The Allotments

The allotments in Saltburn are a thriving community of enthusiasts with a wide range of horticultural experience, from the seasoned gardener to new owners of their own small piece of real estate in this coastal town in Cleveland. I started this project of photographing the allotments and some of the people who spend their spare time tending to their land a few months ago.

Before you can own an allotment like the ones in Saltburn, like many others, there is a long waiting list before you get the go ahead from the council, typically the allotment you are allocated is overgrown or needs to be altered to meet your own requirements and the work begins in earnest as soon as you get the keys from the council.

What I found out by talking to many of the owners is how despite having an original idea of how they wanted their allotment to look it soon became apparent that the land they leased became a work in progress, constantly evolving as their own needs evolved.

There is always something to be done – fences and gates to be fixed, plants to be tended, weeds to be picked, in some cases, chickens and hens to be looked after, pigeons to be fed and watered. It take a serious amount of commitment and dedication to keep on top of the work.
Some new allotment owners are slow to get on top of their own piece of garden and are soon asked by the allotment association to make more of an effort. With waiting lists long and filled with potential owners who are keen to take ownership those that don’t make the effort are politely asked if they wish to continue. All the people I met strived hard to look after their own allotment and went to great effort to maintain and look after their land.

Despite providing well for their chickens sometimes illness or infection takes its toll on them and the big worry is that whole stocks of birds can be wiped out, something that also carries a heavy financial burden.

Recently, vandalism has caused damage to some allotments with greenhouses having their glass smashed and sheds broken into and some tools stolen. Owners are looking at ways of reducing the risk with possible installation of CCTV cameras to monitor the road in and out of the allotment area.

Despite the graffiti sprayed all over the fences and corrugated metal that lines the road through the allotment once you pass through the ramshackle gates that form the entrances to the allotments they are transformed into individual ‘secret gardens’ that in some cases stretch back for 40 or 50 metres with paths that meander through a miriad of bushes and shrubs and reveal ponds and bird feeders hidden away. Despite the proximity to a busy rail line and constant stream of human traffic passing through the allotments there is a varied amount of wildlife that frequents the area.

With food prices rising the produce that can be grown in these allotments can contribute a large amount to reducing the owners food costs, all manor of fruit and veg can be grown and there are frequent competitions to judge the ‘best of’ various categories. What is certain is that the owners take great pride and as true gardeners they follow the seasons carefully to ensure that they plant at a time that will give the maximum yield.
Seasoned owners seem to know intuitively when to plant and when to pick and reap the rewards of their labour, newer owners struggle at first until they gain the relevant knowledge to allow them to develop their land.
Sometimes new owners really do have to start from scratch with their first step of allotment ownership being the building of an entrance. Cutting the fence that has been put up to mark off the land that they now rent and building an entrance that can be secured is the first hurdle that needs to be overcome.

One thing is certain it takes a lot of time and effort to keep on top of their allotments but with increasing experience comes the satisfaction of knowing that they can start to provide for themselves and reduce costs of buying food whilst at the same time enjoy the highs and lows of tending to a piece of land just as people have done for hundreds of years.

Published by ian forsyth photography

Press and Documentary photographer covering the North of England. Stringer & contributor for Getty Images News. Prints are available to buy on my website.

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