Scratch any allotment site and it comes up with characters.
TV extra Phil Henry feels like he steps back on to native Guyanan soil each time he visits his patch or paradise. “This is home,” he explains.
Raymond “Tex” Spragg rehomes rescue hens in his little house on the prairie. “I named it 30 Tamworth Road, after where I was taken in as an orphan by a woman who looked after 22 children in a two up, two down.”
Both have plots at Lawson Road. There are eight allotment sites in Blackpool and hopes for another in the north.
The lot, with one exception, have been handed over lock, stock and wheelbarrow by Blackpool Council to Blackpool Federation of Allotment Associations. It saves the cash strapped council adminstrative costs and wages.
One site has upped sticks and opted out of the historic hand over. Mick Danson, secretary of David Slack Allotments, at Newton Drive, helped form the federation 15 years ago and ran it as chairman. He explains: “This is not declaring war on the federation, it’s simply saying that we would rather do our own thing. We’ve opted to go it alone. We’re now negotiating with the council. This site has been at the forefront of change for years, self maintained, first with toilet facilities, disabled plot, children and community group involvement.
“We’ve brought more allotments into use, Ten years ago it was a tip. Now it’s a showcase.
“We’re ahead of the game. With no disrespect to the federation, we can run and finance our own site, collect our rents, control our finances.
“We can keep rents at the same level, pay our water bill, and use money wisely.
“We’ve done our homework. There’s no shortage of expertise here. If we fail – it’s our fault.”
Elsewhere, the council’s transfer of allotment ownership to the federation is hailed as a groundbreaking move.
Many councils are hiving off allotments to private contractors to save staff wages and costs. Rents have soared.
Blackpool’s transferred ownership under a 25 year lease to the BFAA. And where Blackpool leads others may follow.
Alan Hull, allotments regeneration initiative mentor for the North West, says: “I see this as a way forward for other councils. How good it would be for Blackpool to be the flagship for not only the North West but nationally.”
The National Society of Allotment Holders and Leisure Gardeners also hails Blackpool’s approach national good practice.
John Blackledge, Blackpool Council’s assistant chief executive of commercial services, says the move won’t undermine plans for further sites.
He explains: “We’re the first local authority in the UK to enter into partnership with a federation to look after the interests of all allotment sites in the borough – and others to come.
“There aren’t any allotments within North Shore and we remain committed to working in partnership to develop one. The council has taken responsibility for considering areas of land potentially suitable and once it happens, and goes through due process with planning, it will be added to the agreement with the federation, which will then develop the site. As a council we will help with applications for national funding.”
Andy Percival, chairman of the federation, says: “It’s the “biggest change to allotment management since the Second World War. Blackpool nationally is leading the way in the development of allotments involving the community.
“The federation is delighted seven out of the eight sites remain committed to supporting each other to ensure allotments increase and prosper.
“We have to become self supporting to survive.”
Andy and unpaid volunteers, federation secretary Kath Smith and treasurer Derek Cooper, will be on call three days a week to deal with queries from plot holders and the 250 on the waiting list.
The council has provided a cabin as a base overlooking Lawson Road allotments where Alan has his own allotment. It’s independent of the site.
Kath adds: “Cutbacks have seen council staff transfer to other departments or gain additional responsibilities. Funding priorities must lie with other services and outweigh allotment services. To cover wages and administration services rents would have had to rise substantially putting allotments out of reach. Allotment services could have been handed over to a private company and rents could have trebled, along with water charges added or not supplied. Some wouldn’t think twice of evicting tenants who couldn’t pay higher rents with plenty on waiting lists.
“Now we will carry out admin work, manage waiting lists, help tenants, carry out site inspections, make sure everyone upholds the tenancy agreement. We will arrange rental payments, invoicing, insurance, site maintenance, water management. We have taken on the role because allotments are vital to our community.
“As the first federation to go through this process we are under the watchful eye of many other councils and allotmentment associations.”