U.K. Green thumbs grow demand for inner city gardening plots during pandemic

It may be a small lot in Osterley, West London, but it has provided Karen Peck’s kitchen row after row with cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, fava beans and garlic.

But the 60-year-old gets a lot more out of her allocation than just fresh food.

“It’s so quiet. I have a favorite robin that comes to visit, then the blackbird shows up and there are wrens in the corner,” Peck said in a telephone interview to NBC News late last year. “They appreciate the chirping of birds and the little brown ones Mice, hedgehogs and urban foxes. “

Karen Peck on her assignment in West London.

That connection with nature was especially nice during the coronavirus pandemic, she said.

Allotments – small urban pockets of land where townspeople could grow fruits, vegetables, plants, and flowers – were a common feature in British cities, especially at the height of World War II.

When German submarines ravaged to supply ships crossing the Atlantic, the British were asked to grow their own food and the Dig for Victory campaign was forcefully launched.

By 1945 well over 1 million allocations supplemented the citizens’ meager war rations.

This changed in the decades that followed, when land-hungry, affordable forms of living appeared due to the urgent need for new homes. In the case of inexpensive, mass-produced supermarket foods, culinary habits also changed.

Amid the pandemic, the demand for allotment gardens has increased in several UK cities including London, Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow and Sheffield, according to the South West Counties Allotment Association, a non-profit that protects and promotes the use of allotment gardens across the UK .

“For me it’s about more than just food,” said Peck, whose 400 square meter property is surrounded by dozens of others and who also grow a colorful mix of flowers and products.

Karen Peck’s allotment in West London.Karen Peck

The urban vegetable garden is just a minute’s walk from her one-bedroom apartment and gives her the opportunity to meet up responsibly with like-minded, nature-loving neighbors.

“I live alone. I think if I hadn’t seen the people at the allotment I would have gone mad during the lockdown,” she said.

At best, this is important; But in a year of forced social isolation and loneliness, she added that her “little oasis was nothing less than a gift from God”.

“To have a semi-private outdoor space that doesn’t contradict the rules of social distancing and offers the opportunity to do a bit of practical work, grow some food, burn off some energy and fear, and maybe even socialize – This is proving to be important, ”said Miriam Dobson, a postdoctoral fellow at Sheffield University who studied the resurgence of allotment life.

Released in November, your team study affirms the idea that allotment gardens offer a variety of benefits, including exercise, stress relief, friendship, connection with nature, and the feeling of tangible achievement.

“More than one person described their allocation as a lifesaver during lockdown,” she said.

For others who want to take advantage of an allocation, the waiting list is long and can be between five and 20 years, depending on where you live.

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According to The National Allotment Society, a body representing UK allotment holders, there are likely to be no more than 330,000 people in the UK owned by a mix of private landowners and local government.

“In recent years, and especially now with Covid, the demand has increased tremendously,” said Ayesha Hooper of the South West Counties Allotment Association, who waited five years for her own property in Barnstable, a small town in southwest England.

“People keep contacting us and saying that local authorities should have more websites,” she added.

However, new parcels are not always available and the ever-present threat from real estate development is often at risk of existing plots being closed.

“Sites that have been around for hundreds of years can only be sold for development and people don’t necessarily know how to fight that,” said Hooper.

The employees of her association, which supports allotment gardeners threatened with eviction, are nevertheless optimistic for the future, as a younger, more diverse and more feminine crowd is involved, she added.

Allotments in London, England.Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

Ania Klimowicz is at the forefront of this demographic change.

A victim of the UK’s chronic lack of affordable housing, it took the 36-year-old time to scrape together enough money to buy a house with her husband. However, since she had no garden to speak of, she put her dreams of a garden aside – until she landed a plot of land near her home in south-east London in 2018.

“Even though I do cultivation and crop rotation and all of those things, we kept a little lawn and I have a picnic bench and grill. When we invite people, we invite them to the allotment rather than the house,” she said.

Similar to Peck, for Klimowicz it is the escape from urban life, work stress and, during the pandemic, the isolation of the lockdown that she values ​​most about her allocation.

“As soon as I walk in, I take a deep breath of fresh air and it really feels like I’m leaving town,” she said.

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