Women dig in and help revive city allotments

Stressed-out city dwellers have come to the rescue of one of Britain's most familiar but frequently neglected urban features: the allotment.

Nearly half of the plots in Britain were taken over by developers during the 1970s and 1980s. But since 1997, just 167 of England's 7,796 local authority sites, which require the secretary of state's approval for change of use, have been sold, the Government told the House of Lords yesterday.

A glut of gardening and cookery programmes on television, combined with concerns about unhealthy diets and lack of exercise have been credited for the revival.

Some London boroughs report waiting lists of several hundred people; many of them women, young professionals and people from ethnic minorities ready to replace the ageing, mainly male population of tenants.

Allotments were the nation's kitchen garden during the Second World War, when every patch of cultivatable land was turned over to vegetable production. But as the generation which maintained them got older and people turned to supermarkets for their grocery needs, more and more plots became derelict.

Between 1978 and 1996, the number of council-owned plots - accounting for three-quarters of the total - fell from 479,000 to 296,000.

Jeremy Iles, the director of the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens and an allotment holder in Bristol for the past eight years, said: "After the post-war consumer boom, growing food wasn't so fashionable. It was what your grandad did.

"People have got more and more concerned about the provenance of their food, their lack of exercise and the fact that their kids can't go out and play safely in the street any more. An allotment answers all these needs [and] the food tastes better."

The Allotments Regeneration Initiative (ARI), a national campaign, was started last year to bring derelict plots back into use and teach people how to work them. When its research confirmed the public image of allotments as scruffy, male-dominated places, the group set about overturning the stereotype to increase allotment use among other sections of society.

Mentoring schemes help novice gardeners get to grips with their plot, underused sites have been regenerated with facilities for the community and vandalism curbed by improving site security.

Richard Wiltshire, the senior lecturer in geography at King's College London, and author of Growing in the Community - a good practice guide to allotments - has seen a shift in the type of people taking allotments. He said: "The decline has reached a bottom and demand seems to be vibrant, particularly in inner urban areas."

In Camden, north London, there is a seven-year waiting list for an allotment and ARI have set up a scheme allowing residents to take on plots in nearby Harrow.

At Uplands allotments in Birmingham, one of the largest sites in the country with 400 plots, 900 children from local flats - the next generation of allotment holders - are getting hands-on lessons in growing vegetables.

A change in the law in 1998 assured the future of many sites by categorising them as undeveloped land; making it harder for builders to develop allotment sites. Now housebuilders, such as Borland, have been advertising the proximity to allotments as a selling point for a development of flats in Nunhead, south London.

Mr Wiltshire said that, while the ARI's research showed that the fastest growing group of allotment holders was women under 40, traditional plot-holders should not be forgotten. He said: "'Old geezers' are the fastest growing group in society. It's always treated as a negative stereotype but having an allotment is a great way for old people to keep active."

'I use it to get away - it's my escape'

It started with a conversation about tomatoes, and once Dawn Hackett had visited her friend's allotment to see them growing that was it: she decided that she had to have one too.

Dawn had to go on a waiting list for a year for her plot, at the Grange Lane allotments, which is high on a hill in Dulwich, south-east London, with sweeping views of the city's skyline.

She said that the peace and quiet she found on the allotment was what made living in the city bearable. "I use it to get away; it's my escape," she said. "We moved house to be nearer to the allotment: it was either that or leave London."

Before taking on the plot four years ago, Dawn's gardening experience amounted to little more than fond childhood memories of sitting in the rain eating sweets and watching her dad digging in his allotment.

Dawn, 39, grows things that "look nice or are expensive in the shops", such as kale, shallots, French beans, flowers and "plenty of pumpkins and squash for the winter".

She goes to the allotment most evenings in the summer and once every few weeks in the winter, often taking her children Osin, seven, and Erin, two, with her.

Dawn's partner Adam is keener on sampling the produce than the spadework, but he knows how to keep her happy: for Christmas he gave her 10 scaffolding planks and the labour to use them to make raised beds on the allotment. "Not very romantic," she admitted, but her plot is a place close to her heart.

The couple plan to get married soon - and the allotment is on the list of possible venues.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste