Harvesting a slice of allotment good life

5:00pm Monday 28th April 2014

By Alex Wynick

THE number of allotments across Oxfordshire is growing fast with more people deciding to choose the good life by growing their own.

With high-profile chefs like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall making gardening popular, and a national shift towards buying organic fruit and vegetables, more people want to grow their own fruit and vegetables.

In Bicester, Claypitts allotments, off London Road, are reopening after being closed for 10 years.

Bill Wright, assistant secretary of Blackbird Leys Allotment Society, said: “People want to go back to the land to grow their own things.

“It’s getting more press and publicity on television, and people want to know what goes on their food and where it comes from.

“Plus it’s a nice and sociable thing to do.

“It gets you outside and doing a bit of exercise.”

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Rob Thompson, left, Outdoor team leader for Bicester County Council and operations manager Chris Johnson at Claypitts allotments in Bicester.

The Claypitts allotments were shut after soil was blighted by waste from a former dump at the allotment site, but Bicester Town Council has cleared away all of the debris and removed contaminated soil.

Operations manager Chris Johnson said: “We have created 128 allotment plots.

“Five are with easy access, which are reserved for those with mobility issues.”

Mr Johnson said: “The opening has now cleared the waiting list which was previously over 100, in which some have been waiting for many years for an allotment plot.”

Bicester may no longer have a waiting list, but hundreds of people across the county are still waiting for a precious plot.

In July last year, the National Allotment Society estimated nearly 80,000 UK people are on allotment waiting lists.

John Piggott is the chairman of the Fairacres allotments on Iffley Road, which has 70 plots.

He said: “There are much bigger ones in Oxford, but we are very oversubscribed because of where we are in the city.

“We have a very long waiting list. We’ve just managed to reduce it a little, it’s now three-and-a-half to four years.”

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John Piggott, (chairman of Fairacres allotments with newcomers Polly and Tony Woolstone.

Instead of being flattered by the site’s popularity, Mr Piggott finds it disheartening.

He said: “It’s very frustrating.”

Ramsey Road allotments in Headington currently has a waiting list of 20 people.

Organiser Katie McMillan said: “I would guess that’s an increase of four or five people in the last year alone.”

Over in Didcot, there are already three people on a growing list for allotments that do not exist yet, on the Great Western Park estate where new homes are being built off the A4130.

Information manager for Didcot Town Council Sue Atkins said: “We usually have about 15 people on the waiting list for the Didcot sites.

“I would say the number of people showing an interest and taking allotments on has more than doubled, possibly trebled, in the last five or six years.”

Chairwoman of the Oxford and District Federation of Allotment Associations Wendy Skinner-Smith said: “Since 2005 there has been a huge increase in the demand for allotment plots.

“In 2005 there were a lot of sites that were empty, and since then we’ve used grant money to bring over 400 plots back online.”

Mrs Skinner-Smith estimated that the number of allotment owners in Oxford has grown by 25 per cent.

She said: “In 2005 there were about 2,000 people using allotments, now that’s definitely in excess of 2,500.”

Allotment members pay rent annually, but it can take years for a plot to become free.

They usually only become available when someone dies or decides they they can no longer keep up with the demands.

Witney Allotment Association currently has 112 people on its waiting list for four different sites across the town.

Judith Thomas, from Witney, has been on the waiting list for four years. She said: “I did get offered one last year but I was heavily pregnant and didn’t have the time to get it going.

“Rather than me holding it up I let somebody else have it on the understanding that I would get one this year.

“I heard there might be some more coming up soon.

“We’re only fourth on the list I think.”

Mum-of-three Mrs Thomas, 38, added: “All we can do is wait until one does come up.

“I can’t make my garden any bigger, so there’s not much more you can do.”

You can't beat freshness, says mum.

CHERYL Marsh, 35, is one of the growing number of new allotment holders in Oxfordshire.

A member of the Sorrell Road allotments in Blackbird Leys, the full-time mum and volunteer has rented her plot since June last year.

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Allotment holder Cheryl Marsh

She said: “From a young age I’ve loved gardening.

“I’m originally from Essex, and my parents had a vegetable patch and my grandparents had a massive garden, so I’ve always grown food.

“When I heard there was an allotment available here, I jumped at the chance.”

The Greater Leys resident said: “Our garden is small, everything is in pots.This is a chance to grow on a bigger scale.”

Mrs Marsh has planted onions, potatoes, rhubarb, and raspberries, and her plot also contains a Victoria plum tree.

She said: “The first year was a lot of dig, dig dig. I’m trying to get as much as I can done before the summer.

“We had some beautiful cherry tomatoes last year, and carrots. It’s just so nice to pop over, pull them out of the ground, take them home and put them straight in the pan.

“The goodness is in it still, they haven’t been frozen or transported.”

Mrs Marsh sometimes brings her two sons — nine-year-old Kyle and seven-year-old Luke.

She said: “They do come out, but they get a bit bored of me constantly telling them not to mess about and go on other people’s plots.

“This is a safe place for them though, because the gate’s locked.”

Mrs Marsh said: “I love watching things grow, and there are really nice people over here. The price of fruit and vegetables is so high these days, and this is far more environmentally-friendly.”

Still getting back to normal after winter floods.

LIKE the rest of Oxfordshire, allotments have been affected by flooding in recent years.

Cowmead allotments on Abingdon Road have been flooded regularly.

One of the plot holders, Reg Madden, said: “This was the second year in a row we were flooded.

“We’re just getting it all back together.

“It’s just about workable now after moving all the rubbish and debris off of there.”

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Reg Madden on his flooded out allotment in January last year.

Mr Madden, who is a caretaker, added: “I think we’re applying for a rebate from the council so we can get some of our rent back.

“In 2007 everyone got £3 back after we couldn’t get on the allotments for weeks.”

The 57-year-old said: “It’s very disappointing and quite frustrating. You lose all of your winter crops, I had kale and sprouts and so on.

“It’s a waste of all of that time and effort that you put into planting the seeds and looking forward to picking them.

“We’ve had our plot for 13 years. I was so cross after the floods I was saying to my wife we weren’t going on this year, yet here we are. It becomes a habit. I’m planting my spring stuff now – onions, potatoes and carrots.”

Take your pick.

EVERY town and parish council – and Oxford City Council for Oxford – is responsible for their own allotments.

Villages and towns across the county have varying numbers of allotment sites.


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