Food For Thought: The Right to an Allotment

By Concepta Cassar, published on Litro Magazine‘s website, June 9th 2015

allotments wheelbarrow

After four years of waiting, I am now number 321 in a queue of 690 waiting for an allotment in my local borough. The wait may seem long, but, as the situation currently stands – with some waiting lists extending for over a decade – it seems that I am lucky to be on a waiting list at all. Like most Londoners, I have to live with very little outside space, making the most of a single window sill and any vertical area that I have in order to produce a few small crops, interspersed with calendula and cornflowers that bring me great joy throughout the rest of the year.

Whilst there is a statutory duty for outer London boroughs to provide a “sufficient quantity”[1] of allotment plots to the people living in them, what this quantity is proportional to the number of residents in the area is unclear. And it is precisely this lack of clarity, “built up through a century of agitation”[2] in the fight for our right to allotments, that is now leading to their wanton destruction in the name of short­-term profit. The law, described by Colin Ward as “both vague and voluminous” and “in urgent need of revision”, is exploited by those in power, who perceive these hard­-won rights as burdensome and standing in the way of profit. If we replace the “safety­ first” culture of the 1960s, for that of “profit­ first” in the 2010s, it seems that John Betjeman put it rather succinctly: “We slice off old buildings, fell healthy trees, replace hedges with concrete posts and chain ­link fencing, all in the name of ‘[profit]­ first’, which is another phrase for ‘hurry past’.”[3]

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