Have you ever fancied a shot at “The Good Life” – following in the footsteps of TV couple, Tom and Barbara Good, dropping out of the rat race and exchanging your daily commute for some wellies, a spade and bag of seed potatoes? Maybe you’ve done just that in the last few months, as lockdown has forced many people to stay at home.

If you have, you wouldn’t be alone. Gardening is one of our country’s national pastimes. Even adults aged 25 to 35 rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities.

We’ve previously looked at children’s gardening and the social and mental wellbeing aspects of gardening, but if you don’t have an outdoor space or garden to grow things in, these things could seem out of your reach.

That’s where allotments come in, and this month sees National Allotments Week, running from 10 to 16th August,
highlighting allotments in the UK and how growing your own food can help your health and wellbeing.

National Allotments Week is run by the National Allotment Society (NAS) who work with landlords, individuals, community groups and governments, championing people’s ancient rights to work on the land and working to preserve allotments spaces up and down the country. HRH the Prince of Wales, himself a keen gardener, is a patron of the society which is made up of eleven regional bodies and thousands of individual members across the country.
The theme for this year is ‘Growing Food for Health and Wellbeing’ and if you already have an allotment, you could join in the Allotments Week Competition to tell the story of your allotment in video or storyboard form. If not, then read on to find out more.

What is an allotment?

An allotment is an area of land, which can be leased either from a private or local authority landlord, for the purpose of
growing fruit and vegetables. You may also be allowed to grow ornamental plants, or keep hens, rabbits and bees. You can
usually put up sheds and greenhouses too.

Traditionally, an allotment is measured in rods (aka perches or poles), which is an old measurement dating back to Anglo-Saxon times (approximately 5m). The accepted size of an allotment is 10 rods, about 250 square metres or the approximate size of a doubles tennis court, although this can vary and half plots are often available.

Allotments are usually grouped together and run locally by an allotment association which leases the plots. Gardeners pay a small membership fee and agree to abide by any constitution and by-laws as laid down by the Allotments Acts. Rents are usually less than £100 per year for a standard plot although this may vary across the country and can be as low as £10 or higher than £100.

 A brief history of allotments

The concept of people leasing land to work on dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, and landowners in medieval times used the feudal land law to allocate tenancies to individuals. However, the system we recognise today started in the 1800s when land was given to the poor so they could grow food. The changes brought about by the industrial revolution and the lack of any welfare system, meant more and more people needed help to feed themselves. In 1908, the Small Holdings and Allotments Act was passed, mandating local authorities to provide enough allotments according to demand. Further changes in the 1920s and the outbreak of war in 1939 led to a surge in allotments, and the successful WW2 “Dig for Victory” campaign, resulted in over one million allotments in the UK in the early 1940s.

Globalisation, pressures on land use for housing, and the success of supermarkets and convenience stores after the war led to a decline though and today, there are around 300,000 allotments in the UK. But they are still popular and a 2013 survey
revealed that 67% of authorities had waiting lists, with an average waiting time of 6–18 months. In recent years,
programmes such as “River Cottage”, garden centres and chefs like Jamie Oliver have successfully promoted a ‘grow your own’ message and the lure of allotments shows no sign of abating.

How to get an allotment

Contact your local authority or parish council if you know of allotments available in your area. If you are not sure, you can look on the government website here and search using your postcode. The NAS also publish a list of available plots advertised by their members here.

 How an allotment can help your nursery?

  • There are many benefits, including:
  • Increased contact with nature
  • Increased wellbeing and mental health
  • More opportunity for physical activities
  • Learning about the natural world and observing wildlife
  • A chance for teamwork and social interaction
  • Teaching children about tools and how to use them
  • A sense of achievement to help build self-esteem
  • Fresh, healthy produce to use for cooking or crafts
  • Learning about life cycles or caring for animals/bees
  • Increased sensory space
  • A chance to involve parents/grandparents in out-of-school activities
  • The opportunity to inspire a ‘greener’, more environmentally aware generation

Things to consider

Before taking on an allotment, think carefully about some of the following:

  1. How much time and what human resources have you got? – allotments take a lot of work so plan carefully based on the resources you have
  2. Are you taking on an existing plot or will you be starting from scratch, which may involve a lot of weed clearing or heavier work?
  3. How close is the plot and how will you get there and back safely?
  4. Do you need insurance? – see the NAS site for leads on this
  5. What tools/equipment/plants will you need? You could run a fund-raising campaign in your nursery or ask parents for donations of things they no longer use
  6. Remember to write a thorough risk assessment before starting
  7. Chart your progress in pictures, videos and share on your social media

Allotments can be great fun – but don’t just take our word for it, read about some nurseries who are already enjoying the
benefits of an allotment on their own websites:

http://www.rockinghorsenurserystamford.co.uk/about-us/allotment-club/

http://www.thewendyhouse.org.uk/royston/nursery-allotment

https://www.carriagehillnursery.co.uk/green-road/our-allotment

For more information, see:

https://www.swcaa.co.uk/

The National Allotment Society

 

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