I’ve had a few emails over the last couple of months on the lines of “I’ve got some land and thought about making it into allotments to rent out. What do I do?” The reasons behind the offer have ranged from the altruistic, wanting to help, to the pure profit motive including a property developer looking to get some income from his land until the market picks up. At that point I assume he kicks the allotment holders off and builds some profitable little boxes houses to sell.
This set me to thinking about allotments in general and I’ve got a few thoughts on the subject, as you might imagine.
Looking at the history of allotments, especially at the start of the 20th century, they were to enable the working class to have a place to grow food. Without a social security net as we have today, this was difference between well fed and half starved. Means tested benefits only kicked in for the absolutely destitute and they were deliberately set at levels to ensure people would take any job rather than try to live off them.
Following the blip of the second world war and it’s dig for victory campaign we’ve seen huge changes in our society and the attitude to allotments and growing your own. It’s no longer a matter of survival. Social security is hardly luxury living but nobody is actually starving. In recent years the allotment holder is as likely if not more likely to be a well-off mother as a retired chap or worker trying to supplement the family income.
In fact I would go so far as to suggest hardly anyone now needs an allotment as those manual workers in the 1920s despite the credit crunch. Allotments and home growing are now a popular hobby and certainly provide high quality clean (residue free) food but they’re not vital to survival.
From Self-Sufficiency to Armani
Looking back to the mid and late 1970s, we had a massive upsurge in interest in self-sufficiency. The Good Life was not just a brilliant comedy program, it was an inspirational call to action for many.
Then along came the 1980s. Maggie was sweeping in a new approach and soon ‘Greed is Good’ became the ethos of a generation who aspired to Ferraris and Armani suits rather than a few acres with a house cow.
Back to the Good Life
Now we’re back in the mid 70s again, the Good Life is running again on the telly and the only reason I’m not back in flared jeans is they’ve shrunk in cupboard. Whether the disaster of our financial system will restore a greed is good culture (the bankers are certainly back to obscene bonuses again) or whether this is a permanent change in our general attitude only time will tell.
So from the point of view of those providing allotments, do they really want to invest in the provision of plots that may be standing empty in five years? Allocating the space and setting up allotments is no small undertaking and certainly not something short-term.
For the plot holder the allotment is, or should be, a long term commitment. It can take 5 years to get the soil in good heart. Imagine though spending 5 years to get a plot just as you want and then being evicted as the owner wants to build houses on there. Even if they offer another plot you’re back at square one.
So does the private sector have a role in allotments? Most allotments are owned publicly either by a council or as a charitable trust. Private sites owned by profit making companies or individuals will inevitably follow the money and seek to change use at the first sniff of planning permission and an improvement in the housing market.
So my advice to the altruistic is to give the land to a trust, covenanted to ensure they remain allotments in perpetuity. For those looking for a quick buck, allotments won’t make you a fortune and are intrinsically unfair to those who put the work in to develop a plot.