Northfields Allotments Campaign Gets Underway
Rory Thomas Butler meets some of the allotment holders
Residents and allotment holders have launched a campaign to stop any proposed development on Northfields allotments. Land owners Pathways want to use a section of the land to build affordable housing - but this could mean the loss of around 10% of the current site.
Freelance writer Rory Thomas Butler has been to the site and met some of those affected:
With me at the allotments on Northfields Avenue were ( l-r) Christina Fox , Maggie Touzout and Meena Badrudin, all Ealing residents and allotment owners.
Maggie is a retired nurse, and Meena is a mother of two and photo editor, she grew up in Hunza in the Himalayas
Meena: ''I’ve had my plot since February…I waited 3 years, so I was really excited. I grew up on a farm so for me it means a lot, and, I’ve worked for hours and spent a hell of a lot of money! I have beans, tomatoes and corn. It has been great meeting new people, and you learn new things, and especially my kids because in the Summer they are here most days. My son goes to school and makes a drawing of ‘Mummy’s allotment’. We (Northfields allotment community) are very upset. I am very angry. You put all you love into the soil and it means a lot.''
On the environmental point, they tell me there is ‘legitimate educational value’ in having an allotment that the entire community can benefit from. They say they have hedgehogs in the 900m hedgerow, Willow trees perhaps centuries old, and Meena has a 100-year-old Oak on her plot.
When asked about the need for housing in London, Meena said, '' Social housing, fantastic, we all recognise London needs social housing, it’s one of the top things. Of course we promote social housing, buy they (Pathways) have other options.''
Christina made the point that some lived in flats with no garden, or outside space and the allotments provided a vital piece of greenery for themselves and their children.
During the discussion, Ivy Hanson (in her late 80’s) appeared and told me she had had her plot for 20 years. Ivy said '' I’m different here. I had a stroke in 2014 and I told the doctor I had two allotments and he said it saved my life. Out here, I’m at peace.''
Indeed, they all agreed there were many benefit having their allotments. Christina made the point that The King’s Fund had published studies on mental and physical health improvements from gardening.
In the event the development does go ahead, asked what they plan to do, Maggie said, “Just go on the waiting list…what can you do? But at my age I worry how long I’m going to be fit for.''
They all expressed concern that friends and established ties would be severed.
I asked Christina what responsibility she felt personally as Chair:
“Huge responsibility, because we’ve had these plots since 1832, and I don’t want to be the Chair that lost this land. Its historic to have it for so long, and then, ‘you’re the one that lost it for everyone’. I will do as much as I can and fight for it”.
I felt deeply for Christina given her position and admirable dedication to her committee members and co-allotment holders.
The allotments themselves, 141 in total, were opened by the Bishop of London in 1832 and are the oldest in London. The site was previously run St Mary’s Church and they appointed the Ealing Dean Committee to look after it. Thereafter, the history becomes ‘vague and fuzzy’. Christina tells me, “Apparently it moved over to a charity, possibly the Ealing & Brentford Consolidated Charity, with similar goals of social housing and the allotments were part of that. Then (EBCC) changed their name to Pathways…as far as we know, it’s held in Trust, that means they have a duty to protect it.''
In addition, there is a further question of archaeological relevance with regards to the heritage of the allotments, as arrow heads, coins, pipes and bottles have been discovered at various sites, and are still being authenticated.
Northfields has the support of the Walpole Councillors Gareth Shaw, Binda Rai, and Paul Conlan, who are gathering a petition - now at around 760 signatures.
Christina says she also spoke to the Ealing & Acton Labour MP, Rupa Huq, who told her she would ''help fight it all the way.''
It is clear this much loved site holds a vast reach in terms of its history, both social and literal, and for its natural beauty. What struck me is the deep sense of community it engenders, and the evident social, environmental and health implications of the allotments. Maggie and Meena said in closing, “I hope they look at alternative sites”.
Pathways is a non-profit organisation, providing communities with assistance in housing, grant funding and youth/community projects, and the Northfields social housing project is intended to benefit the over 55 demographic.In due course, and as the situation develops, I hope to speak with Pathways about their plans.
Rory Thomas Butler
15 September 2016