Community Allotments

Jan 3, 2024 | Blog

Allotments have existed in England for hundreds of years, but the system we know today has its origins in the 19th century, when land was provided to enable those with less financial means to grow food, in an environment of rapid industrialisation, urbanisation and a lack of welfare provision. It broadened out to include former servicemen and then the wider population in the 20th century, with local councils making space available for very low rents.

Many people dream of having an allotment. Demand soared over the pandemic lockdowns and is still very high. Last year, the national average waiting time for an allotment was 2 years and 8 months. This varies greatly according to local authority and availability. There is a low turnover rate; anecdotally it is not unusual for people to hold their allotments for 40 years. Demand for allotments is now so high nationally that private companies are buying land to turn into allotments, at a higher cost for the user than those provided by local councils.

Allotments are hard work. People with allotments must maintain them over the summer holidays to get the best crop. If life becomes busy, or people develop an injury or illness or become less physically able, allotments may well be untended or undertended. Yet people with allotments are often reluctant to give them up. They have invested time and energy into them, they enjoy the social life at the allotments, or they think they will be able to use them again in the future.

Arun & Chichester Food Partnership would like to see a community allotment on every allotment site. A community allotment allows people to each work the amount of time they have available, harnessing the skills and strengths of the many and benefitting the community. People can learn the skills, swap seeds and materials, engage with nature and each other, and have greater access to fresh, healthy food. Creating a community allotment also can be part of a succession plan – people who are struggling to maintain their individual allotment can give up their own one and move onto the community allotment, sharing their skills and knowledge. This could bring down waiting times.

Of course, there can be challenges with this – in terms of arranging access for individuals or groups who want to engage with the community allotment, leadership, responsibility, allocation of food and other issues.

A community allotment at every allotment site would be a tremendous asset to the local communities, creating a succession plan for existing allotment holders as well as a place where communities can come together to grow, learn, share and work together for better food. With a little thought and planning, reconsidering these community assets can make them work for a stronger, more skilled and better nourished community.