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In the market for an allotment

By Rob Pittam
Working Lunch

Allotment
The allotments act for England and Wales came into force in 1908

When it comes to allotments, the plot is thickening.

Once a haven for retired granddads to potter in their sheds and grow a few spuds, they've become a must have accessory for the middle classes.

Modern trends for greener living and healthy eating mean a movement that was designed to help the families of the labouring poor is now more likely to support the families of urban professionals.

And there are more women too. Thirty years ago only two percent of allotment holders were women, now itís 20 per cent.

25 years wait

But getting hold of an allotment is not so easy.

A few years ago you could approach your local allotment society and take pick of almost any plot, but now just about every site has a waiting list.

It's thought there are 13,000 people on lists around the country. Waits of up to ten years are common and some areas are even reporting that applicants are being told they could have to wait up to 25 years. So what can be done?

Bryn Pigh, National Association of Allotment & Leisure Gardeners
Bryn Pugh has been fighting to extend allotment provision

The answer may lie in a one hundred year old piece of legislation.

The allotments act for England and Wales came into force in 1908. It compels local authorities to provide a reasonable number of plots, usually interpreted as 20 per one thousand households.

But the act also means that if six frustrated council tax payers get together and demand more allotments, the councils have to try to find sites.

Fighting

They can't get away with saying they can't find anywhere suitable. The act also gives them the power to make compulsory purchases or hire order on a potential site.

Bryn Pugh, the legal officer for the National Society of Allotments and Leisure Gardeners spends his working days fighting councils and developers to save and to extend allotment provision.

Courgette grown on allotment
13,000 people are on allotment waiting lists around the country

He senses that the tide is turning.

Last year he fought 36 attempts to remove an allotment and build on the land. He won 34. A few years ago and those figures would have been reversed.

And every week he deals with around a dozen applications to force councils to provide more plots. But a word of warning from the regulars. It's not a quick and painless route to greener or even cheaper veg.

Camaraderie

There's plenty of back breaking digging and weeding and by the time you've added up the amount of hours it all takes, those home grown carrots might suddenly start looking expensive.

In fact allotment committees also report that many of the newcomers quickly give up when they realise the enormity of the task.

Denise Kennedy, allotment holder
Denise is one of the 20% of women who run allotments

But for those who stick it out, there are rewards. Some regulars call it a "green gym" and certainly a hard day's digging is a serious work out.

Then there's the satisfaction of growing your own vegetables and the camaraderie of sharing advice, seeds and even vegetables with your fellow allotment holders.

And given the social changes going on at allotments it may be one of the last places in the country where your as likely to rub shoulders with a lawyer as a labourer.

EMAILS US

Do you have an allotment? What's the social banter like when you're working on it? Or are waiting for one? Let Working Lunch know via email now or drop us a line at working.lunch@bbc.co.uk


I have just come in from the garden where I have sown 30 sweetcorn seeds and 50 soyabean seeds. I will be 80 in August but know how to counteract higher food bills by growing more vegetables as I did the same thing to feed my 7 healthy children on my husband's low labourer's wage. During the 2nd World War I helped my father tend his allotment and have always been grateful for the opportunity that gave me to experience the thrill of growing my own food.

Marion Monahan


In your clip about allotments you showed a child pulling rhubarb. You should always twist and pull! Just twisting can damege the rhubarb crown

Captain Jon


Living in a student house which backs onto allotments in Leeds means that we get involved in a fair bit of allotment banter.

The allotment-men as we call them are a cheery bunch of northern chaps always armed with a witty comment.

Whether it's asking us if we want a ride in the little silver car, termed to be an "Aston Martin" by its owner Bob, or little remarks about the state of us sitting on the back doorstep when we're hungover, the allotment-ers always raise a smile from us.

Allotments are a good way of increasing community spirit, a valuable and beneficial use of land and when we're getting free, homegrown rhubarb and veg, you won't see us complaining!

Lauren


Our Welsh borders village has had increased interest in our allotments, such that three families in our road now rent one. Should the demand increase, will invoking the Allotment Act in Wales for extra allotments mean that our village rates will rise to support the few?

Mike Brain



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