When confronted with the word ‘allotment’ too many people still think of immaculately-dressed retired old men with perfectly planted rows of vegetables, all destined for an upcoming local gardening show. Of course allotments will always have their fair share of retired tenants, and there’s nothing wrong with showing off gardening skills, but for men and women of all ages an allotment is also a private refuge. When you have your own plot it’s an opportunity to slow down and engage with nature, get some exercise, eat healthily and very importantly clear the mind. Some plot holders do like to have a chat and there is a community waiting to be embraced, but many also like to find a tranquil spot for quiet contemplation.
It’s easy to forget the latter group of people. At Dorking Allotment Holders’ Association (DAHA) we were recently planning to run fortnightly workshops for the public to introduce them to grow your own. However, an existing plot holder objected to the potential invasion of excited grow your own newbies and Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) reminded us that allotments are not for the public (tenants only). They were quite right of course, we had focused too much on the many benefits of teaching new people to grow their own instead of remembering that existing plot holders rely on their outdoor spaces for peaceful relaxation. It’s a tricky balance and one that will require DAHA to teach new gardeners about the benefits of ‘grow your own’ at an alternative non-allotment location (the hunt is on).
A personal outdoor refuge is a wonderful thing for the soul. In a modern world of always-on smartphone communication it is very difficult to switch off, relax or even sleep. In early 2016 I myself suffered what I can only describe as ‘anxiety burn-out’, the poor GPs at Medwyn Surgery saw me so frequently that I practically had my own chair in the waiting room. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) referral helped a lot but I opted for increased allotment hours over anti-depressants. Three years on my allotment is still my go-to solution for managing my stress levels and it comes with the benefits of fitness and fresh food. I challenge anybody to spend five hours digging over an allotment bed and not sleep soundly that evening. Furthermore scientists know that exposure to soil bacteria is beneficial to humans resulting in improvements in immunity and mood. Yes, getting your hands dirty is quite literally good for you.
There are five allotment sites in Dorking and 2019 has seen a real surge in demand for plots. Historically long waiting lists were something we heard about in other towns but not here. The cause of this increase in allotment interest might be down to Brexit (food shortage panic) but I’d like to think that it might just be a trend towards self-sufficiency and healthy pastimes, both of which are essential for our continued existence on planet Earth.
Matt Peskett, Chairman, Dorking Allotment Holders’ Association
—- 500 words, published in the Dorking Advertiser, March 2019 —-