An Account by Mr Doig Simmonds

History of the Pitshanger Allotments site from 1998 to the present

Memories by Doig Simmonds, Chairman at various times between 2000 and 2010

The first task of negotiating with the Council fell to myself and Roger Davies (The Borough Appointed manager at the time). Many meetings later, a self-management plan was formed consisting of a constitution, rules, a contract and the formation of a management committee of which I was the first Chairman following election at the first AGM in 2000. Here it is interesting to note that the already established, Pitshanger Allotments And Gardens Society which operates the Trading Hut were not in favour of self management, and wished to have no part of it. This is one of the reasons they remain a separate business entity. I was told many times that self-management would be a dismal failure because “you could never trust the Council”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Once the PACA was established, we had nothing but help and good will from Council Officers.

Building the Road

One of my first acts as chairman was to obtain a sizeable grant from the Council for the rebuilding of the road-way round the site.

It is good to remember that this road-way project was managed almost entirely by Cian McCambridge who spent many hours working alone clearing the layer of weeds and mud that had buried the original track. It was only after lengthy appeals to the membership that we finally managed to get a good group of volunteers to help Cian. The Council grant provided the hoggin, which is the sandy coloured stuff that you see on the road-way today.

This required plenty of rolling with an extremely heavy petrol driven roller which Roger seemed particularly fond of doing. Cian, who has good carpentry skills, also built the notice board and helped considerably with shelving in the storage garage.

Empty Plots and Lots of Strimming

Although up to1973 the site was fully occupied with a one year-plus waiting list, during the mid to late seventies allotments appeared to go out of favour and about one half of the site became derelict. Once we became self-managing we had a big clearance job on our hands. The derelict area was being sought by the Parks Department who were in a land-grab phase so it was imperative for us to show that a demand for plots existed. The Council also provided man-power and heavy machinery to help us clear those part of the site which had become overgrown with brambles.

It was at this period of low demand that we encouraged existing plot holders to take on as many plots as they could manage. This is the reason that you find certain plot holders with a large numberĀ of plots today. We are thankful to them, otherwise we could have lost part of our site. The clearance period took some time and I particularly remember Christine Hullah wielding a strimmer with great skill and energy day after day. She seemed to have cleared at least one third of the Northern end of the site, entirely by herself, of heavy brambles and weeds.

Victims of Torture

Another significant membership of our site was from the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture which, under the Guidance of Jenny Groot, used the site for the rehabilitation of persons who had suffered at the hands of various totalitarian regimes in other parts of the world; mainly Somalia, Kurdistan, Kuwait, Iraq. They termed our site the Hospital with the Blue Sky. The Foundation has benefitted us in several ways. Not only has it made our site significantly multi-cultural but has contributed to our success in getting grants from the following: Awards for All and the City Bridge Trust.

A Massive Grant and a Visit to Machynlleth

The Investigating Officer from the City Bridge Trust was particularly impressed by the multicultural nature of our membership and that we encouraged young mothers with children to have plots a well. On the day he inspected us it was sunny and alive with young people and children, including one of the disabled beds with attendant plot-holder in a wheel chair. We got a massive grant which allowed us to fence the site, get new gates, build a self-composting waterless toilet and get an equipment garage. The new toilet was obtained after I spent some time at the Centre for Alternative Energy in Wales. We needed one that did not require electricity or water and one that was disabled-friendly too.

Raised Beds

One of my pet projects was the establishment of raised beds for the less-abled. I built the first ones and got them assembled and wood treated by a local business club that was looking for charitable work to do during one week-end. These beds lasted about eight years and have been replaced entirely by Robert Reynolds; my last act as chairman was to get a grant from the Pitshanger Community Association for top soil so that these beds can be properly filled with decent material.

Water and no more Hosepipe Bans

Probably the feature most appreciated by plot-holders today is the fact that we have a bore-hole providing us with an apparently limitless supply of water at low cost. Prior to this there were always water problems and often hosepipe bans in the summer months. I can remember watering after midnight, when at last the pressure came back. For this project our thanks must go exclusively to Roger Davies. Roger and I did much research into suitable systems but Roger did the bulk of the negotiations and especially the raising of the finance which came mainly from plot-holder loans.

Many Helpers

The site has had considerable help from individual plot holders over the years; Trevor Townsend contributed his engineering and welding skills, Charles Vaughan-Jones has helped enormously with advice based on his farming and quantity surveying experience. I particularly remember depending on his expertise when we had an underground water leak on site; Ollie Glennon helped countless plot holders digging, strimming or rotavating their plots; Cyril from the trading hut also helped many plot-holders with digging.

Community Activity

There was a time up to the late eighties when we had many more social events: summer barbecues and the Garden Show. These are now being revived and I’m glad to see this spirit of help is not entirely dead to day. There are still people who help the community and it is vital to encourage this.

Role of Chair

No chairman is any good without a very supportive committee and thankfully this I have had on every occasion I have been in this position. I have stepped down on two occasions, first when Nick Vanson took over then again when Brian Field agreed to take on the chairmanship .

Doig Simmonds 2013