On April 1st 2023 Bells Hill Allotment Society (BHAS), and several others, celebrated the 10th anniversary of its assumption of management control of this beautiful five-acre allotment site next door to Barnet General Hospital.
For readers new to the subject, the background is as follows. Consistent with the then general fashion among local authorities, of the 32 London Boroughs, LB Barnet took the lead from 2009 in its determination to disclaim responsibility for managing allotment sites. As an aside, this trend embraced multiple services including the management of local sports and leisure centres, most of which in Barnet and Islington have been outsourced to Greenwich Leisure Limited, with mixed results. It is most interesting that LB Tower Hamlets have, in the case of sports centres, reversed this and have now re- “insourced” management.
Clearly, self-management has downsides as well as upsides; one of the main issues is the funding of each of the 37 societies which manage all 44 sites in Barnet. It is doubtful whether the litigation that has brought a couple of sites to their knees would have occurred had the miscreant plotholders suing societies been up against the mighty £2bn per annum turnover LB Barnet.
But April 1st is not the occasion to dwell on downsides, but to celebrate as the pictures of Bells Hill’s Trading Hut show, the benefits of self-management, the most prominent of which is the creation of a genuine community. Allotment societies, when they work well, become like the best sports and social clubs where everybody knows everybody else and where members of the society help each other out. When Hughie is away on holiday, Dewey waters his greenhouse. This is the biggest positive change triggered by the transition to self-management 10 years ago in the case of Bells Hill and many other societies in Barnet. I have personally stepped down from the Committee as at the AGM in September 2022; timed out after 10 years’ service, enabling me to focus all my spare time on my BAF responsibilities.
Of course, at BHAS we are lucky to have the three-times winner of the annual Barnet-wide best-plot competition, Erica Page, whose trophies are proudly displayed on the ‘seed swap’ table. This social event was extremely well supported with the bulk of our 90 odd plotholders in attendance. Personally, I was delighted since, somewhat embarrassingly given my role on the committee of BAF, I have been too busy to plant a single seed so far this season; but after a donation to the SENSE charity I returned home with a decent display of little seedlings, tomatoes, brassica, sweet peas….I could go on.
Turning to wider news items across the borough, the January purchase of a ransom strip covering the gates, car park and first few plots at Whetstone Stray Allotees Association by a property speculator has greatly concerned us and consumed substantial time. It is hard to express how awful it would be if a block of flats were to be constructed in the middle of any allotment site.
The good news is that, given robust support from the Green Spaces, Property Services and Legal departments of LB Barnet, the speculator concerned has given up and sold the strip at auction recently at a 50% loss to herself. The less good news is that a different speculator has bought it. Sadly, despite our exhortations LBB did not jump at the opportunity to buy this land in the auction and reunite the two parcels of land comprising Whetstone Stray.
Other sites continue to press ahead, and I am delighted that ‘incentivised volunteering’, which incepted at BHAS in 2017, is being adopted at multiple new sites this season.
I am looking forward to discussing these and other matters at our impending next BAF committee meeting.
Minutes of our AGM on 20th February 2023 are on our website if anyone would like to catch up on what happened in 2022.
Wishing you all a great season in the hope that this rainy period may be ending. Easter should be a great weekend to get some stuff in the ground.