The Community In Allotments
Allotments or organised community growing patches have been in existence in the UK since Anglo-Saxon times where villagers would cultivate fruit and vegetables for their families. As time went on into the nineteenth century, small parts of land were given to the labouring poor to produce food when areas previously used for cultivation were turned into factories and houses. To keep up with demand, the government made the first Allotments Act in 1908 which forced local authorities to provide areas for people to grow food. Over time, more laws and acts were put in place to protect allotments from being sold by councils and to make sure enough space was allocated. During times of food rationing, allotments have become the best places to make sure communities could provide sustenance for themselves and their families. These gardening societies are still providing places for people to grow food and have gardening projects successfully in the modern day but are now so much more than somewhere to cultivate. Allotments are now also therapy spaces and places for community groups to learn and grow as people.
Triangle Gardens, Hitchin
A fantastic example of community lies in the heart of a little town in Hertfordshire called Hitchin, a place that Original Organics has been lucky enough to call home since 2016. Hitchin is a historical market town surrounded by fields and farms but is only a 20-minute train journey from London Kings Cross. It’s this proximity that has made it grow in residency as commuting to work becomes more popular and easier. Even though this town has seen much growth, it has not forgotten its identity as a bohemian community focused on helping its neighbours. This community focus is reflected in the Triangle Community Gardens and Allotments. With activity mornings on Sundays, a gardening club on Fridays and working projects for people with learning disabilities, this initiative provides so much more than a place to just grow spuds.
The allotments, which are filled with working plots, has a patch packed with plants grown for dying textiles, a greenhouse made from metal and bubble wrap (what a genius way to repurpose a common plastic!), large sized communal use water butts, wormeries and wooden composters. The area is also used by three projects called Growing Ability, Growing Health and Growing Gang.
- Growing Ability
This is a social and therapeutic project in the allotments whereby gardeners plan out what food and flowers they want to grow whilst improving their literacy, numeracy and work life skills. The group also focus on each other’s wellbeing and self-esteem.
- Growing Health
Growing Health supports adults with learning disabilities to ‘lead active and healthy lives’. Founded in 2013, the project has evolved to now include cooking the food that participants have grown, regular walks and outdoor games. Liz McElroy, who runs the project said, “At first, members were going to Tesco to buy sandwiches, drinks, cakes and crisps. Now they make their own soup. We design our menu based on what we’re growing and then go to the shops to buy our extra ingredients like a stock cube. They’re getting good exercise without realising it – it’s a whole cycle and we’re getting good results, for example, they are talking about making salmon and cous cous at home.”
- Growing Gang
This a gardening work-experience project situated in the allotments and the Triangle Community Garden. Participants make jams and chutneys to sell and maintain areas in Hitchin Town Centre, including a garden near the historical St Mary’s Church.
These allotments are affiliated with the Triangle Community Garden which was launched by local residents in 2000 this gorgeous ‘Secret Garden’ is found at the other end of the large park the allotment is also part of. In recent years this garden has become part of a Forest Garden Project focused on sustainability and permaculture. Liz said to us “The whole idea is to make it sustainable and have no maintenance with herbicides and pesticides. Last year we had the most amazing apricots. It’s owned by the council but run by us.”. The plants work together to be self-sufficient in a perfect balance. Similar projects have been created by a few forward-thinking councils and groups around the country. These gardens and areas are made to off-set the troubles in our environment on a local level but if more are made, the more global it can become.
It is clear to see the good that allotments can do for communities, local groups and the environment. An institution for hundreds of years, these communal gardens have evolved from being something for the poor to live sustainably to becoming for everyone to use to get back to basics. As demand goes up year-on-year for plots, we certainly hope more space will be made available because we all know something tastes a lot nicer when you grow it yourself!
Thank you to Liz McElroy and all at Triangle Gardens & Allotments for your hospitality.
There is a full range of products to help your allotment grow on Original Organics.