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All hail Allotments!

By Weald to Waves - 29 April 2024

Allotments have long been a staple of British community life, running through social and agricultural lives through the history of towns and cities across the country. In Sussex, like much of the UK, these communal garden plots have played a pivotal role in urban and rural food production, particularly during times of national strife such as the world wars. Their evolution reflects broader societal changes and underscores the enduring value of community-driven agriculture.

The concept of allotments dates back several centuries, with roots in the agricultural practices of the medieval period. However, it was during the Industrial Revolution that allotments began to resemble their current form. As rural workers moved to urban areas, the loss of access to land and traditional rights prompted the allocation of small plots where workers could grow food to supplement their diets. By the 19th century, the allotment movement gained momentum, bolstered by legislation aimed at providing plots for the labouring poor.

The role of allotments expanded dramatically during the World Wars, particularly under the "Dig for Victory" campaign. A parliamentary debate shortly after World War I highlighted the surge in allotment cultivation: from 101,592 acres in 1914 to 157,620 acres by the end of the war, with the number of allotment holders increasing from 453,627 to 1,163,790. This expansion was not only crucial for bolstering home food supplies but also had a marked beneficial effect on the wellbeing of those involved. The popularity of allotments soared to the extent that by 1920, waiting lists for plots were common, much as they are today.

In Sussex, these plots became particularly significant during the wars as part of the national effort to boost food production in the face of shortages. The campaign was incredibly successful, transforming private and public lands across Sussex into productive vegetable patches that significantly supplemented the nation’s food supply.

Today, allotments serve as vital green spaces in urban areas. They are not just places to grow food but also serve as biodiversity hotspots, supporting a variety of wildlife including pollinators and birds. The community aspect of allotment gardening encourages the sharing of resources, knowledge, and labour, helping to strengthen community bonds. Moreover, they are seen as therapeutic landscapes where people can relax, socialise, and escape from the stresses of everyday life.

In Sussex, the allotment tradition continues to thrive, with plots cherished by a cross-section of society. From Brighton to Chichester, allotments dot the landscape, each plot telling its own story of community spirit and resilience. They remind us of the power of collective effort in local food production and are a testament to the enduring appeal of connecting with the land and each other. The allotments of Sussex not only feed bodies but also nourish the community spirit, making them an indispensable part of the region’s cultural and social fabric.

Do you have an allotment? Sign it up as part of Weald to Waves for support with bringing more nature back to your plots.

Image credit: Will Jackson / CC BY 2.0 DEED.

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