The hard work of two Hampshire communal allotment projects
PUBLISHED: 10:50 20 April 2017 | UPDATED: 10:50 20 April 2017
Natalie French speaks to two Hampshire communal allotment projects and learns how their hard work and dedication is helping to grow and nourish more than just fruit and vegetables…
Growing plans and people
In the heart of frenetic Southampton, you’ll find a little oasis of calm. Located on Sandhurst Road, Community Roots Allotment scheme was designed to provide green-therapy and support to those who are marginalised by society.
Established by Southampton Voluntary Services (SVS) and supported by The Ideal Foundation, Community Roots is a volunteer-led project, which uses allotments to teach horticultural skills and, in turn, reduce stress and feelings of isolation, nurture friendships and build communication skills. Project Co-ordinator, Duncan Reade, explains: “The scheme provides supported volunteering, training and work experience to those who have experienced homelessness, mental health, and alcohol or substance misuse.”
“It focuses on nurturing skills, team working and building self-esteem, as well as offering a chance to exercise in the fresh air and socialise. The allotment is a calm, peaceful place to escape the distractions of everyday life.”
Now in its third year, Duncan says that when they took over the project, they wanted to get back to the basics of growing and eating veg. “It’s always been about the process: planting something from seed, watching it grow through nourishment, water and love, I’m a firm believer that plants need love. “It’s a bit of an analogy for some of the clients we work with: if you can grow this plant successfully, you can grow yourself. Because, as humans, we also need love, nourishment, food and warmth.”
Despite having no formal experience, Duncan did grow up in a diabetic household and never ate processed foods: “I was quite fortunate to grow up eating fruit and veg that we’d grown in the garden. So perhaps the green fingers were unknowingly passed on to me. However, it’s been such a huge learning curve, but an amazing journey,” he continues. “The project would not survive without the amazing team of diverse volunteers, from the allotment assistants, mentors and administration assistants; everyone brings a different skill.”
While volunteers help the project to thrive, one person plays a huge role: “I’m very fortunate to have Elizabeth (Liz) Marsh, who has been with me from day one. She is invaluable. I call her my gardening guru! She heads up the cultivation and plans what we’ll grow each season.” Liz discovered the project at one of the drop-ins at Hampshire Voluntary Services. “I really enjoy being the gardening mentor for the Community Roots project, helping our volunteers to grow vegetables and flowers on an inner city allotment,” she says.
“The allotment is a calm and peaceful place where we see birds, foxes and other wildlife. I particularly love it when we harvest fruit and vegetables and share out the produce amongst the volunteers. We often discuss how to cook the produce and share ideas for recipes.”
The project is supported by the Ideal Collection, a local hospitality group, who stepped in when they heard SVS had lost funding for an allotment scheme.
“One restaurant in particular and most local to the project is The White Star Tavern in Oxford Street,” says Duncan. “They have been instrumental in the project’s success, offering support, training within the hospitality business and a skills cookery workshop.”
“The intention is to continue to create a strong link with the programme and help volunteers create a Community Roots branded chutney/relish that they can produce and sell.”
From the Ground Up
Sitting outside amongst a hotch-potch of sheds, coffee in hand, and Goldie the cat purring happily on my lap – I can totally see the appeal of allotment life.
“Our allotment cat has been here for 10-years,” explains project leader Carla Scammell. “His owners used to try to take him home and each time he’d come back! He lives here now and greets me every day at the gate.”
Located on the edge of housing estate in Oakridge, Basingstoke, Carla created ‘From the Ground Up’ after being approached by the council and the Shaw Trust to see if she could help transform part of a once-abandoned allotment. “I set up the project for the community to learn new skills, appreciate the outdoors, and socialise,” explains Carla.
After tackling hip-high weeds, Carla created a main growing area which runs like a typical, regimented, allotment. There are also raised boxes for groups or individuals to grow their own produce. “It’s less overwhelming that way,” says Carla, “I see it in bite-sized chunks – you’d drive yourself mad otherwise!”
Volunteer Katrina Pettit has felt the benefit: “I come down at least once a week. I have one of the raised boxes and have learned a lot from Carla. We’ve become good friends.”
The plot also produces an array of fruit, with espalier pears, strawberries and rhubarb. “We also have fruit cage where we grow blackcurrants, redcurrants, white-currants, raspberries – all different types of gooseberries, blueberries and cranberries,” says Carla. “We’ll even be growing purple carrots and snozzcumbers this year!” says Katrina, “you know, from the BFG! They are Albanian foot-long cucumbers.”
“You always grow a huge amount, there is always too much for one person, so there’s plenty to go around,” says Carla. Katrina agrees: “I made some relish with the glut of courgettes and my mum’s on her third jar!”
Carla makes her own natural fertilisers and tries not to buy anything, using sites like ‘Freegle’ to find materials for the plot. Future plans include turning an unloved area at the top of the allotment into a wheelchair-friendly orchard: “We’re going to grow creeping plants, such as thyme and mint, so when people are wheeling their wheelchairs over it, they’ll be able to smell the herbs,” says Carla.
“Tesco donated a lovely shed which we use for teas and coffees. It’s a nice space with fairy lights and my plan is to get long shelves either side, which can fold up and boxes for storage, that can double up as seats – so on rainy days everyone can come in and keep cosy.”
Families are also welcome: “We have a children’s play area, which they love! We made a water-wall from plastic bottles and everyone usually ends up getting drenched. They also love getting involved in garlic planting or just digging big holes in the mud.”
From the Ground up is open to anyone from 10am – 2pm weekdays. They also have open days throughout the year – the next one is a spud planting day on April 16.