Allotments are often sites of surprising diversity, community, wellbeing and intergenerational connection.
But the people of Willoughby Road Allotment Association have taken this to a whole new level, and show the incredible capacity for allotment spaces to bring diverse communities together, and to propagate kindness!
I spoke with Paul Collingwood and Gerry Ladds, who are instrumental in running the Allotment Association, and have dedicated their retirement to the health and cohesion of their community, through growing and sharing food on the allotments.
More than just allotments
As the local council became increasingly stretched due to the political and economic climate, and the once “peppercorn” allotment rent kept going up, the allotment holders came under pressure to take on responsibility for managing the Willoughby Road allotment site in Boston.
Eight years ago, they decided to take charge of their own destiny, by forming an allotment association.
The Willoughby Road Allotment Association (WRAA) continues to have a positive relationship with the local council, pays them £500/year in rent, and runs new ideas past them. But it is now run by a committee of plot holders, who came together with a vision to do much more than just sustain the allotments for themselves.
They are on a mission to create a community, where food brings people together; that benefits their health; that facilitates social interaction and cohesion; that integrates art, nature and friendship; that makes everyone feel welcome; that helps restore our connection with where our food comes from; and that passes on knowledge, skills and a love of growing to future generations.
Think that’s a bit ambitious? You’d better read on….
A place for community
Paul’s community values were forged in his work life, in the electrical industry, where he found exceptional strength of community, high levels of trust and respect, and willingness of workers to help each other.
When the recession forced him into retirement, he knew on a deep level the importance of community.
Paul and Gerry made it their mission to include more families and younger people at WRAA, and create a welcoming space for everyone.
Not everyone was on board at first – some of the older allotment holders at first just wanted to be allowed to get on with it in peace!
The group had to explain their hopes and intentions, and persuade some of the plot holders of the value of change, and the importance of handing on skills and opportunities to the next generation.
Once people understood, they were won over!
“At the end of the day, we can’t do anything without the support of the plot holders. We need everyone on board.”
A place for health
The Willoughby Road Allotments site has a public footpath running through the middle, running between Willoughby Road and Pilgrim hospital.
Unsurprisingly, it is a route well trod by doctors and medical staff, as well as patients.
The health benefits of allotmenting, mental and physical, are not lost on those who pass through!
WRAA has done fund-raising to support the stroke ward, and are beginning to form a working partnership with the NHS.
They have recently created an area known as Nature’s Happy Space (NHS!) – a designated peaceful corner for NHS staff and patients to come and relax and take a little time to breathe deeply.
Where Boston is infamous for its high rates of obesity, the allotments provide a connection with fresh, healthy food as well as gentle exercise.
Plans are also afoot to offer social prescribing on the site – so doctors can recommend social and therapeutic outdoor activities to patients, to support and complement and sometimes even avoid medical intervention.
It is not so much a path to the hospital, as it is a path away from hospital!
A place for everyone
Boston’s population is diverse and multicultural, but sometimes tensions arise. WRAA was keen to encourage greater diversity on the site, and help bring about greater social cohesion.
Meeting over allotments is a particular opportunity to get to know people who we might not otherwise interact with.
“People arrive as strangers, and go away talking to each other, helping each other, and swapping plants!”Paul Collingwood
As well as dismantling walls of racial prejudice, the allotments also have a role in restorative justice: there is an area that is looked after by the Youth Justice team, where young people can do community service.
A place for learning
The WRAA does a lot to work with local scout groups, schools (including Wyberton, the bee-keeping school!) and nurseries, who are keen to visit and learn about food growing, and the allotment holders often support local school growing projects with plug plants as well as growing advice and inspiration.
This support and connection with children, and the passing on of skills from one generation to the next, is invaluable – I really don’t think this can be understated!
It can make all the difference to the long term success of a school growing project: children take home what they have learnt, and the influence on children’s interests and taste experience goes beyond what we parents can ever do at home!
Local chefs also connect with WRAA, and this link helps them discover how super-fresh local herbs and veg can make a difference to the meals they create, and helps them to make a connection between the food they serve and the land we live on!
A place for kindness
During the pandemic, WRAA played a part in supporting foodbanks in Boston and Paul and Gerry were moved by the immensity of the response by local people.
People just wanted to help – and the donations, cash, tinned food and allotment produce mounted up and up. Everyone who could wanted to give something back to their community.
A local farmer donates his surplus plants – Paul shows me a string of plug plants designed to go quickly and neatly into the ground behind a tractor.
Recently, a couple who witnessed the work going on at WRAA were moved to donate a costly porous path cover, to make the footpath through the site smoother and more accessible to wheelchairs and older adults in all weathers.
One elderly allotment holder deliberately drilled holes in his fence at child-height, so youngsters walking through can peep through into…
But in a way this should come as no surprise: kindness begets kindness!
Find out more:
Visit WRAA – The path through the allotments is open 9am-5pm Monday-Friday.
Open Day – Sunday August 22nd – 10:30am-4:00pm – £4 admission. Wheelchair accessible. Refreshments, tombola, etc
Take a leaf from the WRAA book – Get on your local allotment waiting list, or start making magic at your allotment site, and share this with anyone else who might be inspired to action!
Get in touch with WRAA to find out how you can get involved, offer support or donate resources or money to projects and activities – firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow WRAA on social media –
The amazing Willoughby Road Allotment Association @WRAABostonTweet
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