Hesketh Bank joins the allotment revolution
PUBLISHED: 01:16 05 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:06 20 February 2013
If you thought allotments were all about old men in cloth caps, think again, writes Ruth Eaton<br/>Photography by Kirsty Thompson
Forty years ago running an allotment was the preserve of the poverty-stricken and elderly men trying to escape the wife and seeking the comfort of a wooden shed. Suddenly, its trendy with families adding their names to growing waiting lists of people who want to grow their own.
The West Lancashire community of Hesketh Bank is no exception. They own a site called Poor Marsh and no one seems really sure if it referred to the state of the soil or the finances of the people who used it.
What was certain was that the quarter acre strips were impossible to use without a tractor and that meant few in the village were interested. The parish council took the bold step of giving notice to the small band of occupants and held a public meeting to see how locals wanted their land used.
Working together, they came up with a plan that was sensible and quite innovative. There are now 62 allotments mainly held by families and another section is being used for permaculture, which is all about sustainable agriculture rather than intensive farming.
Allotments society chairman Sean Case said they hoped this part would be used for a variety of activities including community bee-keeping, an orchard, and for smaller scale gardening for people with learning difficulties. They have already created a prototype garden with raised beds for use by wheelchair gardeners and, longer term, they hope to have an education centre.
The hard work and dedication of the men, women and children of Hesketh Bank was recognised when Professor David Bellamy officialled opened the allotments, now just one year old, and spoke in glowing terms of their efforts.
We always knew there would be enthusiasm for this project, said Sean. But the level of community involvement really took us all by surprise. It has brought people together and we now have community events like barbecues and flower and produce shows.
I think the current peak in demand for allotments has a little to do with economics but a lot more to do with people wanting to know where their food comes from and what has gone into it.
People are shying away from processed food and the myth from supermarkets that all apples must be perfect and look exactly the same. And, apart from everything else, its great fun and gets you out into the fresh air.
Ian Cropper, parish clerk for Hesketh-with-Becconsall council, added: Allotments build a real sense of community from young housewives to 85 year olds. Coming to our plots has become much more than just about horticulture, its also a social gathering.
In the Second World War, when rationing left pantries bare, families were encouraged by the government to Dig for Victory and cultivate their own produce where possible, allowing communities to take their part in helping the home front and the war effort. This education in self sufficiency lead to over a million tonnes of vegetables being home grown in 1943.
Although grow your own is no longer a national movement, the rising popularity of being able to increase your familys food supply through cultivation acts as a real indicator of people wanting to get back to their roots.
Chairman of West Lancashire Allotments Federation Ray Fowler said demand for allotments was going hell for leather, we cant keep up. He added: With over 200 people on waiting lists just in the region it seems as if people really want to get back into growing.
Its amazing when you sit down to a home cooked meal and youve grown all the vegetables yourself.
And they dont just grow spuds. Ray Fowler, secretary of Liverpool Road Allotments in Skelmersdale said: The younger generation have got involved too, producing oriental foods such as pak choi and spices.
According to the National Society of Allotments and Leisure Gardeners Limited, a survey conducted in January found waiting lists at an all time high, with 57 people waiting for every 100 plots.