Somerton Allotments AssociationTheir story: Somerton Allotments Association was formed in 2010 to seek a site for allotment gardens in the town in South Somerset. While they were supportive of the project in principle, Somerton Town Council did not respond to the demand for allotments in a timely manner. They had provided five small ‘kitchen gardens’ on a small plot of ground at the rear of the cemetery in the town. That small number of plots was inadequate to meet the demand for allotments in Somerton and all enquiries for plots were added to a waiting list which by 2007 had grown to over 40. Some of the would-be allotment gardeners had been on the waiting list for more than thirteen years.
Their journey: In April 2007 a group of those on the waiting list petitioned Somerton Town Council to provide allotment gardens in response the clear demand. The council responded by seeking sites which they considered to be suitable but for a number of reasons they were not secured for allotment gardens.
Ultimately, an allotments association was formed to take more positive action and to search for suitable sites which the town council could either buy or lease on behalf of the association. The frustrating delay led the association to seize the initiative and to sign a lease agreement on two acres of land with a local landowner. A seven year lease was signed in November 2010 with an option to extend for a further period subject to agreement on both sides.
How they did it: The allotments association wrote to all landowners and farmers in and around Somerton in order to seek land suitable for cultivation. From a total of twenty eight enquiries, only one positive response was received and negotiations were set up to obtain two acres of land on terms acceptable to landowner and town council.
Publicity and support for the allotments project in Somerton was received from local press including ‘The Western Gazette’ and ‘Fosse Way’ in addition to articles in Somerton’s ‘Viaduct’ magazine. The latter forum was used to publicise the search for land and to notify local residents of the activities of a growing band of would-be allotmenteers.
Support was also received from Somerset Community Food in the early days of the project although at that time it was limited to encouragement of the plan to achieve allotments in Somerton.
Finance & Support: There was no financial support for the project before Somerton Allotments Association was formed. When a site had been identified and a lease had been signed, an application for grant funding was made to ‘Awards For All’ (part of the Lottery Fund). A grant of almost £10000 was subsequently obtained for infrastructure works associated with enclosing and setting up the site.
The committee of seven members of the allotments association managed the business of setting up and running the site during its first year of operation and this continues to be carried out independently of the town council. There is no formal input from the town council although they have awarded a grant of £250 towards the provision of a communal shed on the site.
Our site has over forty allotment gardeners who cultivate an equivalent of fifty five half plots (a half plot measures 10m by 12m) and annual rent is £25 per half plot. This rent has been maintained for the second season.
Achievements: "Our allotment site has been in operation for over a year and we have enjoyed one full growing season. We have successfully enclosed our two acre site with a substantial fence and installed a water supply to three troughs. (Provision of a water supply is currently included within the annual rent)," says Keith Woollacott from the Association.
"We have learned a great deal about the whole process of procuring land for allotments as well as the business of preparing lease and rental agreements associated with the management of allotments. We have also learned a lot about human nature when it comes to interaction between the management committee and allotment holders."
Plans for the future:
- Continued management of our site and to ensure that all plots are cultivated.
- All levels of enthusiasm and expertise are catered for and those with less knowledge and skills will be encouraged.
- A group of allotment holders have recently benefited from training on a ‘Get Set Grow’ course offered by Somerset Community Food.
- Future support may be required from outside organisations particularly if circumstances prevent renewal of the lease agreement on the existing allotments site. An alternative site may need to be sought before the end of the current lease in 2017.
How to get involved: Our allotment holders have the opportunity to take an active role in running the site and the association by joining the management committee at the annual general meeting. There was no shortage of volunteers to join the committee at its most recent meeting.
Top Tips for Others:
1. Identify the demand for allotments and mobilise those willing to work for the formation of an allotments association.
2 Work with the town or parish council if they are willing to cooperate.
3 Write to all known landowners seeking their support and willingness to work with the council or allotments association for the benefit of the community.
"We put our names on the waiting list with Somerton Town Council for an allotment shortly after moving to the town in 1997 so it was very satisfying to finally get a plot in 2010.
Since taking over our allotment we have got a lot of enjoyment from it, either at home doing the thinking and planning or on site doing the digging and planting. We have always grown as much fruit and vegetables as we could at home but having the allotment allows us to be far more self sufficient. Knowing what has (or has not) been done to the produce we eat is very important to us, as is the number of food miles involved.
We have always grown organically and, whilst acknowledging what is already in the soil, intend to continue down this path; it is encouraging to see the number of “allotmenteers” who also intend to do the same. Being part of an association also means having the opportunity to exchange ideas and tips – what varieties are being grown, successes and failures, sharing equipment etc."
- Alison and Keith Woollacott