I was listening to the Sky News press preview last Thursday night when the guest reviewers chose an article describing how the UK's allotment sites were under threat due to councils selling off the land for development. In spite of demand for allotments being high the temptation for cash strapped councils to sell off what is sometimes classed as prime building land is great. In the past it has been difficult for councils to sell off allotment land as the Secretary of State for Communities has to give permission for the sale and councils have had to support their request with strong evidence that the site is no longer needed.
The newspaper article being discussed stated that there was concern that the present Communities Secretary was too ready to grant permission for sales - the number of applications turned down it stated was just two with 59 sales being approved.
Although this is of concern to me as a long standing allotment gardener what concerned me even more was the attitude of the guest reviewers who I presume only chose the article to ridicule it. One in particular said this was good news as it meant more building land would be available and that allotment were basically an eyesore with rickety old sheds and not real gardens. He said the only people who would care were people with allotments.
I found this attitude really condescending and insulting. He obviously had an old fashioned preconception of what an allotment was.
I did wonder whether he would have been so glibly dismissive if the council were selling off, parks, football pitches, playing fields, libraries, art galleries etc.
Some houses are being built near us on what was once designated as green belt land. This in spite of brown field sites being available. The houses are close together with tiny gardens so one would think that the need for allotment land was becoming even more important as our gardening spaces shrink!
So why should the Secretary of State protect our allotment sites?
- We grow and eat our five a day at a time when we at told that we are in danger of under producing the food that we need.
- 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. Bees and frogs particular need our help with their food supplies and habitat under threat.
- 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 you agree that our allotment sites should be better protected from being sold off then there is an epetition here which you can sign if you wish to make your views known to the government. You don't have to have an allotment to sign - just think of it as protected our green spaces from the onslaught of concrete. You could also help by sharing on Facebook, Twitter and whatever other social media you use too.
Let's hope it's given someone new to care for it soon!