In the latest issue of Grow Your Own magazine, there is an article submitted by the National Allotment Society, warning of the dangers of Councils taking over allotment sites. The article says “type ‘save our allotment’ into any search engine and you’ll find a long list of groups petitioning for support as councils threaten to destroy well-loved land.”
The article goes on to say that “the trend is worrying, especially if you consider that around 90,000 people are in line for an allotment, and in some areas, the average wait time is 40 years.”
All very alarming. However, I did type ‘save our allotment’ into google and there are a few references, but certainly not a long list.
So how does this affect us? I have always maintained that allotments are continually vulnerable to the pressure of politicians. The allotments in Eastbourne cover many acres, much of it very suitable for development of one kind or another – and when Councils are short of money it would be a very easy means of raising cash by selling to a developer. However, if the Council did sell allotment land it would be a political hot potato to say the least – just witness when the Council ill advisedly tried to sell land on the South Downs. Hopefully, we presently have a Council, and an MP, hopefully ‘sympathetic’ to the benefits of allotments. However, the party in power can change, people can change, and pressure from outside can change. The threat, however small, is always there.
What can we do as plot holders, committee members, and trustees? Firstly, it is imperative that we maintain a high level of occupancy. Presently, it is at 97 percent - a very high level. Also, we have, on average, an 8 month waiting list. This has increased considerably over the past few months – something that, in a large part, we assume is due to the scare mongering that brexit will bring a shortage of fresh vegetables, and a steep increase in price. The increase in the demand for an allotment may be the only decent thing to come out of this whole brexit mess – discuss. no don’t.
Why it is important to maintain a high occupancy level is based on my experience. In a few previous lives ago, I had an allotment in Romford where the occupancy was much lower than here in Eastbourne (I have always found that demand for allotments is largely cyclical). The local Havering Council approached the allotment societies, there were about 12 different societies in Havering, with a proposition to surrender some land in return for improved facilities – roads, sheds, toilets, car parks etc. Luckily, the proposition was defeated and nothing more came of it.
The other thing we can do is ensure that the plots and the sites are well maintained. With regard to maintaining plots, it is unfortunate that, in my judgement, probably only around one in eight plots are maintained in a really decent condition. It is beyond me why tenants pay their rent each year, not a mere pittance, and then only visit their plot once or twice in the year. A plea then that more tenants maintain their plot to an acceptable standard – it’s hard work, but that’s life, and the benefits are there to see, and eat.
The site also needs to be maintained – there are many jobs that need doing daily, mending taps, strimming, clearing neglected plots, painting the shop & office, stacking the shop shelves, being a shop helper. And this is where we can all play a part by doing a little bit to help. We are always looking for volunteers, so another plea for anyone who can offer a few hours in helping the Society in any way, please let us know. Speak to Gillian or Louise in the office and they will be most welcoming.
That old cliché, use it or lose it, is very applicable to allotments.