Many people breathed a sigh of relief when the government agreed that allotments could carry on during lockdown, provided that social distancing and hygiene precautions were taken as advised by the National Allotment Association. For many, their plot has been a lifesaver.
The timing of the lockdown in March meant there was a lot to be done to prepare for the coming spring and summer if there was to be anything to harvest. Our initial concern was how to maintain our Community Allotment in Cookham Rise, for the sake of the gardeners who had put in so much hard work.
It had been started six years ago by a small group of friends. We had initially been given a half plot of rough grass. Now, it consists of five well-maintained half-plots. The allotment has grown steadily in size along with our number of gardeners.
Our usual groups of 10-20 gardeners would not be possible during lockdown. If we abandoned the site for the near future, all our hard work would be undone, and our gardeners would not benefit from everything the Community Allotment provided for people of all ages - a place to be, with fresh air, food, fitness and fellowship, All of which are extremely important during the stresses created by the lockdown.
My experience as a therapist with Thrive was invaluable for setting up and organising how we run the allotment.
We have individual one metre square raised beds which are on offer for anyone who wants to do their own thing. For those who don’t want their own plots there are larger raised beds and growing areas for all gardeners to share and look after.
Some of our gardeners who have joined over the six years are experienced, or already enthusiastic, but not all. Very soon it became evident that some who came were socially isolated or had challenges meeting and working alongside others.
People choose tasks they enjoy doing, from a list chalked up on a board each session. Sometimes tasks are suggested to those who are undecided, based on their skills, experience and preference. All produce is shared at the end of a session, people help themselves and there have never been any issues over this
It shows just how much the allotment has meant to our gardeners that they have been willing and able to maintain it to such a high standard during lockdown.Becky Pinniger
Usually the project functions running two 2-hour sessions a week. Our gardeners were now advised that the Community Allotment would be up and running for a maximum of two people whenever it suited them.
People had to contact me for the time of their own choosing, they were offered a choice of activities, including regular watering during the long dry period. They collected the key from me before going to the plot. Gloves were always to be worn and they were recommended to take their own tools.
Crops could be harvested for their own use too. That way I was able to ensure that there were not too many on the site at one time, and the tasks which were needed, were done.
In the meantime, one or two of us sowed seeds and potted-on plants at home, ready for planting when the time and weather was right. I went to the site at least twice a week to do work or make a list of what needed doing. Each time I went, the site seemed tidier, healthier and crops were growing well, as if by magic!
Keeping in touch
We also kept in touch through a weekly newsletter describing what had been done and needed doing on the plot which was sent by email or hand delivered for those not online. Recipes were included and occasional photographs. This ensured all gardeners, even those who were unable to work on the plot, felt informed and involved.
As restrictions have eased, the site has become a good place for small family groups to meet grandparents and work at a safe distance from each other. Now we are back to our usual two sessions a week, limiting numbers to six at a time, with people booking in first to ensure we do not have unmanageably large groups arriving.
Importance of cake
We have not been able to reinstate our tea and cake sessions which are an essential part of our time together.
There is nothing like cake for bringing people together and we are often joined by other plot holders. It provides a relaxed atmosphere for conversation. I believe it may be true that some only come for the cake, which is usually baked using some of our produce!
I think it shows just how much the allotment has meant to our gardeners that they have been willing and able to maintain it to such a high standard during lockdown. Our sixth birthday is coming up and we usually celebrate with a communal feast on site.
I hope eventually we will be able to do this once further restrictions are lifted. We will have plenty to celebrate.