enough to feel able to downsize (freeing up family size homes) and stay in the area…..

    Reply
  57. janet on

    By 2020 local authorities will only get 20% of their funding from the Government and that LAs will then have to use the business rates they have collected to fund social services, environment etc. Already LAs are regretting selling off commercial sites for new homes as the less commercial enterprises the less business tax LAs can raise. Is this something that the Estate are deliberately doing – to make sure the money goes to them and not LA?
    My family used to belong to Alleyn’s Sports Club for an annual membership- which entitled us to use the pool 5 evenings a week plus all weekends, also the gym. After belonging to this for around 10 years we were informed that since we did not have children at the school, we could not renew our membership. We considered both DC and JAGS but they were twice the price and more restrictive hours. What happened to all the Boot Fairs held at Alleyns to raise money for the school – perhaps it was the wrong ‘sort from the local community’ that stopped them. As a Trustee of 2 local charities – I would say that if sufficient people wrote in to the Charity Commission, it may force an investigation.

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  58. JQ on

    I have no issue with the status of the Dulwich Estate as a charity or with its objectives and make no apologies for that. However, it would remove a lot of the friction being caused over shop rent reviews etc if the Estate made the sensible decision to sell it’s property assets in Dulwich and invest the proceeds elsewhere in accordance with it’s own investment requirements. The experience of shop tenants etc.. would be no better with the new owners of their freeholds, and would probably be a lot worse, but at that level, Dulwich Estate would be out of the frame for criticism. The unique identity of Dulwich would be safeguarded as the Estate would continue to operate the Scheme of Estate Management.

    It is wrong to knock the Dulwich Estate in this respect as a property investor. There is a very well established property investment market in the UK and it generally operates no differently to the Dulwich Estate. Have a look into where your pension funds are invested. It is all focused around a concept called “market value” and I see no evidence in Dulwich of any shops being unlettable due to the market rents required by Dulwich Estate.

    Why is it that if a shop faces closure it must be “saved”. How long should it be “saved” for and at what cost? If the level of trade it achieves cannot cover a market rent it is usually because it is an outdated concept (i.e. a launderette or a TV hire shop) or because the people in the local area don’t use it sufficiently to make it profitable.

    Finally, why is it that journalists can’t write about property matters without all landlords being badged as “rapacious” or “greedy” and rent is never anything but “extortionate”!

    Reply

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