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Why are allotments important?

Until fairly recently allotment gardening had been a neglected leisure pursuit. Many plots on our site remained derelict for many years and the site had fallen into disrepair.

 

For all sorts of reasons popularity in allotment gardening has increased and we now, due to the efforts of plot holders,  have a well tended site with a waiting list of prospective tenants.

 

We feel that as a community, allotment sites do much that is in line with current government thinking with regards to the environment, sustainability, biodiversity and social inclusion:

 

  • We grow and eat our five a day
  • We lead a healthy, active, outdoor lifestyle – indeed our type of exercise continues well into retirement. Many sporting activities become inaccessible as one reaches a ‘certain age’. (One of our tenants is over 80).
  • Gardening has been shown to improve mental as well a physical well-being
  • We garden with due consideration to our environment with many of us providing habitats on our plots for indigenous wildlife. On our site, part of our boundary is a natural hedgerow. On our individual plots we have small ponds, log piles, nectar rich flower beds and beetle banks etc.
  • By growing our food locally we reduce our carbon footprint.
  • Our fruit and vegetables arrive in our kitchens with only their natural packaging and therefore, reduce the demand for resources and also for waste disposal.
  • The trees and plants that we grow absorb carbon dioxide and our cultivated land produces soakaway which helps reduce flooding. Individual sites maybe do not make a huge difference but the cumulative effect across the country must.
  • Allotments have been described as a green lung which improves our air quality.
  • We recycle, indeed as part of our fund raising on our site, we collected aluminium and steel cans.
  • We promote social inclusion having tenants from all walks of life. We have tenants of all ages from very young children gardening with their parents to those well beyond retirement age. We have disabled tenants too. Whole families work together on their plots with a sense of purpose and achievement. If a child has experience of growing their own food from a young age that they are likely to continue for life. Young children who grow their own fruit and vegetables also are more likely to eat them!
  • On our site families spend much time together
  • Allotments provide a gardening space at a time when new housing is being built with very tiny garden patches.
  • Allotment sites often replicate the community spirit that is unfortunately lost in many of the areas that we live.

 

If allotment gardening does much that the government advocates then why is the resourcing and funding of allotments sites very much another example of postcode lottery?

 

In some areas councils provide their tenants with sheds or other garden buildings, wood with which to construct raised beds or composting areas, paving slabs, compost bins etc. and in some cases even shared garden machinery. In other areas spending on allotment sites is pitiful. Our council for instance have withdrawn even the provision of skips which were once provided on a twice yearly schedule to enable plot holders to have a clear up.

 

In some areas of the country plot rentals are just a token contribution whereas in other parts the rentals are extremely high and rising at an alarming rate.

 

At the time of writing the government stated that they promote good practice within local authorities, and publish a good practice guide called 'Growing in the Community' They also stated that 10% of funding in the housing growth areas is specifically dedicated to green space projects including allotments. That seems to be the extent of their efforts in support of a way of life (and allotment gardening is a way of life not just a hobby) that for the reasons given above, one would think they would wish to actively promote. Councils need not follow the recommendations nor need they spend any of the 10% allocated to green spaces on allotments. If a council is funded generously and has modest demands on its budget then it is obviously going to spend more on allotments than a council whose budget is less generous and finds itself struggling to make ends meet.

 

When we were applying for funding to replace our boundary fence around 2005/6, letters to the government department suggested that we apply for funding awards. Most funding awards will not entertain applications that in their view are the statutory responsibility of the council and fencing is in this category. Others will not fund capital projects such as ..... fencing! One actually mentions allotments in its list of exclusions.  We were successful with some applications for awards and although we were very grateful for the money that we managed to raise. It was suggested by the government department responsible for allotments, that we try the Allotment Regeneration Initiative but their web site announced that there was no longer funds available, (you would think that they would have known that wouldn't you?) There were suggestions for fund raising activities and that donations could be sought from local companies, however, it took us almost ten years to raise the funding necessary and  most companies were just not interested. Many didn't even bother to reply to letters. We now have new fencing to parts of our site. I have described the project here. As we no longer have an Allotment Association it is unlikely that any more improvements will follow.

 

Many allotment sites like ours have been left for over twenty years or more with little or no money being spent on them. They are now in desperate need of regeneration. To bring allotment sites up to the standard fit for twenty-first century gardening they need quite a large injection of cash. If this cannot come out of council budgets then the government should be looking to offer more direct or ring fenced funding. If it fails to do this then an opportunity will be missed and allotments could very well once again become areas of dereliction. Instead of growing potatoes we will all become couch potatoes and drain the NHS budget instead!

 

NB This article was written in the midst of a fund raising campaign to improve our site which has since ceased but the facts remain relevant.

 

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