Applications for allotments have spiked during coronavirus despite 18-month waiting lists as lockdown prompted a huge surge in interest in home-grown food.
According to new figures obtained by the National Allotment Society (NAS), 40 per cent of councils who responded to the survey saw a "significant uplift" in applications during April, with a 300 per cent increase in one case. The NAS also saw a 45 per cent increase in requests for information about allotments through its own website.
The data has been released to coincide with National Allotments Week, which runs from 10-16 August, in a bid to highlight the importance of urban food growing spaces, and the link between allotments, food security and public health more widely.
It follows new figures by the University of Sheffield published in April, which found that land dedicated to allotments in the UK has fallen by almost two thirds in the last 60 years.
National Allotments Week has this year been backed by farmer and founder of The Black Farmer food brand, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, whose first encounter with food growing came aged 11 on his father’s urban allotment in Birmingham.
He said: “Tending to my father’s allotment in Birmingham, aged 11 years, I made a promise to myself that I’d own a farm one day.
“To me, that small green patch was an oasis and an opportunity to escape from the cramped two-up, two-down terraced house I shared with my family of 11. It took 30 years of hard graft – from leaving school aged 16, to the army. As a child of the Windrush generation, it means something to own and tend land.”
The average waiting time for an allotment plot is 6-18 months according to data from the Association of Public Sector Excellence (APSE), with only 12 per cent of authorities able to guarantee a plot within six months. Half of those councils asked said the average waiting time is 18 months, with waiting lists of up to 400 people in some areas.
The NAS recommends that authorities provide 20 plots per 1,000 households. There are an estimated 330,000 allotment plots today in Britain, the majority of which are the responsibility of local councils, with some provided by The National Trust.
To help alleviate some of the demand, “pastoral gatekeepers”, like the Church of England or other landowners, should be called upon to offer land for local food production, according to Emmanel-Jones, rather than responsibility being solely placed on local councils.
“The Government, Ministry of Defence, Church of England all own vast swathes of land and could be doing a lot more to welcome people from diverse urban cultures – but particularly black people – into allotments and ultimately into the countryside,” he said.
“Urban allotments provide a fantastic onramp into farming, functioning as ‘Farming Lite’ for young people who might like to dip their toe in.
“Gatekeepers of pastoral Britain have the power to make a difference and it’s time they were challenged to do so.”