London's oldest surviving allotment is facing the threat of being built on thanks to plans by its landlord to construct a new housing development on part of the allotment site.
We desperately need to raise funds to pay for legal and specialist advice to help save our much loved allotments.
If you can spare just a few pound we would be very grateful for your help and support.
In early September 2016 the charity, Pathways, contacted plotholders at Northfield Allotments in Ealing to announce its proposal to build on 10% of the allotments. The development would include a five to six story block of social housing and four houses for sale to help fund the development.
Northfield Allotments are the oldest allotments in London. They were given by the Bishop of London to the people of Ealing in 1832, and are held as a permanent endowment. The charity Pathways is our landlord and the site is managed by a committee of seven plotholders. There are 141 plots.
The plotholders are a diverse range of ages and nationalities. Twenty nine of our plotholders live in flats – this is their only garden. We have around 50 children who have a safe place to play and learn about fruit and veg and get a chance to see tadpoles, stag beetles, bats and hedgehogs.
There are more than 25 pensioners who have a place to grow their own food and there is always company, someone to talk to. You are never alone when you have an allotment. People are friendly here and we share seedlings and produce.
We have counted 27 different nationalities – the only qualification to getting a plot is a love of gardening and the patience to wait on our waiting list (currently 72 people).
The hedgerow around the site is around 900m long and has been designated, by Ealing Borough council, a SINC - Site of Interest for Nature Conservation. It is an important and safe habitat for our hedgehogs, many nesting birds and insects. The allotments are a habitat for stag beetles, which are endangered and protected. With perfect timing the many visitors to our Halloween open day saw our bats flying around the site catching night flying insects.
On the 25th September at a special general meeting, the plotholders unanimously voted to oppose Pathways’ plans to concrete over the allotments.
We understand that social housing is important – but so are green open spaces. It shouldn’t have to be a choice of one or the other. We believe Pathways’ trustees have not fully considered alternatives to their proposal to ‘temporarily’ move 18 residents into what will be a permanent development on the allotments.
We believe a permanent endowment should be permanent.
The original allotments were much larger than they are today: 60% of the allotments were lost in the 1970s due to compulsory purchase by the council and building by Pathways. Our concern is that if planning permission is granted this time around it will be easier to lose more allotment land in the future as the pressure for housing so close to a Crossrail station increases.
When we lose green space we never get it back.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Please write to your local councillors to let them know what you think of the proposal.
- Write to the Ealing Gazette and Ealing and Northfield forums.
- Sign up for our newsletter to keep up to date with what is going on.
- We need specialist help, especially once the plans are submitted to Ealing Council. This will cost money. So, please help by donating whatever you can to our fighting fund.
Please help us protect the allotments for another 184 years.
Many thanks for all your help and support.
The Ealing Dean Allotment Society.
I’m going to leave the final word to Fran, one of our plotholders (who will lose her plot if the development goes ahead)…
“My allotment means a lot to me - we live in a third floor social housing flat with no access to a garden of our own. In 18 months my daughter and I have transformed the plot from weeds and brambles to our own little patch of heaven and my daughter has learned so much she never would have been able to before, from where our food comes from to the lifecycle of the frog - and she now wants to be a gardener when she grows up.”
Walk up and down the path and you’ll see examples of beautifully tended plots bursting with fruit, veg and flowers – with barely a weed in sight. However, we were recently asked “what is non-cultivation?” It is one of those things that you know it when you see it – but is tricky to define. So, we did some research to find out how other sites define it. We’ve taken the best of their ideas to come up with these guidelines for plotholders and committee members at Northfields.
This is what we would expect …
In order to be fair to other tenants, we would expect the plot to be cultivated in a way that does not interfere with the enjoyment of neighbouring plotholders or sabotage their efforts to keep a weed free plot.
The plot needs to be planted, cropped, harvested or being prepared. It is not sufficient to simply keep them clear of weeds, but to leave them un-planted.
In the main growing season we would expect to see:
- Fruit, vegetables or flowers
- Lawn and grass paths mowed and trimmed
- No weeds going to seed
- No brambles or couch grass creeping around the plot
In the winter months:
- The above (but obviously less fruit, veg and flowers)
- Beds dug over ready for the winter frost
- Or if no dig methods are being used - a clean bed with no weeds
- Green manures being grown
- Growing areas being prepared (and covered to suppress weeds)
New tenants usually take on a mess of overgrown weeds. After many years on the waiting list we assume you are raring to go. So, it is not unreasonable to expect a new tenant to have at least 25% of their plot cultivated in their first three months on site.
We would then expect up to 50% of their plot cultivated after 6 months of taking tenancy. By 12 months we would expect 75% cultivation. In year two and beyond 75% minimum of the plot should be cultivated.
Around 10% of the plot can be a shed, composting area, water storage. (Don't forget you must ask permission to erect a shed or greenhouse.)
Site inspections are carried out on a regular basis – at least every two month in the growing season by members of the committee. If a neighbour complains we will inspect within a week.
Initially we look at the entire plot to see that the majority of the plot is being cultivated and cropped. We will note if large areas have been left unworked.
Next, we look at the level of weed growth on the plot. Everyone has a few weeds sprouting on their plot. We are concerned with weeds going to seed in large areas of the plot and causing a nuisance to plot neighbours.
We also look at uncontrolled areas of perennial weeds such as couch grass, ground elder, brambles, nettles and unmanaged grass.
We are gardeners too so we take the season into account. At mid-summer, most of the plot should be used for growing fruit, veg or flowers. Plots mostly covered are not considered to be cultivated.
During the autumn and winter months, they will be looking to see that plots which have become weedy in the late summer, are being cleared and improved, however this does not mean you need to be sowing crops. Generally if you are using the winter months to improve your plot then this will be taken into account.
We will also look at the level of waste on the plot, in particular if new waste materials have been brought onto the site. Plot holders like to recycle and find it hard to pass a skip. But those recycled materials need to be used not just stored indefinitely.
Materials such as carpet, double glazing, timber, doors, tyres and building or landscaping materials are of particular concern – because they are expensive to remove. Each time we hire a skip it costs us £300.
Photos of the plot are then taken as a record of what was observed. Plus we complete a form that covers the above points in case there is a dispute and you disagree with our findings.
We do realise you have a life outside the allotment and there may be reasons for not cultivating an allotment plot for a temporary period of time which might include:
- Hospitalisation for surgery or other serious complaints
- Short-term medical complaint where advice has been given by a medical practitioner that physical work is not advisable
- Death of a close family member
- Being posted abroad on active military service
Even if a plotholder falls under one of these mitigating circumstances the committee would expect the plotholder to ensure all long vegetation on the plot to be kept down to ensure that other allotment holders are not affected by weeds. If you contact us, we can put you in touch with people who can strim your plot for a fee.
Absentee gardeners are those who, generally on receipt of a non-cultivation letter, pay someone to dig over and weed the plot, hoping that this will get them off the hook for the season. They go from one non-cultivation letter to the next, using them as reminders to visit the plot.
There’s nothing wrong with getting a little help from family and friends, but the committee expects that the plotholder will be in attendance and will be the main contributor to the allotment, otherwise it will be assumed that the plotholder has neither the time nor interest to maintain the allotment and the tenancy will be cancelled.
Allotments are community ventures in which everyone is expected to play a part, not least in occasionally helping with the maintenance of the site on volunteer days. Absentee gardeners play no part in the community and cause ill-feeling as well as failing to reap the benefits of having an allotment.
Why does non-cultivation matter?
Non-cultivation matters because when you took on your plot you agreed to cultivate.
When we signed the agreement with the landlord, Pathways. We all agreed:
2b. To cultivate the plot only for the production of fruits, vegetables and flowers for domestic consumption and for no other purposes. The plot may not be cultivated solely as an orchard or arboretum.
2c. To keep the Allotment Garden clean and free from weeds and well-manured and otherwise maintained in a proper state of cultivation and fertility and in good condition, and any pathway included thereon shall be kept reasonably free from weeds and long grass.
You need to be a good neighbour. Your weed seeds don't just affect your plot, they are a nuisance to us all. So, in order to be fair to other tenants, we would expect the plot to be cultivated in a way that does not interfere with the enjoyment of neighbouring plotholders or sabotage their efforts to keep a weed free plot.
The future of this place. Look around the site and you will see houses. But 20 years ago you would have seen more allotments on the other side of Northfield Avenue. Sadly we lost 145 plots to a compulsory purchase order because those allotments were overgrown and uncared for. Now there are flats, where we once had allotments.
When people outside the fence look in and see overgrown plots they assume we don't care. Recently someone proposed to the council education committee that we would be a good site for a new High School. Luckily, we didn’t make the shortlist – this time. Land is always at a premium in London, especially land close to a Crossrail station.
We have to show people outside the fence that we care deeply about this place. One of the best ways to do that is to ensure you cultivate your plot.
The Ealing Dean Allotment Society Committee