Sandridge allotments still bloom under lockdown

PUBLISHED: 07:59 21 August 2020

The Sandridge Road allotment site in St Albans. Picture: Robin Hamman

The Sandridge Road allotment site in St Albans. Picture: Robin Hamman

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Every year life at the Sandridge Road allotment site brings new challenges.

The Sandridge Road allotment site in St Albans. Picture: Robin HammanThe Sandridge Road allotment site in St Albans. Picture: Robin Hamman

In recent times we have endured storms from the west, blizzards from the east, unwelcome pests from afar, the hottest July day and the rainiest September day on record and even contaminated compost from one of our suppliers!

Nevertheless, plots have continued to be tended and our vegetables and flowers have thankfully grown.

The Sandridge Road allotment site in St Albans. Picture: Robin HammanThe Sandridge Road allotment site in St Albans. Picture: Robin Hamman

Then this spring brought a challenge of a new kind. As the country went into lockdown, with shops closing and social distancing quickly becoming the norm, we realised that our annual plant sales in April and May sadly could not go ahead as planned.

Seeds and seedlings were already being nurtured, and so we needed to rethink the format. Fortunately, some of our association committee are tech-savvy as well as being green fingered, and in a remarkably short time devised a handy alternative: an online plant sale.

The Sandridge Road allotment site in St Albans. Picture: Robin HammanThe Sandridge Road allotment site in St Albans. Picture: Robin Hamman

Once the site had been set up, our plants were organised into categories and details of stock numbers, varieties, prices and photos were all painstakingly entered so that members had maximum choice.

A top tip to other allotment committees considering this option is to note that two thirds of the visitors to our site did so using a mobile phone or tablet. So do keep this in mind when choosing your website layout, text size and so forth.

The Sandridge Road allotment site in St Albans. Picture: Robin HammanThe Sandridge Road allotment site in St Albans. Picture: Robin Hamman

Putting the orders together ready for collection was also time consuming, but it was a bonus not to have to count up all the monies after the sale this year.

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From sowing seeds, potting on and watering plants to overseeing their distribution and dealing with the odd hiccup along the way, the plant sale was very much a collaborative effort by the committee and helpers, although we all agree that a particular shout out should go to Massimo and Joy for their generous commitment and time.

Despite our apprehension this proved to be our best plant sale ever and, unlike many professional growers who were being forced to dump stock, we were pleased to be able to sell the majority of ours to our fellow allotmenteers.

The Sandridge Road allotment site in St Albans. Picture: Robin HammanThe Sandridge Road allotment site in St Albans. Picture: Robin Hamman

Plants that were left did not go to waste: some went to neighbourhood schools and a local food charity, and others were distributed to members whose plots had suffered damage after a shed fire. Profits from our plant sales help to fund community events and improvements to our facilities and amenities. Consequently, we were extremely pleased with 53 orders and a total raised of over £700.

The sale also boosted our membership numbers, another welcome benefit. Going online has allowed us to track our best sellers too, our top five this year being sweetcorn, strawberries, purple sprouting broccoli, leeks and kale.

The Sandridge Road allotment site in St Albans. Picture: Robin HammanThe Sandridge Road allotment site in St Albans. Picture: Robin Hamman

Reflecting on the year to date, we are also pleased to have made a contribution to an increase in local biodiversity. This came about by us offering mixed packets of wildflower seeds, which attract pollinating insects, to our members who paid their subscriptions promptly. This not only resulted in stunning wildflower patches buzzing with insects across the site, but also made the treasurer’s job easier this year!

The UK insect population is in serious decline and as allotments are considered to be biodiverse hotspots, it is imperative that we build upon their potential. Two years ago we had celebrated 100 years of British allotments by giving away 100 flowering pollinator plants at our plant sale, and were glad to raise further awareness this year with our free packets of flower seeds.

We’ve been very lucky to be able to keep a record of our site during these strange times, thanks to Robin, a new member on the plot, who has been taking some remarkable aerial photographs with his drone.

Allotments undoubtedly have an aesthetic as well as utilitarian appeal and it has been interesting to view the site from this new perspective, as hopefully you will agree looking at Robin’s photographs.

So, while 2020 has brought new challenges, we have learnt that, like nature, we can adapt and survive, and are now approaching the end of the year more resilient than before.

Our plots have been a lifeline for so many during the COVID crisis and the challenges we have faced have brought us all together. Our allotment community is definitely stronger than ever and hopefully ready for whatever awaits us next!


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