Allotment gardening provides the opportunity for a year-round healthy lifestyle. Allotments help to address issues that directly affect people such as food provenance and food security, sustainability, and healthy living and eating, whilst at the same time contributing positively to the environment and biodiversity. This toolkit aims to provide support to Parish Councils and others overseeing allotments in South Cambridgeshire who want to improve their allotments to be the best they can be. If you are looking to get an allotment of your own for personal use, please see a list of allotments (that we know of) across South Cambridgeshire.
If you are aware of one not on here, please let us know and we will amend our records.
The first step to hosting a successful allotment is to ensure good governance with an active committee. Whether your allotments are managed by the Parish Council, a local trust, or a community group, providing real leadership can be a first step to realising a number of other goals. Having an active committee can assist with the group purchase of essentials, such as farmyard manure, soil conditioner, or the maintenance of gates and fences. It also allows the allotments to consider more desirable features to be used by all, such as toilets and a mains water supply.
Roles of an allotment committee could include:
- Informing plot holders of good allotment practice. For example, not washing tools in the water butt and making sure they know about the site rules.
- Engaging with plot holders to ensure the governance represents all those using the space.
- Identifying pests and diseases and advising on suitable remedies.
- Nominating a point of contact so that plot holders know who to contact if a problem arises.
- Ensuring that plots are being used to their maximum potential so minimal space is left to waste.
- Coordinating any building work that may be required.
- Deciding on an annual allotment fee and ensuring the collection of this.
- Providing insurance for the allotments.
- Offering group buying to plot holders to keep down the cost of essentials.
Cambridge Council for Voluntary Services help provide advice and support on setting up a committee, including ensuring all the current policies are in place. They can be contacted by emailing email@example.com.
Water can often be the difference between success and failure when taking care of an allotment, but it is a precious resource and can be a significant cost for allotment authorities. Cambridgeshire is the driest part of the country and long spells without rain will become the norm in years to come due to climate change.
On sites with a mains water supply, it should be used in a sensible and considerate manner by all. Where possible, every gardener should have water butts to harvest any rain that does fall. Bringing in your own supplies of water is time-consuming, tedious, and needs the right kind of vehicle with large containers.
Having water readily available from multiple outlets on the site will lead to a better uptake of the available plots and encourage a more diverse group of allotment-holders. It can be challenging and expensive to lay on mains water, especially if the allotment is remote from the nearest buildings. Deciding on this is the first step to better allotments and without it, other improvements listed in this toolkit are less worthwhile.
Reducing water usage is also essential, both to bring down water costs, but also due to the environmental impact of using too much water. You could reduce water usage on an allotment by:
- Digging in or mulch with plenty of organic matter to all plots; this will help to retain moisture in the soil.
- Applying mulches when the soil is warm and moist, this will reduce water loss due to evaporation.
- Weeding regularly as weeds compete for moisture and nutrients in the soil.
- Growing crops that suit your local conditions.
- Harvesting water from greenhouses and poly-tunnels.
- Watering crops in the evening or very early morning.
- Ensuring crops are watered appropriately. Plants need different amounts of water at varying stages of growth and too much water can affect yield and taste.
Newcomers to growing can often be discouraged by preparing their land and sowing their seeds, only to find that pests eat the crops before they can. Rabbits are one of the biggest threats to allotment growing and a suitable fence is essential to keep them out. Rabbit fencing is required to be around 1 meter in height and dug into the soil to a depth of 15-20cm to stop rabbits form burrowing underneath it. Deer can also pose a threat; however, a larger fence will be required to keep them out.
Having an active committee can help stop the spread of pests as quicker action will be possible. Additionally, the committee can organise for the entire site to be fenced off and gated, rather than individual plots, saving plot holders time and money.
The key to a successful allotment is it being embedded in its community. This could include saving a plot for a local school to have educational lessons on growing food, or holding community events to raise money for the allotments. If there is any excess food produce from the allotment, donations could be provided to a local foodbank. See a list of Foodbanks in South Cambridgeshire, they can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange donations.
Being embedded in the community also requires as much of the community to be able to access the allotments as possible. The provision of toilets and nappy changing facilities can encourage families with children to become allotment holders, and having an accessible car park and emergency vehicle access ensures that everyone is able to access the allotment.
Funding is available through South Cambridgeshire District Council, and other organisations, to help provide the improvement works outlined in this toolkit.
Funding avenues include:
- South Cambridgeshire GrantGrabber
- South Cambridgeshire Community Chest Grants
- South Cambridgeshire Grants for Biodiversity Projects
- CCVS - how to find funding
- Support Cambridgeshire - find-funding
- The National Lottery Community Fund
- Cambridge Water – PEBBLE fund
- Cambridge University Raising and Giving (RAG)
Case study – Swavesey Allotments
The idea for an allotment site in Swavesey started with a working group including residents and members from the Parish Council to build on a site already owned by an allotment charity and leased to the Parish Council. The allotment took a year to establish and was fully up and running by 2012.
The allotment site comprises of 61 plots, mostly 125 sq. metres (22m X 5.7m) in area, with some half-size and members are permitted to have sheds on their plot. Plot holders consist of individuals, couples, and families with members coming from all backgrounds and of all ages.
“Everyone has found that large quantities of high-quality vegetable, fruit and flower crops can be grown successfully with just a modicum of hard graft. The main thing is that all plot holders find that having an allotment plot and growing your own food is not only physically and mentally invigorating but also lots of fun!” – Swavesey Allotment Association Chair.
Originally the site was on a 10 year lease, now renewed to a 20 year lease. The total set up cost was £13,337 with grant funding for this being received from Awards for All (Lottery), Swavesey Parish Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cambridge Press Relief and Cambridge Water. Later further grants were received from Awards for All and Cambridge University RAG for additional items.
What makes Swavesey Allotments stand out?
Swavesey has maintained the best practice of keeping rabbits and deer out of the site, with rabbit and deer fencing around the perimeter. In addition, the allotment is designed to have pathways between plots, meaning there is no shared boundary line on a plot which reduces problems with overhanging vegetation. It also enables tractors to get through, allows emergency vehicle access, and keeps the site social. A car park, large enough for the site is also provided.
For water supply, Swavesey uses mains water, with the permission of the water supplier and a local farmer assisting with polytunnels throughout the site. They also use ‘dipping tanks’ for watering cans, using galvanised sheep/cattle troughs fitted with ball valve fillers as opposed to taps as they may be left on. There are no hoses allowed and there are 8 water tanks, plumbed into the mains system, providing easy access to water for the use of the allotment members. There is also a waterless toilet on site, and cycle racks have been installed to encourage plot-holders to leave their car at home. The on-site ‘Waterless Toilet’ is particularly helpful for children and the elderly; this was funded by National Lottery Funding and built in 2019, several years after the 2012 opening of the site.
Swavesey have set up a Plot Holders’ Allotment Association to manage the site and ensure good governance. This helps to build the community, foster volunteer help and helps with fundraising. It also helps with the enforcement of rules right from the start, stops problems growing, and ensures all plot holders are treated equally. Swavesey Allotment Association sets a sufficient level of annual rent to allow the allotments to be inclusive to all, and there are no additional costs for water, muck, or compost. Building community links has led to local horse owners and farmers donating manure, and by building relationships with local tree surgeons, they have use of wood chippings for plot pathways.