Posted by:12 October, 2011
The rise of the ‘grow your own’ culture and the boom in celebrity chefs encouraging people to take a more green-fingered approach to life has led to an explosion of interest in local allotments. South Staffordshire Council’s deputy leader, Cllr David Billson, pictured, explains why local allotments could be at the heart of the Big Society.
Long gone are the days of the Arthur Fowler style-allotment - gardening has become chic and fashionable - and there’s more demand than ever before.
We’re a rural district council. We don’t have any towns - we’re made up of 27 local villages; each with their own unique identity, and each with their own challenges and needs.
We’ve always been a ‘green’ district. Around 80% of the district is in the Green Belt and farming is a big player in the local economy. So why, more so than ever, are people scrambling to sign up for their own allotments?
I don’t know whether it’s the economic situation or whether it’s TV chefs like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall feeding people’s interest, but more and more people are looking to grow their own produce.
Allotments are scattered around the district already but when I’m out and about talking with local people, more and more of them are telling me that they want to get a local allotment. There’s been an explosion in demand over the past few years, which is why we’re stepping up our plans to try and develop the right spaces in the right places to meet local demand.
They key to this for us is finding out exactly where the demand is. Anecdotally we know that there are hefty waiting lists in some villages - but not so much in others.
The cure; getting the evidence and getting the data so we can make sure that supply meets demand.
Most allotments in South Staffordshire are operated by local parish councils. Unfortunately, the district council isn’t in a position to open a host of allotment sites. We simply don’t have the funds to make it sustainable. But what we can do is become a facilitating community leader. That’s why we’re working with parish councils, community groups and local businesses to try and find and setup new sites to help local people get the allotment sites the community wants. If anything, we’re taking a strategic approach to allotments - we’re signposting the Big Society.
Of course allotments aren’t just about growing vegetables. The benefits go way beyond a healthy crop. Exercise, healthier lifestyles, community spirit - it’s a win-win.
This is why we’re launching our allotment strategy; to meet demand for allotment spaces over the next ten years. We know there may be the odd windfall site which comes our way, which is great, but we figure that the best way to meet demand is to plan ahead - through the Local Development Framework. As part of our Core Strategy, this could create the basis for allocating new sites and it will help us make sure that they’re created in areas with the greatest concentration of people.
If we can identify sites - we can support local people in creating their own allotments, their own community gardens, their own orchards. But only by finding out exactly what people want, and where, can we get this process right.
It’s in its early stages - but we’re already getting lots of requests from local people - they’re even tweeting us about it!
@south_staffs can I have one please? Would love one, there’s that bit of land behind RWB pub in Featherstone which would be ideal.
But this is what we want - people telling us what they want, where they want it and when they want it. It’s not for the council to run these sites - it’s for us to support and empower local communities to take ownership and pride in something which will belong to them, for them.
We’ll let you know how we get on.
Cllr David Billson (Con) deputy leader of South Staffordshire Council
Anyone wanting to find out more about South Staffordshire’s allotment programme can contact Jamie Angus, communications officer, South Staffordshire Council, Tel: 01902 696502 Email: J.Angus@sstaffs.gov.uk
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