ASSIGNMENT – PEOPLE AT WORK #1

Terry & Shirley, Barmpton Lane Allotments, Darlington, County Durham.

I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for allotments.

Since this visit I have become quite connected to the site on Barmpton Lane. I am not a plot holder, however, I now own a key to the site and had an invite to their AGM next month!

Regardless of all the other projects/assignments that we get given I am going to pursue this one further.

I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for allotments.

My maternal Grandfather (a stonemason in rural North Wales), was an avid gardener. As children in the 1980s, we would spend hours helping him maintain his three tumbledown sheds, wonky beanpoles, pick tomatoes and add to chains of old jar lids flapping in the breeze to deter pigeons. His allotment wasn’t just a place for growing and nurturing, it was a symbol of self-sufficiency, security and liberation.

With links going back to Medieval strip farming, Allotments saw prominence in the 1800s when introduced by the charitable Victorians for factory workers. Today they have become classless; however they serve the same purpose. The concept of unity through community is rife within the culture of allotments. The ethos of Dig for Victory or Make do and mend is, I feel, still detectable when you take a stroll through any allotment plot.


On a recent visit to Saltersgill allotments in Middlesbrough, one gentleman began to tell me that within his micro-society of sheds and makeshift greenhouses, ‘You pay for nothing, if you need something, somebody will have one you can borrow or have’. I am particularly interested in this co-operative aspect and the question – do allotments exist only for the growing of food or has their purpose become something more akin to ‘getting out of the house’, escapism? Is tending to an allotment now more of a freedom activity, if so, what is its place in the leisure industry? I am also interested to discover if the environment is as harmonious and idyllic as once intended, do modern day life problems interfere; boundaries, possessions, jealousy, austerity, sharing etc? What motivates allotment holders to construct and shape their allotted plots in the manner that they do? It is a cultural phenomenon that has intrigued me for some time. I feel that these initial questions will in turn generate others and my investigations could go deeper.

The physical construction of each plot, their buildings and propagation units are ramshackle, crudely cobbled assemblages; remarkably similar to shanty-towns. On the other hand, others are pristine, well-loved and highly maintained. This is part of their charm; each subdivision is part-functional and part-sculptural. The structures are a point of fascination as are the weathered panels and skip-salvaged flotsam. There are external issues to consider – the open days, the festivals, the competitions…