Is it a bird ... Is it a plane ...?

No, it’s our allotment officer – Crispin.

If you’ve ever wondered exactly what an allotment officer does, you’re not alone. And I was fascinated to discover how Crispin’s workload actually breaks down, because it’s not what I expected at all.

His job, put in the simplest terms, is to get as many people using as much land as possible through the allotments. That means encouraging the people who’ve already got allotments to use them, and getting people off allotments who aren’t using them. Obvious, isn’t it?

But there’s a complication. Each individual plot under debate has to be examined against three criteria in our district at least. Is it 75% under cultivation? Is it free from flowering weeds? Is it tidy? If those three are breached, the allotment holder may be asked to leave. However, one person’s ‘tidy’ may be another person’s ‘mess’ and 75% under cultivation is hard to judge – dug over ground may have no crop planted while apparent grassland may hide native herbs and flowers … so Crispin spends a lot of time looking, talking and discussing. Not as much time as he’d like though, because his work also involves answering thousands of letters, emails and phone calls every year, from allotment holders or the public. These calls and queries deal with many issues – bonfires on allotments, vandalism, vacant plots, disputes between allotment holders, disputes between allotment holders and nearby householders, rights of way, theft, dilapidation, insurance, waiting lists, giving up allotments, finding co-workers … it’s an endless process.

One of the major issues is crime – and he wishes that more people who suffer vandalism or petty theft on their allotments would get a Crime Report Number from the police and then call him with it, so that he can use that statistical evidence to bring about change: maybe better security, maybe more police patrols, maybe more education in schools … but it seems that allotment holders rather assume they will ‘get hit’ at some time in their allotment careers and that’s something that we all need to take on board. If our houses were raided we wouldn’t brush it off, so we shouldn’t ignore allotment theft and damage either. We’re not helping ourselves, or the community, if we do.

Interestingly, the demographics of allotment rental in this area are changing – many people in the 20 - 35 age group are seeking plots; and many of them wish to be organic gardeners, but our 2300 allotments are already oversubscribed. Is there any chance of more land being brought into use for allotments? Possibly so – it’s under discussion at the Council level, so finger’s crossed for an allotment friendly decision!

It was an eye-opener to spend time with Crispin and see how complicated his job is – I still think he’s a lucky man to have it, but I have a greater respect now for the balancing act all allotment officers must carry out, to keep the rest of us happy.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, August 1, 2007

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