Possibly the first Open Day for 180 Years
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.”
The people of Ealing are a curious bunch. At our first ever open day so many people said to me that they had often walked past the allotments and wondered what they were like inside. The assumption was that there would be row upon row of vegetables tended by a wizened old retired guy drinking tea from his flask. Of course, we do have a few of those, but we also have lots of young families and people who grow flowers.
Saturday 15th August 2015 was the first ever open day we had organised. As far as I know it was the first time the gates had ever been opened to the public. We debated at the committee meeting about whether or not to charge an entrance fee. A day out for most families is now very expensive. A family ticket for Kew Gardens is £34. We decided our entrance should be free to all. In the end it wasn't about raising money – it was about making new friends.
We had a wonderful day. Everything went so well partly due to the most perfect weather, blue skies and a gentle breeze. It was hard to gauge how many people would visit. At one hour to go I still wasn't sure if two people would turn up or 200. But, I shouldn't have worried - in the end we had 361 visitors. We must have impressed some of them as 21 then decided they wanted to join the waiting list.
You can’t have an open day without tea and cake. The tables looked lovely with their floral tablecloths and vases of flowers. The whole area looked like a country fair from the 1930s with bunting gently flapping in the breeze. Huge praise goes to Dominic for organising the tables and cake stall – which helped to set the whole tone for the day.
From the takings – it seems almost everyone bought tea and cake. We also had a large dispenser of Pims’ cocktail for which we accepted a donation. My favourite story of the day was the visitor who wanted a Pims but didn’t want to donate. So, the ever-resourceful plotholder Fran told him he could have a free Pims if he agreed to clear the tables of dirty cups! Which he did.
The restored Anderson shelter proved a big hit. We had managed to get a story about the Anderson shelter and open day in the Gazette and many people said they had come because they had seen it in the paper. Crispin, who is one of our committee members and an actor, got us some props – tin hats and gas masks.
I brought along an old wind-up gramophone player and some Gracie Fields 78rpm records to play. It all helped to set the atmosphere. It was fun teaching the kids how to use the gramophone. It was interesting to see some grandparents explaining to their grandchildren what the Anderson shelter was and recounting their memories of sitting in one as a child.
The bees also proved popular and Tom our beekeeper sold out of honey. He brought a demonstration hive (on the table). But, you can also see the real hives - just behind him behind the blue netting.
One plotholder decided to prune her wayward rosemary, on the open day, and gave away the prunings. It must have been a substantial plant because I saw lots of happy people carrying around their sprigs of rosemary as if they had won a prize.
The trouble with being on a committee is you spend a lot of time sorting out problems, sending out non-cultivation and termination letters – it can sometime feel like you are the killjoy ruining everyone’s fun. So, we wanted to do something positive. The open day gave us the excuse to have an award ceremony. It was great to celebrate those people who love their plot and recognise all the hard work they put into it over the year. The award for best overall plot went to Lucian and Maria (plot 195 below).
Not only is their plot a delight, they are lovely people always ready to help if a fellow plotholder is ill and needs a helping hand. We also asked our open day visitors to vote for their favourite plot and the winner was – Lucian and Maria again. It really is a fantastic plot and it seems everyone agrees.
Here is the full list of all our award winning plot holders.
Visitors’ Favourite Allotment - awarded to Lucian and Maria (plot 195)
Best Allotment - awarded to Lucian and Maria (plot 195)
Best Traditional Allotment – jointly awarded to - Patrick (plot 228) and Stella (plot 146A)
Best Traditional Allotment Runner Up - awarded to Barbara (plot 196)
Best Traditional Allotment Runner Up - awarded to Adriana (plot 203)
Best Traditional Allotment Runner Up - awarded to Joe (plot 186)
Best Beginner - awarded to Dominic (plot 163B)
Best Beginner - Runner Up - awarded to Christian and Olenka (plot 183A)
Best Beginner - Runner Up - awarded to Peter (plot 232B)
Best Beginner - Runner Up - awarded to Tim (plot 180A)
Best Newcomer - awarded to Alix and Ian (plot 165)
Best Newcomer - Runner Up awarded to - Maggie and Ranou (plot 237)
Best Flower Garden - awarded to Avril (plot 223A)
Best Flower Garden - Runner Up awarded to - Dominique (plot 240B)
Volunteer Of The Year – awarded to Simon (plot 198)
We also had a tallest sunflower competition to get the kids interested in growing and nurturing a plant from seed to monster flower. Some sunflowers didn't make it past the seedling stage – but many did and it was great to get the children involved.
Handing out the awards was definitely the highlight of the day for me.
The feedback from visitors and plotholders has been overwhelmingly positive. We definitely needed more tables and chairs. Many people just enjoyed sitting and soaking in the atmosphere (and eating cake). One group stayed until 6pm chatting away. They were obviously enjoying the location and conversation. We didn't have the heart to throw them out even the though the doors were meant to close at 5pm.
We also need to bake more cakes…especially chocolate cake – which was the most requested. I’m also going to need an industrial sized water heater for the tea and coffee.
Something like this takes a lot of organising and the goodwill of so many volunteers. We can't thank them all enough - you made it a perfect day.
If you haven’t had an open day yet – I would urge you to take the plunge. I can’t wait to do it all again.
Chair of the Ealing Dean Allotment Society.