Abi Sweet and Guy Manchester from Alive Activities write our latest blog post about a new allotment offering supported gardening and socialising sessions for people living with dementia and their carers. Alive will also be recruiting volunteers to help with the day-to-day running of the project.
Back in the autumn of 2019, Peter Lippet, the site rep at Charlton Road Allotments in Brentry, North Bristol, approached Alive Activities with an idea. A board member at BRACE, Peter had a vision. His dream was to set up Bristol’s first dementia-friendly allotment in Brentry, and he was looking for someone to partner with to realise this.
Set up by Tim Lloyd-Yeates in 2008, Alive Activities’ primary objective is to enrich the lives of people living with dementia. Coproduction has always been at the heart of what we do, and through discussion with residents at care homes, we realised that a lot of the people we were working with would love an opportunity to get gardening. So we merged with an existing CIC, Growing Support, who were doing just this already.
Since the merger, Alive has continued Growing Support’s work running gardening sessions in care homes. We have also taken on several community garden projects around Bristol. The activities we run are geared not only towards older people and people living with dementia, but also for anyone for whom gardening alone is difficult or who could benefit from the sessions. The goal is to bring people together through gardening, to enjoy fresh air, to experience the therapeutic benefits of horticulture and to send everyone home each week with some food they have grown themselves.
So it goes without saying that we were immediately excited by Peter’s proposal. We visited the proposed site and realised it was the perfect location for what Peter had in mind.
Originally the plan had been to pool our banks of corporate volunteers and get large groups down to the allotment to turn the overgrown and neglected site into Bristol’s first dementia-friendly allotment by Spring 2020. Alas, coronavirus and the first lockdown put paid to those plans! However, the community gardening team was buoyed by the news that allotments were to stay open during the lockdown. It made perfect sense – they were not only a safe place to get your daily exercise, but they are also integral to the city’s journey on the road to food security, something the virus was making us all think about more closely.
Allotments are a vital community social hub at the best of times, but they came into their own during the lockdown. For many people, they became a literal lifeline. This was no less true for the volunteers who, united around the common bond of food production, rolled up their sleeves and set about turning the plot into a productive allotment. It was not easy – the area had not been touched for four years and was covered in couch grass, horsetail and bindweed! The soil left a lot to be desired too, being very heavy grey clay.
At Alive we talk a lot about the social and therapeutic benefits of gardening and food production. This was a rare chance to experience it personally and at first hand! Slowly, the allotment was transformed and by mid-summer, most of the land was under cultivation. It was also cropping quite heavily, producing a surprising amount of both food and flowers for us to take home and as such reducing our reliance on shops and the food supply chain.
Once running, the allotment will offer supported gardening and socialising sessions for people living with dementia and their carers. It will allow everyone to produce some of their food too. Paid members of staff who specialise in horticultural therapy will oversee the allotment. We will also be recruiting volunteers to help with the day-to-day running.
At Alive we are excited by the possibilities community allotments offer in terms of the future food security of the city. As it stands, very few allotments even come close to realising their potential in terms of food production. People often take on an allotment without realising how much time they will need to devote to it. The plot can soon become overgrown and the task of getting on top of it too daunting. But if a group of people in the community take on one area, the chances of this happening diminish markedly. There are many community allotments across Bristol already, and we look forward to joining their number and hopefully seeing many more in the future.
We still need to make some structural tweaks to get the Brentry allotment 100% ready. In autumn 2020 we successfully crowdfunded for a compost loo which still needs to be placed in situ, and we also need to finish off some more raised beds and pave a large area to make it fully accessible to wheelchair users. We need to create areas to socialise in too, and we need to build places to retreat to when the weather isn’t on our side.
But most of the work on the allotment is now done and we could not be more excited at the prospect of finally welcoming participants along to the plot sometime soon.
Since the initial period of national lockdown began in March 2020, more people are finding the time and passion for growing food on windowsills, in back gardens, and in shared community spaces and allotments. It’s great for our mental and physical health, it can transform the world around us, and gives each and every one of us the power to create our own source of affordable, delicious and nutritious food, right on our own doorsteps. Read on to find out how you can be part of Bristol’s growing community of food growers!