Picture the scene: three thirty on a Friday afternoon, members of the “events committee” meeting at a sodden allotment site. The weather forecast is full of gloom; rain getting heavier, if not wetter. It hadn’t seemed so tricky, back in November when this Open Day was being planned (part of the itinerary prepared in advance to go out with fee payment agreements in February, so plot holders and cottage gardeners know what is planned and when it ‘ll happen). Open Day? August?Beginning of National Allotments Week? Be brilliant weather!
But, determined as ever (perhaps dogged – or slightly crazy are words that also fit the bill), we decide: “It’s on!”
The marquee, on loan from Cheslyn Hay Scouts (thanks for that) skilfully erected, means we are also now prepared. Scarecrows are counted, paperwork sorted, floats counted, details gone over just one more time. We defer making a decision on how many burgers to buy for the “free-to-plot holders” barbecue. That may prove to be a step too far and we can think about it tomorrow. Necessary because once we buy the stuff nobody has room in a freezer to keep it for another time (that’s what allotments’ll do for you at times).
Up again the next morning; setting up from 9 a.m.
But the book stall is set up, the “pick an egg” (some things you just have to be there to understand, know what I mean?) stall too, so does bunting. Somebody staggers in carrying anther scarecrow … stalls get set out for the refreshments, produce appears and gets displayed on the “barrow”. It’ll be sold and money donated to West Midlands Air Ambulance (the charity chosen by plot holders at the A.G.M. in October)
Cheslyn Hay Historical Society have sent their apologies; Staffs Wildlife Trust told us they wouldn’t send anyone if it was raining … where are the beekeepers?
HCPT arrive. They are cheerful, ready to set up their tombola. Soon get stuck in and the site starts to liven up.
Followed fairly swiftly by the beekeepers. Stalwarts! We have a couple of hives on the site and are delighted to promote bees and bee keeping.
Before anybody can say pumpkin it’s noon: official opening time.
Joan, from Hedgehog Rescue and a “special guest” are also on site, spreading the word. Allotments can be such key sites for hedgehogs – and hedgehogs such useful “friends” to growers.
New to the area PCSO Adam arrives and introduces himself. The PCSO has keys to the site and, although a little surprised at how large the place actually is (a not uncommon reaction) he promises to look over the area on his patrols.
It’s warm rain now at any rate (and warmer still under the tea ‘n’ cake tent. Big thanks to those who did the baking – delicious.
Caroline, from the Eat Well campaign, drops in and has a chat; one of the first visitors. Then there is a steady stream of people: families on the “Scarecrow Parade Trail” – diligently filling in their voting slips.
Plot holders keen to support the event, local people just curious (one of whom buys most of the produce from the barrow. So we have to re-stock it (blimey, there’s a lot of people handing us courgettes-cum-marrows today!)
One visitor, from Cannock wants rhubarb, for his daughter, so I nip off to my plot and pull some for him. He pays us a marvellous compliment; mentioning “what a friendly bunch” we are.
It’s great to hear things like that – especially as the rain begins to lift.
We decide to get stocks in for the barbecue while the sky is blue and spirits soar.
Rain sets in again and a couple of ladies who “Just nipped in to see if D… was here ” so they could shelter in his shed for ten mins end up being fed and given a cup of tea. They turn down the red currant wine that Eddie has brought along. (in fact he won’t drink it himself, but it’s been a long day and somebody has to try it eh?).
A big thanks to everyone who contributed in any way, especially to those who were visiting our allotments for the first time (hope to see you again maybe?)
Winding down at the end of the event, planned to be at the start of NSALG’s National Allotments Week (http://www.nsalg.org.uk/news-events-campaigns/national-allotments-week/), we are pleased that we showed true grit in going ahead with it, wished, inevitably that a few more people had visited, but all agreed that these marquees are the bee’s knees.
Time to start planning for next year yet ?
It’s one of those things isn’t it: did we meet him, or vice versa?
Gavin Williamson, that is; our local (south Staffordshire) M.P.
We were representing Cheslyn Hay Community Allotments at a South Staffordshire Community Voluntary Action celebration at Perton back in June – he was opening the event.
He was brief and amusing in his remarks and spent the day visiting each of the many stalls; where he demonstrated the knack of making each group feel special and showing an interest in what was on offer. That, of course included our “custom built barrow”*. And he mentioned that he would like to come and see the whole site, but was unavailable for the planned Open Day.
Several mails and ‘phone calls later we arranged it all and he duly turned up; smaller car than I had expected, but the same keen questioning enquiries and the ability not to always take himself too seriously. He was accompanied by the head boy of Cheslyn Hay High School , on a “work experience” scheme. He represented his school, himself and indeed, Gavin Williamson extremely well and was fully involved throughout.
Gavin himself had remembered his promise to provide a trophy for the Scarecrow parade, had a guided tour of the site, passing compliments on individual plots, plants and certain crops. He was happy to take up a spade and turn the first spadesful of soil to begin to prepare the ground for the composting toilet (our thanks to West Midlands Co-op for the funding) and pose for photographs.
He was accompanied by a young man named Jay, head boy at Cheslyn Hay High School who was mature, responsible and a great representative throughout, certainly deserving od special mention for his insight and the way he joined in while remaining respectful and interested. We had prepared a cup of tea and biscuit break and sat together sipping tea and chatting about a number of subjects: fracking, HS2, wine making, allotments, backgrounds and families. This was perhaps the first official informal (if such a thing is possible?) use of the community area for this purpose: sitting together, chatting, with refreshments and the wonderful sense of community-togetherness which, happily, pervades these allotments these days.
Leaving us to go on to an M.P.s surgery he complimented the style of management and praised the forward thinking that is going on (typified by the raised beds he saw).
The self-same “barrow” that was used for Cheslyn Hay Open Gardens Day and at the Age UK/Eat Well meeting in Essington … and we plan to use during the Open Day (this Saturday, from noon – 4).
See you there ?
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Thank you for your time.
When I first started to grow vegetables I needed help to work out what I should be doing each month at my allotment. I found that there was lots of bits of information scattered between internet sites and books and it used to take me a long time to find the information I actually needed. I really needed it all to be in one place, so I could look it up easily, to establish what to do each month.
I therefore thought it would be useful to have this information altogether in one place. So for the benefit of UK gardeners, at the beginning of each month, I write a list of things…
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The photos above show some of the scarecrows that seem to have started to take up residence on the plots this week.
Wonderful variety of styles from the sweet to the, frankly weird … but a great effort from all the scarecrow creators out there.
They will all be “standing by their (vegetable ) beds tomorrow as part of our Annual Open Day (opens at 12 noon) and visitors will have a chance to marvel at them – and vote for their favourite one.
There will also be a range of other stalls and activities.
See you there perhaps?
(If you need the address: Pinfold Lane, Cheslyn Hay, WS6 7HP)
We need your help please:
PARKING: We will be setting up marquees and stalls from 9 a.m. where cars are usually parked. This means your “usual spot” may be taken up for the day. Apologies for this if necessary, but it will help the running of the event. Alternate car parking has been arranged on the Parish Council car park on Pinfold Lane
PRODUCE: If you have any surplus produce that you are willing to donate let us have it please. It will go on sale and funds raised go to our chosen charity.
SCARECROWS PLEASE: Visitors will be able to tour the site to see what wonders we perform. They will also be voting for their favourite scarecrow. Please have a go … it’s just a bit of fun – and we all need that every now and then.
CAKES PLEASE: We need cakes of all descriptions to sell from our refreshments stand, down in the community area. Please help; the more the merrier.
BEST PLOT: Members will have the chance to vote for their favourite plot. Turn up, walk around, cast your vote.
YOU!! We would love to have as many plot holders on site on the day as possible: Come along, support the day, meet your fellow members and enjoy a free barbecue in the early evening.
The “events committee” plan ahead, producing a provisional calendar of events that is passed on to all members during the fee-paying sessions which kick-start the plot year.
An event for July is so easy to decide on in November (when the plan starts to take shape); there are always requests for “a bit of a barbecue” and the weather in July (when you’re in the darkening, frost-threatening month of November) is always going to be glorious. Isn’t it?
Fast-forward to the reality of Saturday-gone. Weather reports threatening a continuation of the heavy Friday downpours (welcome because it meant no need to water the plots perhaps) and cooler temperatures too.
But we’re a hardy lot. We’ve got the gazebo (and the right people can put this thing up in no time) so it went ahead.
And once the decision had been happily made the sun came out, temperatures soared and clouds that had looked like gangsters became friendly instead.
Good decision team!
Thanks to the plot holders who contributed the flowers and the energy of the organisers in getting the charcoal, tea bags, burgers, sausages, bread rolls and sauces (no expense spared at these shindigs folks!) and cheerfully chef-ed and served them up.
“Best burgers ever!” was one of the comments – all compliments gratefully received of course.
But more than just a chance to let someone else do the cooking this was, again, about people getting together. Sorting out the details of the trip to Tatton Park Flower Show, tasting home-made wines, sharing tips (about gardening or visiting New York) and – of course – for a little gentle banter.
It also gave people the chance to take a look at the raised beds behind the community area. A long time in the planning and construction these five beds are now being gardened by a couple of community groups: M.I.N.D. and Rockspur House. And are turning out very nicely with a range of crops on the go. A new and forward-looking part of the site that is something for all of our members to be proud of … if you haven’t seen these yet, take a moment and have a look. Certainly the people who wandered around the beds on Saturday (with a burger and a brought-from-home beer) were impressed.
Having the community area at the sheltered bottom-of-the-slope end of the site meant we could sit as the sun went down, enjoying a chat and the site in full-burst bloom: a time when we are starting to get the harvesting done … and wonder how to deal with the surpluses.
Anybody need gooseberries for a crumble, for wine, know anybody who wants some or has got a gooseberry shaped space in a freezer?
Be a shame to throw ‘em away …
(Thanks to everybody that supported the barbecue.)
(Thanks to photographer Mike Jones.)
Sunday dawned as Saturday had finished. Warm and cheerful.
Up to the Pinfold lane entrance to set up for the Cheslyn Hay Open Gardens Day. This is a one-day local event which raises money for the charity decided on by the organisers. Our allotments was part of the set-up for the first time last year; a pioneering venture on both parts. Unfortunately the weather was poor and the directions to the allotments given in the programme were misleading.
This year … quite the opposite!
We joined the impressive list:
Dorset House, 68 Station Street – Plants will be on sale
76 Station Street – a beautiful garden with a modern flair that shows the owners personality
79 Station Street – come and enjoy home-made cake and tea and soak up the lovely Victorian Cottage Garden
119 Station Street – a stunning garden which goes on and one and on…
16 Rosemary Road – a chance to see ducks as well as some unusual plants
Cheslyn Hay Community Allotments, Pinfold Lane – come and take a peek at Cheslyn Hay’s best kept secret.
This year it had been decided by the powers-that-be that money would go to Katherine House Hospice in nearby Stafford.
The allotments shop was open, as usual, the gates flung wide and a steady stream of visitors, some with programmes bought at other gardens, some starting their tour with us (programmes allow entry to all properties on the day).
Visitors were, by turn, intrigued, amazed, encouraging and appreciative; and commented on the friendly atmosphere and community spirit on the site.
We added names to the waiting list and a few cottage gardeners. And gave guided tours. Among the main attractions on this walk was the beehive … and, in fact when I was doing the walk I was actually standing right by the thing but could neither hear it nor see it: a credit to the beekeepers – and the bees of course.
At one point a swarm of bees passed overhead and we were all concerned that the swarm had come from the hive and unable to remember the ‘phone number!
A couple of our plotholders, who had never been to the other gardens before did the tour this year, encouraged they said by the fact that the allotments were taking part.
One of our last visitors was a lady from the hospice who came to thank us for our efforts on their behalf. This was a really unexpected and lovely touch. Some larger charities could learn a lot from such a simple gesture!
At the end of the long day, the barrow was taken apart: it has been widely complimented and well-christened.
I expect it will be out again for the barbecue on 2nd July.
Until then, there are weeds to pull and crops to pick: never seen so many broad beans and strawberries!
Never a dull moment when you’ve got an allotment.
Thanks to the behind-the scenes organisers of the day, to everybody who came to support the allotments, to our members for their support and best wishes to everyone involved with Katherine House Hospice.
Image: allotment photos (editor)
The longest day dawned: the start of a long weekend.
The debut of the “market barrow” I bodged up out of an old gas barbecue and some timbers. It’s collapsible and we wedged it into the car and set off for Perton. Sun hot and high in the sky. Outside position … and the pieces went together reasonably smoothly (though some bolts needed the gentle encouragement of a cobbler’s hammer). The idea to create this barrow came to me while we were at the Co-op A.G.M. I had been making plans to use scavenged bike wheels on a wooden frame, but about to put the barbecue on Freecycle I saw the opportunity. Et voila:
This event was to celebrate the work of Support Staffordshire, formerly SSCVA, and bring together community organisations. As such it worked; although perhaps a little short on genuine Joe Public visitors. Both S.SC.V.A. and Support Staffordshire have been superb in supporting our efforts: fund raising and the community voice forums, so we were delighted to be invited and happy to play a part.
The event was opened by local M.P. Gavin Williamson, with a witty self-deprecating speech and a fanfare from another group represented.
We handed out free seeds, business cards, ur A4 calendar of events and chatted to other stall holders and visitors. There was skittles game set up next to us and on the other side a young woman representing Age Concern. While across form us were the “Perton Wildlife Group”. Spectacularly both of their volunteers missed the amazing sight of a hedgehog carrying a young one (what are baby hedgehogs called? hoglets?) across the gateway from shrubbery to shrubbery.
The M.P came by and spent quite some time talking to us on the stand; having his photo taken – a true public christening for the barrow! (Thanks to William Hanford/Gavin Williamson for the following picture.)
During the day we collected contact details, advice and began to prepare for the Cheslyn Hay Open Gardens on the next day.
Later certificates were awarded to volunteers without whom – as Mr Williamson put it – “so much good work would go undone”. This speech of his was first class: respectful, humble and giving the feeling that he was very much aware of the locality and the characteristics of the many organisations represented.
And, taking the barrow to pieces we left: tired but satisfied. With the good feedback and appreciation shown.
June? Flaming June?
You’re climbing into the car with threatening grey skies and messages of doom from the yesterday’s TV weather forecasts burned in your brain. You put off cancelling today’s planned event until today – thinking, just hoping that the poor weather will be gone – or part of something imagined.
Up at the community area and the others are there. Everybody’s smart phone seems to be giving a different local weather forecast. Mine says 90% chance of rain between 12 and 1 and 405 and less after that, Somebody else’s says the opposite …
But it’s about determination, and we are all about that.
“Let’s go for it!”
The green and white gazebo – big enough to hold a Harrier jump jet, by the way – is erected; even though we may have some of the poles in, er … not quite the right places we can jam the cover on. No sooner done than: rain. Heavy! But we are dry. And there’s three hours before the event is due to start. Somebody finds the season’s first ripe strawberry; just the one mind you.
The new shed is christened. It’s sturdier, got a good floor, smells of new planed wood and will be ideal for preparing the sandwiches and tea. We MacGyver a roof for a washing up area.
Back at 2.30. Its warmer; in fact hot under the gazebo. The sky is blue. Gas burners set up. Kettles on. Bread being spread. The custom-built A-frame board is popped up outside to possibly attract “passing trade”. Well, you just never know.
Twenty minutes later: people have turned up, are siting at tables chatting. The beekeepers who donated eggs. A man and his wife who live opposite the site, “just popped in to take a look …” and they’re glad they did. A cottage gardener. Family members. A big, friendly sun shines down on the community actions going on in the community area. Close to the raised beds (coming along nicely) this is the product of a lot of hard work which, when things like this are going on, was all worthwhile.
Heading home later: tired but satisfied, we’re all glad we didn’t call it off. Now what will the weather be like for the Cosford Airshow tomorrow?