In defence of allotments

by Ian Tattum

My father worked an allotment for a number of years.  So did many of the other working class men in my neighbourhood when I was growing up.  I didn’t often get the chance to help, as my father enjoyed it not just as a refuge from the noise and grime of the factory but also as an escape from the boisterousness and clamour of his two boys!  The vegetables he brought home were an important supplement to our weekly diet, even if we were not quite as keen as our mum when it came to eating them.

Times have changed, and allotment plots are increasingly becoming an endangered species, as the petition below explains.  Allotments were originally an attempt to compensate rural workers for the loss of their land to enclosure.  The Revd John Stevens Henslow, who was the mentor of Charles Darwin, was a typical activist about the matter when Rector of Hitcham in Suffolk in the middle of the nineteenth century, and by last century the movement had spread to towns and cities.  The Allotments Act of 1925 made it a right to have a plot, making it incumbent on all councils to provide them and stipulating that none could be disposed of without ministerial consent.  But since then, the tide has rapidly turned as many have been gobbled up by development.  Julian Hoffman, in his brilliant book, Irreplaceable, reveals that between 2007 and 2014 there were 198 applications to close allotment sites and only four were turned down by the Secretary of State.

Allotments are precious places where people from all walks of life get to work side by side, healthy food is grown and biodiversity abounds.  It is therefore disheartening to hear that one of our local allotments is under threat.  The ones in Granville Road have been there for over a century, and the owner of the land has recently applied to close them so he can redevelop the area for housing.  Bearing in mind the objectives of the 1925 Allotments Act, it is shocking to realise that there are currently only 450 plots in Council care in Wandsworth – a borough with close to 300,000 residents.

I urge you to sign the petition linked here and to read Julian’s book, which is a beautiful call to protect nature in all the places human encroachment threatens to destroy it – from mountain, to jungle, to the allotment and our humble back gardens.

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