From leisure and recreational value to sheer aesthetic beauty, we’re very passionate about the benefits that green open spaces can bring to a community – but did you know that public open spaces and parks aren’t the only nature-filled spaces that you can enjoy?
This week marks the UK’s 16th annual National Allotment Week, so we’re keen to celebrate the wonders of these oft-forgotten havens of growth and wildlife.
According to the British National Society of Allotment & Leisure Gardeners (NSALG), allotments have existed since Anglo-Saxon times – although the ‘modern allotment system’ didn’t come to be until the late 19th Century, with industrialisation changing the way that we grew and consumed food.
Nowadays, allotments represent a quiet sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the modern world and, for some, a romanticised step back into a horticultural yesteryear free from spam e-mails and digital nuisance. For those who live in flats or tower blocks, with no suitable garden area, allotments can prove a safe haven or literal lifeline.
One person who knows this all too well is Greenbelt’s Assistant in Media and Operations, Martin McMillan, who has been an allotment gardener since the tender age of seven years old:
“Technically the plot is in my parents’ name, but I’ve been coming down and helping out for almost as long as I can remember,” said Martin.
“At first, I felt like just a spare pair of hands and resented having to muck in at a young age. Looking back though, it’s incredible how much I’ve picked up over the years – all without a shred of formal horticultural training. It’s been very educational, and peaceful too.
“There is something faintly magical about digging up your own vegetables – harvesting a crop that you grew from scratch, knowing full well you can have it home, cooked and eaten within the hour.”
“There’s a certain stereotype of allotment gardeners as ageing or retired – and many plot-holders are older individuals who crave these kind of tranquil spaces.
“That said, we’re also seeing an increase in young, avant-garde artistic types that are excited to experience the limitless potential of the great outdoors, all for the price of a modest annual rent.
“There’s something for everyone really, and there are some great communities out there if you know where to look.”
Allotments themselves are traditionally measured in an archaic Anglo-Saxon system of units called rods, perches and poles. The typical allotment measures 10 poles, or the equivalent of around 250 square metres – although bear in mind this would have to house any shed or greenhouse in addition to planting.
According to NSALG, demand for allotments is at its highest since the famous ‘Grow For Victory’ campaign during World War Two: there are around 330,000 active plots concurrently rented out by local authorities or private landlords – although it’s estimated a further 90,000 are needed to meet current waiting lists.