Abandoned plot turns over a new leaf at last

The Tommy's Field Allotment Association with the help of Groundwork North East and Marks and Spencer in the new community garden.  Pictured are Gemma Bone, Dorothy Slater, Ruth Laws, Gemma Gadomski and Stuart Lamb.
The Tommy's Field Allotment Association with the help of Groundwork North East and Marks and Spencer in the new community garden. Pictured are Gemma Bone, Dorothy Slater, Ruth Laws, Gemma Gadomski and Stuart Lamb.

AN abandoned allotment has turned over a new leaf to become a blooming community garden.

The plot at Tommy’s Field Allotments in Morpeth had fallen into disuse as nearby large sycamores created too much shade for growing, as well as taking most of the nutrients out of the soil.

But now the garden has taken pride of place at the Dark Lane site after undergoing a remarkable transformation.

The scheme was instigated by Tommy’s Field Allotment Association, which was keen to see the land put to good use.

And after teaming up with environmental charity Groundwork, Morpeth Town Council and the Greater Morpeth Development Trust a plan was hatched to turn the plot into a community garden, with raised beds and seating.

Association Secretary Dorothy Slater said: “This has been an area of land that has been really difficult to garden because of the overhanging trees from the riverside.

“We thought that rather than it not being used at all we could make raised beds and have a seating area for the community to come into the allotments without being in any danger.”

Funding of £30,000 for the venture was provided by Marks and Spencer through its 5p carrier bag charges, with additional support coming from a £10,000 Lottery grant.

A landscape architect from Groundwork then set to work designing the garden to include space for growing food, areas to teach allotment skills, sensory plants, wildflowers and wildlife-friendly areas to increase the biodiversity of the site.

All that was left to do was for the various groups to carry out the work, with Marks and Spencer staff also rolling up their sleeves to help clear the old allotment and re-plant it.

Whalton Manor House also supported the work, providing plants from its Gertrude Jekyll gardens.

However, that is just the start of the hard work and it is now hoped that local community groups will get involved to maintain the plot.

Morpeth First School has a bed and Contact Morpeth Mental Health and St George’s Hospital are also interested in helping out.

The garden will also be used to train budding allotment holders in the skills they will need for their own plot, and the raised beds will be accessible to people with disabilities to tend.

There are currently five large beds, but fund-raising is under way to develop a second phase, which would provide another eight beds, extra seating and information boards.

“This is just the first stage,” said Mrs Slater.

“We are going to be developing more raised beds for people to train in gardening before they get their own plots and the community garden will be extended further along the riverside path, with a seating area at the top. It is quite a useful bit of land for that kind of thing.

“We do get lots of people passing by and looking at the allotments, and with the public path through the middle people stop to talk to the allotment holders about what they are growing. In the community garden we can put up information boards and little signs to show what is growing there.”

Groundwork North East Senior Project Officer Gemma Bone said: “We are really proud of the community garden we have created in Morpeth.

“The local community has been incredibly supportive and many people have given up their time to help make it happen.

“We have created a unique space that will be enjoyed by local schools, the hospital and the wider Morpeth community.

“We are incredibly grateful to M&S for helping to fund the project and to the M&S Morpeth employees that have spent many hours volunteering here over the past few months.”

Marks and Spencer Morpeth Store Manager Angela Lord said: “We were delighted to get behind the community garden at Tommy’s Field Allotments and the team had great fun helping out at the site. The success of this project proves that the bold decision M&S made to become the first high street retailer to introduce carrier bag charging has had a hugely positive impact.”