THE BLOG

How Your Neighbourhood Can Have Its Own Community Allotment

14/08/2015 17:38 BST | Updated 14/08/2016 10:59 BST

Allotments are wonderful things, aren't they? They mean that even if you live in a big city you can get outside and feel the sun (or rain) on your back as you nurture fresh, healthy food for your dinner table.

But they're so much more than just a place to grow a bit of salad; they're often the cornerstone of a neighbourhood, especially if they're owned and run by the local community.

Allotment sites all over the country are vulnerable to pressures from development and, increasingly, communities are stepping up to save their imperilled patches from becoming the latest Barratt housing estate.

Cash-strapped local authorities sometimes feel like they have no choice but sell off much-loved and well-used allotments and sometimes it may feel like golden opportunities to transform barren wasteland into green oases are being overlooked.

But why leave it up to someone else to save or start an allotment? There's a whole range of things ordinary people can do to rescue their allotments or to start their own and, as this is National Allotments' Week, I'll tell you how.

Just because a piece of land isn't an allotment at the moment doesn't mean it can't be. If there's disused land in your neighbourhood it could make a perfect place for you and your neighbours to grow your own. If it's owned by the council and they have no plans for it you could get them to hand the management, or even the ownership, of it over to the community in a community asset transfer.

There's also legislation which exists under the Localism Act which can compel local councils and some other public bodies to release unused and underused land. As land is held on the behalf of the taxpayer, councils have a duty to use it effectively and communities can challenge the landowner using the Right to Reclaim Land if they don't think that's happening.

You can still live off the fat of the land even if it seems like there's no room for an allotment. More than 100 community groups across the country grow fruit and veg on spare scraps of land as part of the Incredible Edible network. They grow radishes on roundabouts, strawberries in supermarket carparks and tomatoes on towpaths, providing fresh produce for the community and brightening up their neighbourhoods in the process.

If your neighbourhood already has an allotment, its future may be uncertain as local authorities are under pressure to provide suitable land for house building. We all acknowledge the need for more housing but it doesn't have to be at the expense of our precious allotments. If you're concerned allotment spaces could be earmarked for development, get your community together to draft a neighbourhood plan to influence development where you live.

The Localism Act also contains measures which can be used to protect precious allotments from development. Registering your local allotment as an asset of community value with your council means that if the land ever is put up for sale in the next five years, the process will be paused for six months, giving the community to gather funds to buy it. You and your neighbours could club together to raise Community Shares to buy the land and bring the allotments into community ownership.

Community allotments and gardens are not just a pie-in-the-sky dream, they're a reality in neighbourhoods up and down the country as demonstrated by Locality's own members. Grade II listed St Ann's in Nottingham is the largest and oldest area of detached Victorian gardens in the world and has 75 acres of allotments, plus a community orchard. Also in Nottingham, right in its busy centre, Arkwright Meadows has mini allotments for people to grow their own veg, organic food for sale, and an outdoor tandoor oven for baking bread. Saffron Acres in Leicester gives volunteers and local people the chance to get their hands dirty growing fruit and veg and learn about sustainable living.

Community allotments bring people together and their benefits extend far beyond their boundaries. They aren't just a green haven for pensioners to potter in, they promote very real health benefits - though the exercise you get, the fresh food you eat and by topping up your vitamin D levels in the sunshine - and the sense of community that can only be achieved by growing and sharing your own food.