Willoughby Road Allotment Association: The Power of Allotments for Community, Kindness and Learning

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. 

Wheelchair accessible ramp to toilets
Accessible toilet block
Community Orchard

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

Photo credit: WRAA

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. 

photo credit: WRAA

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.

photo credit: Incredible Edible network

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.

Foodbank donations in baked bean tin!

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 – admin@wraa.org.uk

Follow WRAA on social media – 

The amazing Willoughby Road Allotment Association @WRAABoston

More from our blog:

Low Fulney Family Allotments

Family Services Goes Outdoors! “We were working with a group of Young People who were permanently excluded from school, and there was this one girl who told us about her trips with her Grandad to his allotment. They were good memories. So we said to ourselves, could we have an allotment, where more young young people could make happy memories together? And the answer was yes.” Tracy Cuthbert – Early Help Worker Grow & Share That was aContinue reading “Low Fulney Family Allotments”

Gosberton House Academy

At Gosberton House Academy, all children get to grow vegetables from seed, cook every week, and eat the things that they have grown on the site. I know full well that plenty of children get little more experience of growing food than germinating a broad bean in a yoghurt pot!  So I had to go and have a look… I will share with you on the tour that I was taken on by vice principal, Paul Squire. AndContinue reading “Gosberton House Academy”

Can kids keep bees?

They’re not exactly the most usual school pet, requiring considerable knowledge and skills, some specialist equipment, not to mention the careful handling – but the learning opportunities are as bountiful and delectable as the honey! Wyberton Primary Academy near Boston shows us how it’s done, with a little help from Willoughby Road Allotment Association. The School Bee Keepers Year five – Mrs Hodgson’s class – is the school beekeeping class. This allows all the children to have theirContinue reading “Can kids keep bees?”

Low Fulney Family Allotments

Family Services Goes Outdoors!

“We were working with a group of Young People who were permanently excluded from school, and there was this one girl who told us about her trips with her Grandad to his allotment. They were good memories. So we said to ourselves, could we have an allotment, where more young young people could make happy memories together?

And the answer was yes.”

Tracy Cuthbert – Early Help Worker

Grow & Share

That was a decade ago, and the Grow & Share Young People and Family Allotment at Low Fulney is well established and fruitful, despite the last 18 months of pandemic limitations. 

It is a site used and enjoyed by families with children. It is also where Early Help Workers run sessions for young carers – children who find themselves with caring responsibilities for their own parents. These young people benefit from a bit of time away from the home responsibilities.

“It’s a magical space!”

In terms of the Early Help Team’s objectives, the allotment tackles everything – childhood obesity, mental health, social interaction, learning, and so on. 

We know what a big impact social gardening has. The rest of the Early Help team are supportive, too – some of them have allotments or gardens themselves, and they see the value in it.

At times, practice development sessions for staff have been run at the allotment, where social distancing is easier, and staff pick up new ideas too! 

The new community garden with car parking space, in development…

Prior to lockdown, events such as Halloween, and a Santa’s Grotto were held in partnership with the Childrens Centre, along with courses jointly run by Family Learning and a Compost Course run by Anglian Water and Garden Organic.

Transport to the site is difficult for many families, though, and public transport is very limited.

Find out more

Most sessions at the allotment are supported by the Grow and Share team and there’s also a community allotment next door. 

There is an induction because safety is a priority, and a handbook available with hints and tips to help newbies learn the ropes of an allotment site, how to recognise weeds and so forth.

If you are a young carer, or a parent with children in the Boston and South Holland area and you would like to spend some time outside and learn how to grow fruit and veg, please contact the Grow and Share Team GrowAndShare@lincolnshire.gov.uk to find out more. 

#Grow&Share at Low Fulney’s family allotments

Growing Food at Lincoln St Faith’s

The National Food Strategy is the UK’s first comprehensive review of the food system in over 75 years.

It was commissioned by the government and lays out concrete proposals for how our food system needs to be reformed to meet health, nature and climate targets.

Interestingly, it has a lot to say about schools.

Food for Life

The report specifically recommends taking a whole school approach to food. The Food for Life Programme provides such a framework, and is in action in a number of schools across Lincolnshire

Food for Life takes an holistic approach to good food. It makes connections with local food culture and community, and includes the adults’ responsibility for sourcing healthy, local food and fostering a healthy food culture in school.

It also recognises that getting children involved in growing food themselves has a particular propensity for capturing their imagination, and sparking an interest in fresh fruit and vegetables that supermarkets could never ignite!

Over and over again, when I speak to those leading on school-based growing projects, they are fired up by their children’s enthusiasm and engagement.

Washingborough logo

One Lincolnshire school – a Food for Life Gold award winning school – is famous for deeply embedding healthy food in school life. You can listen to their school garden teacher, Emma Keyworth, talking about food in school here. Watch out for more about Washingborough Academy in the Autumn, but in the meantime, I recommend following the school if you use Twitter, which will give you a glimpse of what goes on day to day.

“Schools should be encouraged to adopt a “whole- school approach” to food. This means integrating food into the life of the school: the dining hall should be treated as the hub of the school, where children and teachers eat together; lunch treated as part of the school day; the cooks as important staff members; and food as part of a rounded education.2 The Government should require all schools to work with accreditation schemes – such as Food for Life – to improve school food and education using this whole school approach.”

The National Food Strategy, 2021

St Faith’s Infants

St Faiths Infants School in Lincoln is ahead of the game, having already signed up to the Food for Life scheme. Last week I spoke with a couple of Year 1 teachers, Mrs Smith and Mrs Walton, who have exciting plans for developing the school’s outdoor environment for food growing.

They are developing the science curriculum so that children have the opportunity to grow different plants in different year groups, providing a diversity of crops at any one time. 

But it’s not just for science – they want a playground of food!

A Playground of Food

“During lockdown the children have been outside more than usual,” the teachers explain to me. “And what we’ve found is that he children are enthusiastic – they want to learn about growing food. We put on a gardening club and they’re all going ‘Can I come?’”

So now they want not only to put the raised beds into action, but are looking for planters to go on the playground too, where the children can all get involved in watering, weeding and observing the plants grow.

Mrs Walton and Mrs Smith – who are gardeners themselves – are keen to get more people involved. They have found that teaching assistants, who previously insisted that they knew nothing about gardening, have become interested to learn new skills.

They have seen how it engages the children, and that’s what they want!

The teachers acknowledge that it helps to have people on the leadership team who are doing it themselves, not just telling people what to do. Both of them are Key Stage Leaders, so they are in a good position to influence these developments.

What else does the National Food Strategy have to say about schools?

Free School Meals & HAF

It recommends expanding the eligibility of free school meals and the Healthy Start scheme; continued government funding for HAF (Holiday Activities & Food) for school children; and strengthening government procurement rules so that money is spent on healthier and more sustainable food.

Eat & Learn

TastEd logo

The recommended Eat & Learn initiative for schools includes expanding food sensory education in the early years (though we’ve seen the amazing benefits of the TastEd programme right across the primary school age range), as well as the (re)introduction of Food A-level and food related training supported by bursaries.

OFSTED

If the recommendations are acted upon by the government, we will see school food activities fully funded, and OFSTED putting the same value on Food as it does other areas of the curriculum.

But we can start creating more opportunities for good food in school right away. 

If you are interested in connecting with a network of teachers and educators in Lincolnshire who are involved in growing food and healthy eating in schools, please get in touch. Laura@lincolnshirefoodpartnership.org

What the new #NationalFoodStrategy says about schools, and a #playground of food @StFaithsTweets

HMP North Sea Camp

Farming to re-build lives

The Oswin Project & New futures Network at HMP North Sea Camp

Did you know that prison leavers who get a job after release are up to 9 percentage points less likely to reoffend?

Helping people to secure work after leaving prison is therefore one of the most effective ways to reduce re-offending rates. 

Employers in Lincolnshire have an opportunity to prevent crime in our communities, and enable serving prisoners and prison leavers who made mistakes in the past to transform and rebuild their lives. 

Farms need people

What has this to do with food?

Fewer EU workers and the Covid-19 pandemic have left a gaping hole in the number of agricultural land workers.

HMP North Sea Camp – a men’s open prison on the Lincolnshire coast – provides training and work experience to prisoners, including agricultural, horticultural and other food-related work. 

The Oswin project and New Futures Network seek to connect employers with prisoners and prison leavers who are fully trained and experienced in horticultural work and farming.

ROTL (Released On Temporary License) enables prisoners to go out to work on day release, for a full working week where needed.

The prison governor was quick to assert that this is not an opportunity for farms to exploit cheap labour.

The scheme involves strict procedures, including risk assessments and careful recruitment for the right person to the right job, as well as interviews and openness with the existing workforce.

HMP North Sea Camp open prison

I attended a recent open day at HMP North Sea Camp where we heard officers speaking enthusiastically about the men working on their schemes. 

We heard prisoners tell us about their experience of the training – from birthing lambs, to training in environmental conservation – and their determination to make a fresh start and provide stability for their families. 

One phrase stuck in my mind:

“Prison isn’t broken, society is broken!” 

Lance Harris, National Sector Lead, New Futures Network, elaborated.

“Lots of things are wrong in society – it is so easy for youngsters to get in with “the wrong crowd,” or for any of us, in the wrong circumstances, to make a terrible mistake.” 

“People are often mistaken about prison leavers: what happens here is brilliant!”

How employers can help prevent re-offending

There are three ways that farm employers and other businesses can help:

  • Out-sourcing work to be done within open prisons such as HMP North Sea Camp, for example businesses that want to re-shore work back to Britain, or don’t have sufficient capacity.
  • ROTL – offer work opportunities to fully trained and experienced day release prisoners, who travel from HMP North Sea Camp, with additional support and involvement from Oswin and New Futures Network. 
  • Employing prison leavers in sustainable jobs on release. 

This presents a particular opportunity for Lincolnshire employers in the food and farming sector to contribute powerfully to the future of prison leavers as well as increasing the safety of our communities in the future.

Find out more

New Futures Network is the specialist part of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), which brokers partnerships between businesses and prisons. These partnerships result in work opportunities for serving prisoners and jobs for prison leavers. 

To find out more about employing prisoners and prison leavers, including in food and farming, please visit https://newfuturesnetwork.gov.uk/ or contact: 

If you would like to tell us about your experience of employing a prisoner or ex-offender on your farm or food business – or if you’ve been a prisoner and found a future in food – we’d love to hear from you.

EcoSerenity Project CIC

A Community Farm Project for Better Mental Health

How would you respond, if your day to day work brought you regularly in contact with people at the farthest ebb of their mental health, maybe even on the precipice of suicide?

Andy, in his work at a local landmark, deals regularly with emotionally distressed individuals.  

His response – the creation of EcoSerenity Project CIC – is designed to meet the hard realities that he comes into contact with, in a way that is as kind, creative and down-to-earth as I can imagine. 

EcoSerenity CIC

Last year, Andy set up – in his spare time, and on a voluntary basis – EcoSerenity CIC, which includes Barton Community Farm and woodland. 

Visitors and volunteers are welcome to relax and unwind in the peaceful woodland area, or spend time looking after animals, growing food or socialising with other people in the small cafe. 

The project has come a long way in a year, from a completely overgrown site to a small farm that is clearly taking shape.

So far, there are:

  • four pigs, a flock of chickens and a clutch of bantam chicks;
  • a large vegetable garden
  • a large area recently cleared and soon to become a pond to accommodate ducks with more foraging space for the pigs;
  • a woodland walk, pathed with neat dead-hedges, leading to a pleasant, shady chill-out space;
  • a low-cost cafe stocked through FareShare, complete with ice-cream counter, with adjoining workshop space;
  • a small but smart visitor welcome building. 

A farmer for the day

“We recognised the local need for affordable food, including cake and treat food,” Andy explains to me, but his real vision is for families to become “farmers for the day”.

“People get to see the origins of their food, so often hidden from us.

Parents need to take time away from the usual stresses of family life – here they can spend time together, outdoors, with the animals, learning new skills together.

They get to tend the veg, feed the pigs and collect the eggs.

They’ll have the food parcel at the end of the day, but more importantly, the shared bonding time.”

Andy Douce, founder of EcoSerenity CIC

Caring for the Environment

There is also attention given to environmental aspects – for example, the shop encourages people to use less plastic by selling pop in glass bottles that can be returned. Sweets and cakes are sold in cardboard boxes. 

Plans are also afoot for a refill shop, in collaboration with Slow Circular Earth, where people can bring their own containers to fill with food and cleaning products, further reducing the need for disposable plastics and encouraging people to be more thoughtful and less wasteful of packaging. 

They are also growing Christmas trees, so that – instead of buying a 10 year old tree and throwing it away after a decorated few weeks at Christmas – people can hire their tree, and the project will collect it after Christmas, and return it to the ground within a special container, until next year.

The journey so far

How has so much been achieved in just one year? As is so often the case, there are many things that have contributed to the development of the project: 

The land is leased by a supportive landowner, who just “got” Andy’s vision, and loved the sound of the project.

Invaluable practical advice and an excellent sounding board is available from two local farmers.

There have been generous donations from local businesses, FareShare, and local residents via an online raffle and other fundraising.

There are already 15 regular volunteers who help out.

And it is clear that as the founder, Andy, has personally given a huge amount to the project in terms of time, resources, dedication and imagination.

Everyone is welcome to come to relax and/or get involved, whether that is helping run the cafe and shop, tending the gardens or looking after the animals.

If you would like to offer your support, there are a couple of ways that would really help to drive this project forwards:

  • Volunteers with practical skills, whether that’s business or admin, or electrical, plumbing, or construction
  • Donations – which would, for example, enable them to hire a digger to dig a pond or install fences professionally
  • Keep in touch and share the journey – facebook.com/ecoserenityproject

ecoserenityproject.co.uk

Animal husbandry, sustainability and positive mental health project in Barton on Humber – Check out EcoSerenity Project CIC

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