They had been there for years. My wife had had one for at least 25 years. The soil was terrible; it had taken years of applying compost to make it anything like half decent. By age-old custom and probably some by-laws from before the industrial revolution councils are obliged to provide sites for allotments for those who want one, but that does not mean that they have to care about what sort of ground you get.
In the beginning we all paid our rent directly to the Council. This was not particularly satisfactory since they had a whole list of rules and regulations and were very strict about keeping at least two-thirds cultivated at all times, otherwise you were not renewed. This could be difficult in cases of illness or adversity. I remember there was a rather nice little gorse bush which I wanted to keep to shelter a hedgehog and a small pond for the frogs, but these had to go.
Then the scheme was mooted for self-management which we had to vote on. There was a distinct possibility that we would all be chucked off to make way for developers, especially as there were so many vacant lots. For the Council the benefits were obvious. They were relieved from all the paperwork and inspections and dealing with individuals and could work through the committee. Just as employers often prefer to work with trade-union representatives who talk the same language, so the Council could put pressure on a committee who, they hoped, would keep us in order. Complaints from neighbouring houses about bonfires for instance.
The overwhelming majority vote was “for”. Would it work?
The result has been impressive. In fact you wouldn’t recognise the place. The paths have been smartened up, we have collectively bought power tools; cultivators, lawn-mowers and strimmers, which are hired out for very little money, we have an arrangement with a stables for straw and dung which they deliver, and we now have a very handsome shed for committee meetings, outdoor table and chairs and the facility to make tea for those who like to live down there.
We have a member who runs a skip business who supplies us with all manner of odds and ends of wood and junk that come in handy and all for free. Add to this a much-improved watering system with adequate tanks close enough for everybody. There are very few plots left that are not taken up now and should a plot lie empty for a while it is ploughed and rotovated so that newcomers don’t have a daunting mass of weeds.
Left to ourselves things are well organised, democratically run and, although we have a few minor problems from time to time these are sorted out harmoniously.
Very much like society could be if we wanted it.