When I turn the key to unlock the shed, then step inside and smell the recently treated timber, I feel a weight lifting from my shoulders and a sense of peace coming over me. This happens each time I arrive at my allotment. After having my name on a waiting list for 7 years, I feel enormously privileged to have it. Waiting lists continue to grow and some people now wait up to 10 years for an allotment in certain parts of Edinburgh where I live. Local councils are now under pressure to find more sites that can be made into allotments to try and meet the ever-growing demand.The pressure for allotments has never been bigger and this phenomenon is a reflection, and has something to tell us about social trends and modern society. Long gone are the days of the stereotype of it being a working class means of feeding a family where older men would gather rounds with tins of Export and a pipe. Allotments are now a very middle class pursuit for people of all ages and backgrounds. People, with a high predominance of women, of all age’s backgrounds now look for the pleasure and fulfilment that living the good life can bring.
When it comes to leisure time, allotments tick a lot of boxes and so demand is set to continue to rise. For myself, as someone who experiences ongoing mental health difficulties, it has helped me enormously. As well as being a relaxing place to be, there is an endless list of tasks to be done that take my mind off whatever worries or concerns I may have at any particular time. For others, it provides relief and escape from their busy and stressful lives.
People seek the peace and tranquillity of the allotment for different reasons. Allotments offer a place to escape from every worry and, in the words of plot holder Colin, ‘I very much enjoy the peace that I experience there. I can take a wee break and watch the birds and butterflies. It gives me a chance to think clearly and get things into perspective.’
Outdoor living is on the increase and allotments provide an ideal place for this. A trip to any household shop in the springtime also has something to tell us about modern trends in people’s leisure time. There is much greater demand and interest in outdoor living. If, like me, you live in a flat surrounded by people, the allotment provides a place to go to escape from distractions of your surroundings but, at the same time, provide a sense of community. As well as the exercise and fresh air, peoplefind a community sense that has been eroded in other areas of society.
Attitudes towards food have changed dramatically over the past two decades. As well as the huge interest and demand for organic food, people are becoming much more aware of where their food comes from. This is demonstrated most weekends when people flock to their local farmers markets to buy locally grown organic produce. There is a continuous stream of television programs and articles in the media raising awareness about the source and quality of our food. Supermarkets are now much more likely to label their fruit and vegetables to say where it has come from because people are much keener to support and buy from local farms and producers.
The desire to grow your own food is also fuelled by much greater awareness about the environment, as is the demand for organic food. People are much more aware of the use of pesticides in modern agriculture. Growing your own food can be tremendously satisfying and is a very effective and fun way of teaching children about where food comes from. Colin says, ‘the satisfaction of enjoying a whole dinner of homegrown food is immense too, and it definitely tastes better! The first summer, I harvested many kilos of red and black currants, gooseberries and raspberries. This was a great incentive to keep at it and soon, I had lots of herbs growing, and garlic and onions along with parsnips and potatoes’.
As well as commercial composting, we are now encouraged to recycle as much food waste as we can by the local council. Food bins are now in most streets around where I live and the council provides each property with a plastic bucket for collecting our recycled food. Composting is now big business and as individuals people want to play their own part in protecting the environment.
Allotments are fantastic way to spend a weekend or summers evening and huge benefits to health and to the environment. Waiting lists and pressure on land is likely to continue to grow as more people discover the benefits and pleasure of having an allotment. For me it is my retreat, the place I go to get away from everything and lose myself for an afternoon. I can’t recommend it highly enough and hope others get the same pleasure and fulfilment out of their plot as I get from mine.
Since I took up my allotment I have been made very welcome in the community there with my fellow plot holders and attend regular social events like BBQs and potluck suppers. There is even a book group run from my local allotment.
I would hate to be without my allotment now because of the health and social benefits it offers me. For me it is a place to be and lose track of time and forget about all my worries of the day whatever they happen to be. I love being there and if I manage to grow some fruit and vegetables for myself it’s a bonus. I’m learning all the time from other plot holders, some of whom have 30 years experience of growing and cultivating over me. I intend to go on learning and enjoying my outdoor space for many years to come.