What is the name of the project/ activity? Allotment COVID 19 support
Where did the idea come from?
Jen and Martino – a concern that when lock down started there were vulnerable people within the Northcliffe Allotment Society community who might need some support
Val- getting requests from plot holders to clarify the situation
Was it developed as a new initiative/ project/ group? Or was it an existing organisation/ group changing what it did? It was exisiting orgnaisations changing what we did.
What did you hope to achieve? What was your initial aim?
Jen and Martino – to ensure that members of the NAS community were aware that support was available if needed during the lock down
Val – to ensure the site was safe for people to come to
Jen and Martino - we sent out an email to all plot holders asking if anyone 1) needed help with shopping, prescriptions etc and 2) were willing and able to support other plot holders. We received a number of offers of help so collated contact details and set up a WhatsApp group. A number of people came forward to ask for help on their plots and we called/emailed and/or met with those asking for help to find out what they wanted us to do on their plot. We also ensured a couple of people who hadn’t come forwards but we knew to be shielding, were ok with their plots. Within the group we did some weeding and clearing as well as planting some of the left over plants from the plant swap so when they could come back there would be some things for them to harvest.
Val – I started to get lots of queries about whether people could come to their plots or not, complaints about more than one family being on a plot and people generally worrying about how the site could be kept safe. I checked all the government guidelines which clearly exempted allotments and then made a page of guidance for keeping the site free. We got people to make some soap bags to hang on the taps and others donated small bars of soap. We asked people to open the gates in the morning and leave them open until the last person left in the evening. We agreed there would be no inspections in May and people would not be evicted if they couldn’t get up there.
Did you get the take up you expected?
Jen and Martino – more people offered to help than people wanted help; the help that was requested was with keeping their plots okay for fear of them getting out of control by next year. People seemed to have enough other support with the normal daily tasks or didn’t see us as relevant to contact about that.
Val- the site was really busy as many people, whether shielding or not, chose to spend a lot of their lock down time up there as their daily exercise.
Did you make any changes as time went on and the virus became less acute for some people?
Jen and Martino – when we checked people’s plots in September we offered help to those who hadn’t been able to come up to their plots and are currently assisting a couple of people to get on top of their plots again.
Val – I issued revised guidance once the first lockdown ended which aimed to keep the best practice people had started to adopt in place; then we were locked down again and we needed to clarify again the position with attending to your plot.
Slowly we restarted the gardening group and the working parties, ensuring that it was safe to do so, risk assessing the range of tasks and how they could be undertaken by people in existing households/ bubbles; getting people to book in advance, ensuring tools were cleaned, sanitizer was everywhere and social distancing could be maintained. People appreciated the opportunity to catch up with other people they hadn’t seen for a while. Some people wanted to come up and do tasks on their own between sessions
Based on your experience, what do you think that communities can do best on their own?
Lots of plot holders took on tasks to keep the site safe, and to help neighbours who were not able to get up at times and plants were swapped.
People who come to the gardening group who do not have plots appreciated being able to come to the community garden and orchard and undertake jobs between sessions so they had somewhere else other than their back yards to go to.
Based on your experience, was there any help that would have made your work easier?
Clarity about the government guidance and regulations; some people decided to make their own interpretations and insisted that we should accept their views. This took up quite a bit of time to deal with.
Based on your experience, were there actions you wanted external agencies to take?
As we are self-managing we were able to control how we managed the site and how we offered help to plot holders.
What are your overall reflections on the project?
It reinforced how important allotments are to people and how they were seen as a lifeline in the first lockdown; people who were shielding were concerned they would lose their plots but some were reluctant to ask for help, allotment holders tend to be quite independent people. Our work to develop the allotments into a more locally based and community minded organisation really paid off and people were willing to help in whatever way they could.
I think I should have issued the first set of guidance a couple of weeks earlier as I didn’t fully appreciate the level of concerns that people had, I had tended to assume that people would look at the news and recognise how it affected them.