Luckily however, demand for allotments has shot up recently and new alloment sites are being created all around the country. Add to that guerilla gardening and schemes such as Hugh F-W's Landshare, and it seems that half the country want to grow their own! Fantastic!
I first started hankering after an allotment last year, and luckily I eventually managed to get my Dad interested and motivated, and he has worked wonders. There is no allotment site in our village. The nearest ones are miles away in busy towns, and the waiting lists are huge. So we set out to try and get a new allotment site in the village.
When I first started out I was making posters etc. that were all very demanding and pointed the finger at our local councils. Then I read the Transition Handbook, and my outlook entirely changed. I realised that if we were more positive and were nice to the councillors we'd be more likely to get what we want! I think this was crucial as otherwise our campaign would have gone a very different way indeed.
The first thing to do was research legislation etc. about allotments. I found several organisations with great advice (see below for details) and the entire Small Holdings and Allotments act of 1908. Although several later acts added and tweaked bits and pieces of the original act, the 1908 one is the one that has some key information in it: apart from in London, if 6 or more tax payers ask for allotments, the council is legally obliged to provide them. They can even force land owners to sell or rent out land for the purpose of allotments.
Of course, this is no guarantee that it won't take another 15 years for them to get round to it, but it's very useful information to have!
The next step was to find our six. That was easy, as we simply asked friends and neighbours. I don't think we know anybody quite as mad about growing their own and green issues as we are, but several families were pretty interested and agreed to sign our petition. Dad delivered it to the council, and the rest is history, as they say.
We've been really lucky that we're in a rural area with plenty of green space, and that our council have been really positive and proactive since we submitted our petition. Dad frequently emails the clerk to check how things are going, and it's clear that the council are just as keen to make this work as we are. Even if your council is a bit slower however, there are still things you can do:
- Write letters to your councils. For us, the parish council is the most important, but write to your district or even county council if you need to. I'd recommend being positive and persuasive rather than accusatory. Outline why you want an allotment, the possible community benefits, and offer to help.
- Visit your councillors! Dad turned up at a parish meeting one evening (apparently they seemed quite surprised that anyone turned up) and meet them face to face. Again, be nice, positive and inclusive. Introducing yourself helps people to put a face to the name and just generally feels friendlier.
- Get advice from some of the people at the bottom of this post. The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners has some template agreements etc. that are really helpful and can really get the ball rolling.
- Write to your local paper etc. and tell people about what you're trying to achieve and why. Tell as many people as you can what it's all about.
- If your council is unhelpful, why not go to a local landowner directly? Again, there are organisations (see below) that offer template agreements, and organisations such as Landshare can help match landowners to people who want space to grow.
- Alternatively, consider joining or starting a garden sharing initiative. Landshare is also great for finding people open to this, and schemes are already in place in several areas. Transition Town Totnes is a prime example of how these sorts of schemes can work.
Our council were really proactive recently and included a piece about allotments in their newsletter. They invited people to come to the annual parish assembly and register their interest. Even before the assembly, I think another 10 people had registered their interest! According to the latest email from the clerk, we are now up to 30 people wanting allotments, and everyone's starting to think about sites and access, etc. Of course, there will be people in the village who won't be too pleased about having 30 allotments outside their back door. However, with an inclusive approach there should be ways round this. For example, the authorities can always impose rules about sheds, use of old carpets etc. and bonfires, and I think these could make a huge difference to the way an allotment site looks.
After we'd already started our campaign, Mum found an old dossier of my Grandad's from the 1970s. It's the Friends of the Earth "Allotments Campaign Manual", and I wish I'd had it from the start! Apart from it being incredibly precious for sentimental reasons (it's a great feeling when you find out you're basically carrying on the work of your ancestors) it's full of useful information. It mentions the relevent acts of parliament and ways to get round stifling legislation, as well as facts and figures about food security etc. It amazes me that we knew about all this stuff in the 1970s, but still managed to get into the mess we're in today! Luckily however, it seems that growing your own has become a lot more mainstream today, and isn't just the haunt of communist pensioners! So who knows? This time around we might actually achieve something and get all the things that allotments can offer:
- Rebuild communities
- Personal development
- Include marginalised groups
- Offer food security
- Promote exercise and healthy eating
- Reconnect people with the natural world
- Allow people to save money, make friends and generally have fun!
So, we still haven't got our allotments, but things are moving along and it's pretty exciting. Hope this helps anyone else trying to get an allotment! Best of luck and remember the most important thing about campaigning for things like this: be positive and inclusive and you're more likely to get results!
Useful things to look up:
National Society of Alloment and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG): http://www.nsalg.org.uk/
Allotments Regeneration Initiative: http://www.farmgarden.org.uk/ari/
Allotments UK: http://www.allotments-uk.com/
Eastleigh Allotments: http://www.eastleigh-allotments-association.org.uk/index.htm (the website of a group of allotmenteers who have been forced to abandon their allotments in Eastleigh, Hants. Despite a 5 year battle and a long waiting list, the allotments will soon be turned over to development).
A government report on allotments: http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm199798/cmselect/cmenvtra/560/56014.htm
Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/RevisedStatutes/Acts/ukpga/1908/cukpga_19080036_en_1 (according to Grandad's dossier, other relevent acts include:
- The Allotments Act 1922
- The Allotments Act 1925
- The Allotments Act 1950
Tales from the Allotment: http://allotmentplots.blogspot.com/2007/03/allotments-and-law.html (good summary of allotment law)
More on allotments: http://www.warwickdc.gov.uk/WDC/Leisure+and+culture/Parks+and+recreation/Allotments/More+on+allotments.htm%20(notice(notice the Permaculture principles quoted word for word under "Allotments and Sustainable Development"!).
Allotments Law Broken?:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/politics_show/7655556.stm (a BBC article about allotments in Wales).
and of course, the Transition Movement:
Transition Town Totnes: http://totnes.transitionnetwork.org/
Transition Culture: http://transitionculture.org/
Transition Network: http://www.transitiontowns.org/TransitionNetwork/TransitionNetwork