Meet the Plotholders - Francesca
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.”
If you've ever walked past the allotments and wondered what sort of people we are, this is for you. Now there are quite a few of us so as not to overwhelm you, we'll do it one by one. Going first is Francesca, Fran is also one of the brains behind the Halloween Pumpkin Walk on 29 October, so she a good person to start with.
Tell us about yourself
I’m a mum to Marianne (age 5), married to Alex, and we live 2 minutes away from the allotments. I’m 4ft10, a keen cook, love a good horror story, I work in subtitling for television, I’m fluent in British Sign Language, and I love my allotment.
How long have you had the allotment and were you on the waiting list for long?
I waited 4 years and I’ve had it for 19 months.
Why did you want an allotment?
I joined the waiting list when my daughter was born. We live in a social housing flat with no access to a garden or green space of our own and I wanted a place where we could grow and play together.
What’s the best thing about having the plot?
Having a space to be outside where we can get our hands dirty, and sense of pride from having transformed an overgrown plot into a productive and happy place. I had never gardened before and was surprised to find how much I love it – I love the meditation of digging, the joy of seeing a seedling peeking up through the earth, and the pride of picking produce we grew ourselves. I love seeing my city-living daughter pick a carrot out of the ground, wipe it off and eat it there and then. I love my little shed and the patio I laid myself. I love seeing the newly-woken bees go mad for the early anemones. I love the sudden peace and greenness after a day working in an office. I love belonging to a community of people who love these things too.
What’s the worst thing about having the plot?
Watering! We’re not allowed hoses so in dry times it can take up to two hours to give everything a proper drink, carrying heavy watering cans back and forth from the tanks. Hard work.
What’s your favourite thing to grow?
Sweetcorn and potatoes. I picked the sweetcorn, boiled it on a camping stove in my shed and ate it standing right there on my plot and it was the most incredible sweetcorn I’ve ever tasted. Seriously unbelievable. And while potatoes may be cheap in the shops, they are the most fun things to harvest – it is our favourite job to furtle (it’s a real word, look it up) through the soil finding potatoes. And they taste amazing.
What’s the thing that you’re most proud of having done on your plot?
When I got it, it looked like this:
A year later it looked like this:
Worst ever allotment disaster or fruit/vegetable you just can’t get to grow
Despite having had only one full growing season, I’ve managed to mess up tomatoes twice. The first time I lovingly grew them from seed and tended to them diligently. A bit too diligently – just as they were about to ripen I overwatered them and they all died sad, wilty deaths. The second time, I was under-diligent, didn’t pinch out unwanted growth and they turned into a jungle of unsupportable branches and the mice helped themselves. I did manage to rescue most of them though.
Top allotment tip to help other/new plotholders
Cover it. If you’re not directly cultivating or digging an area, cover it in tarp or weed-proof fabric. It will stop the weeds and help everything rot down so it’s nice and easy to tackle when you do get round to it. The entire back half of my plot was covered in tarp for the first 6 months I had it, and then I had a digging party – I invited lots of friends, gave them food, drink and spades and made them help me dig it all up. It was great!
And while it’s tempting to devote your whole plot to edible produce, having an area for flowers is totally worth – both for the wildlife and for the happiness it brings.