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Racist comment triggers Civic Trust Awards boycott

The chair of the RIBA offshoot Architects for Change is boycotting the Civic Trust Awards, following alleged racist comments by one of the scheme's volunteers. Sumita Sinha, who has served as an assessor on the scheme for three years, has informed the trust that it cannot call on her services until it guarantees that racism is a thing of the past.

The alleged incident occurred earlier this month during the preparations for Sinha's trip to Dorset to assess nine projects in the region. Sinha claims that she asked the volunteer, a planner at Dorset County Council, to book her a hotel room.

She alleges he responded that there were no hotels that would cater to the needs of an 'Indian lady' and that there were very few Indian restaurants in the area so there would be nowhere for her to eat.

Sinha cancelled the trip and in a letter seen by the AJ, informed both the Civic Trust and Dorset County Council of the comments and of her decision to halt her voluntary work for the awards.

'I informed them both that as equal opportunity employers, their employees ought to be trained in this area, ' she told the AJ. 'Whatever the race or sex of the assessor, the volunteers that look after them should be able to deal with it.'

She claimed that some colleagues had suffered similar prejudice during Civic Trust assessments.

'When I informed the Civic Trust about the incident, it was apologetic but did not appear to take it very seriously, ' Sinha added.

Julia Thrift, the Civic Trust's head of programmes, was horrified to hear of the comments.

However, she insisted that the awards aim to be as inclusive as possible, 'assessing as many buildings as possible, that will be used by as diverse a group of people as possible'.

'But we have more than 400 volunteers involved in the scheme. They all work for free and it would be almost impossible to try and control everything they say and do, ' Thrift said.

A spokeswoman for Dorset County Council agreed that the allegations were extremely serious.

But she added the council had made 'every effort to make the assessor feel welcome and to try to be helpful in organising the trip'.

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