Allotment group digs in after winning new lease

Foreground: Allotment society secretary Keith Moore and chairman Sheila Frazer, with (left to right) Ken Simmons, Mark Brown, Ian Frazer, Kate Simmons, Kevin Batson, Simon, Karen and Dermot Urwin, and Elliott Moore.
Foreground: Allotment society secretary Keith Moore and chairman Sheila Frazer, with (left to right) Ken Simmons, Mark Brown, Ian Frazer, Kate Simmons, Kevin Batson, Simon, Karen and Dermot Urwin, and Elliott Moore.
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A DETERMINED allotment group is branching out into a new plot after putting a previous asbestos scare firmly to bed.

Widdrington Station Allotment Society has secured a lease with landlord Isos Housing to cultivate several overgrown plots behind properties in Ena Street.

The area has not been used for growing for 30 years, but Northumberland County Council workers have removed tonnes of litter from the site and allotment society members have been working hard to bring the land up to a suitable condition.

Society Secretary Keith Moore said: “We’ve got tenants in place to work the land there. It needed digging over and planting.

“There are some people who come from farming backgrounds, or who have had an allotment before, and they have put some really hard work in.”

The lease marks a new chapter for the society, which was initially formed to help fight for the restoration of allotments in Margaret Street after they were closed down in an asbestos scare in September 2006.

Plot holders were thrown off the site just four months after it came into use and faced a lengthy struggle to get back onto the land.

The gardens were threatened with being turned into a car park or developed for housing, but the tenants battled on and in October 2009 the site was handed over to the newly formed allotment society on a ten-year lease.

However, the group had to take responsibility for clearing the land and installing raised beds to avoid any health risks, at a total cost of around £25,000.

Funding came from Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish Council, the Northumberland Coast and Lowlands Leader Programme, Northern Gas Networks and the Maiden’s Hall Community Benefit Fund, while Isos helped out with the planning application.

Finally, growing got under way again in March this year — four-and-a-half years after the problems began.

And Mr Moore said the restoration has been a big hit with villagers.

“I’ve had some long-term gardeners, old men from the village, singing our allotments’ praises,” he said.

“We have raised beds, 2ft high, which takes the stress and pressure off for people with a back complaint.

“We also have a couple of disabled members who share one of the plots.”

He added: “People like to grow their own vegetables and it’s about healthy living too.

“If you grow your own, they just taste a lot better because you’ve spent the time growing them.

“There is the social side too — you spend more time talking on the allotments than working. It’s really brought this community together.

“People whose houses back on to the plots are really pleased to see them getting used too.”

Isos Executive Director of Customer Services Tina Drury said: “It’s so good to see these allotments flourishing at last.

“It’s taken a lot of work behind the scenes to get the land in a fit state to be used, but now the society members have got fruit and vegetables growing, it shows it was all worthwhile, and the Ena Street land will be put to good use too.”