Judy Wilkinson: We need your help to transform the places we live in

Campaigner Judy Wilkinson says a consultation on allotment guidance highlights a bigger picture we should all care about

THE consultation on the guidance for allotments ends on 17 November. The guidance aims to help local authority officers carry out their functions under the Community Empowerment Act.

The implementation of the Act will affect existing plot holders and all those who want a plot. There are new duties placed on local authorities about how allotments should be provided, managed and organised. The new legislation could mean that our cities and settlements actually become green, dynamic, living places. 

However, the history of allotments in Scotland over the last 100 years has shown that local authorities' interpretation of legislation determines the fate of growing. The way the new Act is implemented will either lead to the creation of new allotments or the demise of existing ones.

We need to build our homes around places where we are part of the natural world, enjoying, co-creating and connecting with nature. 

The format and questions in the consultation do not bode well for the future. The 10 questions often contain two or more statements and it is unclear just what 'ticking the boxes' actually means or how it will be evaluated. The legislation is clear on the duties that local authorities have but some of the questions in the survey seem designed to muddy the waters.

The Scottish Government appears feart of the councils. Yes this is about land, and yes people need houses, but this isn’t an either/or situation. We need to build our homes around places where we are part of the natural world, enjoying, co-creating and connecting with nature. 

Allotment sites, particularly those that are hidden in our concrete jungles, contain some of this energy. We need to stop pussy footing around, hiding the passion in consultations that seemed designed to dilute this vision and straitjacket those who want to have a patch of earth they can tend to and love.

We need people who say to their local authorities that we all have the right to a plot of land to nurture. Remember the Diggers: "We come in peace they said, to dig and sow, We come to work the lands in common and to make the waste ground grow. Earth is divided we will make whole so it will be a common treasury for all." (from Leon Rosselson's 'The World Turned Upside Down')

This legislation is for ordinary people living in tenements who do not have the large gardens or the rolling acres. Don’t let the powers-that-be fob them off with raised beds on concrete slabs that can be taken away at a developer’s whim.

We need people who say to their local authorities that we all have the right to a plot of land to nurture.

Allotments are not just one model; there are many different sites across the country. Some are formal and 'traditional', many have community plots for groups from the local area, and some have forest gardens, wild areas, orchards and children’s play spaces. They can be a focus for the local community with a warm, inviting hut for schools, meetings and events. They are a place where people feel part of the cycle of growing and decay that is the spiritual base of our lives.

A hundred years ago the Scottish National Union of Allotment Holders was formed. It later became called the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society because it wanted to involve all those across the political spectrum who shared this connection with the earth. 

It is a group of passionate, committed people who have campaigned, fought and struggled to make sure that everyone who wants to share their love and passion can have a patch of land for themselves. They campaigned for the original Allotment (Scotland) Acts in 1922 and 1950. 

In 2015 the new legislation was passed - Part 9 Allotments in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act. The heart of Guidance about Part 9 should be how local authorities intend work with the existing allotment gardeners, how they will create new sites with those who want them, and how partnership and co-operation will evolve to satisfy needs and enable allotments to flourish.

Once the value of allotments is recognised, the concerns that are being raised by the local authorities can be solved by working together. Allotments require land, although not very much - an area the size of Holyrood Park would satisfy current demand. 

The demography of allotments is changing and there should be flexibility, not a one size fits all approach which crams as many people in as possible.

Retired or unemployed individuals, family or friendship groups may need a standard size plot (approx 250 sq.m) to tend and look after, while many people are happy with half that size or even less. A well designed allotment site should cater for all. 

The demography of allotments is changing and there should be flexibility, not a one size fits all approach which crams as many people in as possible. Co-working should encourage allotment associations to sort out the needs of their members in terms of layout of site, allocation of plots and movement; with encouragement plots can be halved or combined to fit the changing situations.

The cost of creating new sites depends on the input of interested parties. If the local authorities work with those who want a plot, together they can find a solution in the local area. The site need not be all singing and dancing; gardeners have skills, friends and resources they can call on. 

An evolutionary approach with the site developing to fit the needs of the inhabitants will not require enormous initial outlay. The cost of management depends on the allotment community. Many sites have devolved management by default, although Edinburgh and Fife are centrally managed. 

The associations undertaking devolved management must be protected so the responsibilities of both the local authority and the plot holders are clear in the lease but then, as independent sites show, allotments are sustainable, have existed for over a hundred years and are self maintaining.

Today, allotments are not just about food but about so much more. Growing vegetables and flowers is good for physical and mental health, the environment and society. 

Finally, carrying out the functions of the local authority under the Act should be the responsibility of all relevant departments. Today, allotments are not just about food but about so much more. Growing vegetables and flowers is good for physical and mental health, the environment and society. 

The implementation of the Act depends on the local development plans, local place plans and democratic organisations such as community councils. Everyone working together in partnership will ensure the intention of the Act is fulfilled.

If the earlier Acts had been implemented instead of trumped by the housing acts, and if there had been vision and passion from the powers-that-be in the 1920s and 1950s, we would not have the barren, concrete jungles with lack of hope and despair that we do now. 

Talk to anyone on an allotment site about their plot and you will feel the passion and purpose (even if it's just about how to deal with the slugs...).

We have an opportunity. Please will everyone who cares about this fill in at least question 10 of the consultation. Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society have suggestions for responses on their website

If we get this guidance right we can start to really change the place we live in.

We need the Scottish Government to produce strong guidance that truly supports the intention of the Act. Guidance that encourages all the local authorities to work with their local people in good faith, to recognise the opportunity, to try to find the means to make it happen, not to stifle, contain and control it. 

If we get this guidance right we can start to really change the place we live in.

Judy Wilkinson has cultivated an allotment in Glasgow for over 40 years. She is a committee member of both the Scottish Allotment and Gardens Society (Sags) and the Glasgow Allotments Forum (GAF), and a member of the allotment tri-partite working group monitoring Part 9 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act.

Picture courtesy of Judy Wilkinson

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