Covid-19, our allotment – and more

Although this article was written with the intention of sending it to the NAS magazine it was decided instead to place on the Website. We hope you find it interesting

Introduction

Our allotment – Aldershot and District Allotment Association Ltd – has 100 full plots, a shop, meeting room, piped water and a thriving ‘Fun Raisers’ club which raises money for local charities by providing teas, coffee, cakes every Sunday morning and also from events held throughout the year. It is a private allotment site, some 6 acres owned by the Association and managed by a small team of volunteers. The centenary of its inception was celebrated in 2017. More details may be found on this Website.

The Committee meet once a month to discuss matters arising on the site, communication with plot holders etc. This is usually held in the meeting room on site during the summer months but in the winter months it is held at a member’s house. The last one of these was at the beginning of March when the AGM, which was to be held on March 16th, was discussed. Covid-19 was beginning to become widespread throughout Europe and it was decided to postpone the AGM to a future date. At that time the only advice was to wash your hands but the Fun Raisers decided it was too risky to continue with the teas served from the shop and so these were discontinued from the 8th March and the shop closed.  All the other events which had been planned, The Easter Event, The Open Day, Plant Sale, October Soup Kitchen and Christmas event were put on hold.

The big shock to the Association was the sudden death in early April to Covid19 of Frank Rust, a well known and respected local politician and Mayor Elect for Rushmoor for 2020. As Membership Secretary he was a key member of the Committee and was known by the majority of the membership. He revelled in this post as he was so enthusiastic about allotments and communicated this to the newcomers on the site. His expertise in fruit pruning and his generosity in passing on his knowledge has been mentioned by several members. Although he was in the ‘at risk’ section of the population due to his age he had been in good health until contracting this deadly disease. It certainly made most of us sit up and take the situation seriously.

When the Government announced the ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ slogan for the lockdown, members wondered whether they would be able to come to the allotment for their daily exercise. It was a huge relief when the official advice was that working an allotment was definitely acceptable as long as people kept the 2 metre distance from each other. This news was a life saver for many, though sadly it was not so for the plot holders who were ‘shielding’.  The excellent weather during the early days of the lockdown was hugely appreciated by those who could get to the site.

The community spirit which seems to abound in Allotment sites came to the fore. Some kind neighbours helped to keep plots of the ‘shielding’ plot holders in check for their return at a later date. Although the social gathering could not happen at this time of lockdown it was a relief, especially to those who lived alone to see familiar faces and wave to others across the plots.

In May the Committee resumed the monthly meetings by Zoom and matters arising concerning the site were logged and dealt with when possible. The Government guidelines were followed and plot holders were able to continue growing and tending their plots almost as usual. It has been acknowledged generally that working outside in green environments is good for mental wellbeing as well as for physical health.

Fund Raising

Although the decision to postpone all our events had been taken, people were already raising early vegetables, tomatoes, cuttings including 120 geraniums for our open day event.  In order not to waste these and to hopefully raise money for our local charities, a “business plan” evolved with the agreement of our Committee.  For Covid-19 safety reasons, orders for plants were taken by Email and logged by a nominated Fun Raiser.  Growers were contacted, seeds were sown and plants were raised in greenhouses, window sills, bedrooms and spare rooms.  As orders kept flooding in it soon became obvious we had to “close the order book.”  When plant orders were ready for distribution they were taken down early each morning to our community garden by the growers.  The orders were delivered by a nominated Fun Raiser to allotments by wheelbarrow and the plot holders advised of the delivery.  Suggested donations (which will all go to our local charities nominated by members) were issued and paid into a nominated bank account.  The amount raised surpassed all our expectations and made it all worthwhile. 

As Plot Holders were missing out on Sunday teas etc. and were asking when they would resume, the Fun Raisers arranged for tea, coffee and cake to be served outside using the more limited facilities, disposable cups and of course, with social distancing and hand sanitising in place.  Plants were also available.  A minimum donation was suggested which of course has resulted in more funds being raised for the charities.   See photographs. 

In anticipation of resuming a future indoor service, a recycled kitchen was donated by a committee member and installed in the meeting  room  by a committee member and a member of our society.  This involved a considerable amount of planning, cutting and installing to fit a specific space.  As can be seen from the picture, they did an amazing job at minimal cost to the Association. This means we can now use proper crockery and cutlery instead of disposables, satisfying Health and Safety legislation and eliminating unnecessary landfill from disposable cups.

One last mention of our fundraising is that as our Sunday teas have been very successful due to the amazing generosity of our members we are in a position to make considerable donations to our local nominated charities this year.   We therefore decided to hold two extra events, one for the  British Heart Foundation and a tea party in September specifically for the McMillan charity.

Conclusion

In an extremely challenging year allotment gardening has proved to be a ‘life saver’ to many people allowing for exercise, limited social interaction and of course delicious fruit and vegetables to take home. Much kindness has been in evidence with members helping those who were forced to shield from Covid-19, the voluntary work from members who installed the kitchen and the untiring efforts of those who raised plants, transported them and thus raised funds for local charities who will probably have suffered losses due to the epidemic.

It would be interesting to hear how other allotment groups have weathered the unprecedented events of 2020.

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