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Tilehurst Allotments - Chapel Hill Site - A Lament

Here are some photos of what we are losing

Wanted: A new home for - 12 fruit trees, 10 blackberry bushes, 45 rows of strawberries, 7 sheds, lots and lots of seasonal produce including some whopping pumpkins and an enormous Jerusalem artichoke, 1 small plastic wheelbarrow (our youngest digger is 19 months), and a bottle of stout….

For warding off the slugs. Of course.

It is with great sadness that in six weeks’ we shall be hanging up our rakes, winding up the hose pipes, and negotiating tool access with the unfathomably large spiders in our shed for the very last time. This is because in July last year we allotmenteers at Chapel Hill, Tilehurst were served with a notice to quit our plots following the decision of our landlords (The Tilehurst Poor’s Land Charity) to sell the land on for . This move has since been fought by ourselves, countless local residents and Councillors of the Reading Borough, but as yet to no avail. Try as we might not to let it get us down, this year’s growing efforts have been undertaken with a sense of despondency, and to some degree apathy, as we know any extra effort made now will be in vain.

And what a shame.

Indeed, we find ourselves lost as a small fish in the sea of some pretty big issues which both work against and in our favour of keeping our little oasis. On the nay side is the Government’s drive to tackle the housing crisis by setting a building target to keep pace with population growth and offer an opportunity to secure a place on the property ladder . Councils are therefore under increasing pressure to find new land for housing that is both viable and sustainable, whilst also protecting the greenbelt, and taking into account other designations such as AONB. Our little allotment in this sense is an unavoidable concession to an overwhelming dilemma, but one which works in the favour of the Tilehurst Poor’s Land Charity. However it has also long been said that ‘look after the smaller things, and the bigger things will take care of themselves’. Various have proven the health benefits of amenity space, particularly allotments, as they provide an opportunity for exercise, healthy eating, promote a sense of wellbeing and have an enormous positive impact on mental health. In a nation where health services are increasingly under pressure, where children believe (and perhaps more worryingly, fish fingers are made of chicken…), and where it is estimated that perhaps the argument to keep our little allotment isn’t so trivial after all.

And then there is our community. Many of my fellow allotmenteers have been tending their plots for decades (notably the site manager Mike Geater who has been digging away since 1991 and Peter Edwards who planted his first carrot in 1986). Many firm friendships have been cultivated amongst us all, and we support each other on everything from propagating, nurturing and harvesting to what we shall do with our Sunday evening when the latest series of ‘Downton’ has finished. It is also lovely, when getting stuck in with one’s hoeing, that so many passers-by will stop us and ask us questions as to which crops are coming into season, what has been a success or a failure, and overall how much pleasure walking past the site gives them (as we are located on a busy thoroughfare).

Extending the pleasure of our allotment has also translated into offering a local nursery school the opportunity to get stuck in, dig up some produce, and take it back to their kitchen to talk about, prepare and taste the food they have seen growing. On a personal level, it has been a wonderful second home for myself and my daughter, whose first visit at 2 weeks has encouraged a love of the outdoors (and getting muddy!), and she likes nothing better than picking whatever is ripe on our plot for her morning snack.

So be it for the big reasons or small, our allotments have transpired into exactly that – ‘a lot meant’. Our fellow diggers have described how they will be losing an old friend, a trusted ally who has been there for them when times were tough and the chips were down. We do understand that the pressures of development will continue to march on, but we feel that someone somewhere has lost sight of the broader picture. Look after the little things, the little spaces, the little green lungs of our neighbourhoods, the health and wellbeing of our communities, and the bigger things will look after themselves. Indeed, you get out what you put in.

If only we still had the opportunity.

Get Reading article on proposed Development at Chapel Hill allotments
Telegraph article regarding the need for house building to meet demand
Telegraph article regarding the Boomerang Generation
Global Urban Research Unit working paper on ‘The social, health and wellbeing benefits of allotments: five societies in Newcastle’
Telegraph article: Allotments really are good for your health
BBC News: ‘Cheese is from plants’- study reveals child confusion
NHS Report: ‘Report warns of a looming UK obesity crisis’