Brief history of allotments
What is an allotment?
Allotments have been in existence for hundreds of years, with evidence pointing back to Anglo-Saxon times. But the system we recognise today has its roots in the Nineteenth Century, when land was given over to the labouring poor for the provision of food growing. This measure was desperately needed thanks to the rapid industrialisation of the country and the lack of a welfare state. In 1908 the Small Holdings and Allotments Act came into force, placing a duty on local authorities to provide sufficient allotments, according to demand. However it wasn’t until the end of the First World War that land was made available to all, primarily as a way of assisting returning service men (Land Settlement Facilities Act 1919) instead of just the labouring poor. The rights of allotment holders in England and Wales were strengthened through the Allotments Acts of 1922, but the most important change can be found in the Allotments Act of 1925 which established statutory allotments which local authorities could not sell off or covert without Ministerial consent, known as Section 8 Orders. The Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society have published a paper that sums up the situation in Scotland www.sags.org.uk and in Northern Ireland councils can provide allotments but do not have a statutory duty to do so. Further legislation has been listed over the intervening years which have affected allotments, the latest of which is the Localism Act 2011.
Rents and Tenancy Agreements
As allotments are leased from landlords, allotment holders are required to pay rent. This money is used to cover the water rates and general maintenance bills. This rent can be anything from a peppercorn amount through to £100 a year per plot holder, but most are in the region of £25 -£125 each. Despite there being legal statutes relating to allotments, nowhere do they state how much rent should be charged or collected, instead general terminology is used, citing that the rent to should be a ‘reasonable amount’ which the ‘tenant would expect to pay’.
Allotment holders, and in turn the local allotment societies they form, are obliged to sign a tenancy agreement which outlines what is expected of them by the landlord. These agreements cover the rent due, the kind of activities which can take place on the land, the building of sheds, subletting issues, as well as the general behaviour of the plot holders. A Tenancy Agreement dating back to 1846 serving the Parish of Husbands Bosworth states “Every occupier is expected to attend divine service on Sundays; and any occupier who digs potatoes or otherwise works on his land on Sunday shall immediately forfeit the same.” Things have changed a little in the last 150 years, as Sunday’s are now the most popular gardening day of the week.
Waiting lists and the GYO movement
Despite the statutory obligation on local authorities to provide allotments where there is a demand, there are still very few sites being created each year. However the trend in people wanting to grow their own food is on the rise, and currently it is estimated that over 90,000 gardeners want an allotment and are on waiting lists. (This figure does not include the numbers held by Parish or Town Council and so could be much higher.)
Trends show that during times of recession people turn back to the land, wanting to reconnect with something tangible while at the same time experiencing home-grown food, which costs less and is better for us. The Dig for Victory campaign during the 1940s coupled with the grey of the post war years saw a rise in people taking up allotments. At its height there were over 1.5million allotment plots across the UK. The 1970s with its three day week and trade union unrest saw another desire for self-sustainability, immortalised in the BBC show The Good Life. Today, with our economic uncertainly on a global scale, the desire for more space to grow food locally and experience life’s simple pleasures has reignited the call for more allotments. Figures suggest there are approximately 330,000 allotment plots in the UK, but to meet the current demand we need in the region of at least a further 90,000 plots.