So we think we Shepherds Hillbillies have got it bad? “OMG”, as they say. Take a look at what’s happening three miles up the road in the eastern side of the People’s Republic of Haringey. I’d better be coy (for now) and not mention the allotment site, but what we are talking about here is a veritable tsunami of problems, courtesy to a large extent of a very large hole in the ground where management ought to be – so bad, in fact, that the site secretary has jumped ship and closure of the site is being given serious consideration.
And what does this crisis amount to? According to a briefing note issued to last weekend’s meeting of the Haringey Allotments Forum, it features persistent damage, theft, bullying among tenants, large volumes of dumped rubbish, access blocked with high fences and locked gates, “over-sized structures”, “DIY toilets”, sub-letting and unauthorised plot allocation by tenants to friends and family.
Ouch. Sounds like civil war to me. And how has this pretty pass been reached? Because it has been allowed to. And who’s arse is in the sling? Well, I fear the blame has to rest squarely with the republic. It is not fair to blame either the tenants or local management (the site committee), although I am told that a “language barrier” exists at this particular site, which to me is a somewhat disingenuous figleaf covering a highly controversial area.
At the heart of all of this lie the questions “who does what” and “on what basis”. Interestingly, but coincidentally, the same meeting of the allotments forum was due to consider an item concerning the roles and responsibilities of site secretaries. I’m not at all sure where the impetus for this came from, but it may well have something to do with the frustration experienced by the republic when people such as me get involved in a scrap – which we inevitably do from time to time (see posts passim; proverbs spring to mind involving omelettes and cracked eggs). All they really want is a quiet life, and they’re not going to get that if people like me stick our heads too far above the parapet and start acting ultra vires.
The role of site secretary is indeed somewhat ill-defined. Like all voluntary roles, it is what you make of it. In my case, I am a very busy bunny indeed on behalf of our tenants and the site generally, and the republic draws plenty of benefits from such activism too – for free. They rely heavily on people such as me to make these sites fly, but they don’t like it very much when the flak starts flying too.
In my 11 years or so as general secretary of the Shepherds Hill politburo, I have learned that a thick skin is helpful, along with a capacity to act in a fair and reasonable fashion at all times, preferably with the confidence and support of site committee. The secretary is unlikely, in my experience, to get much back-up from the republic when the boots and fists start to fly – which appears to me to be what has happened at our afflicted neighbour.
But the question remains, how have the apparatchiks let things drift this far? We all know that we allotment gardeners are not a priority (that has been stated publicly by the republic’s head honcho to the forum), and that they are skint too, with recent cuts making the position even worse than the not very pretty state of affairs before they lost a large wodge of cash with a flutter on Landbankski.
My point is that the republic cannot have it both ways – they cannot sit on their backsides and rely on us volunteers to run their sites for them and then start getting peeved when it all unravels. They have a duty of care – and if they are really unwilling or incapable of meeting it, then maybe we are going to have to borrow from our Tory friends in neighbouring Barnet, where, I am told, sites are run like a boot camp and in many cases, have been hived off to make their own way in the world.
Is this “the big society?” Three miles to the east of us, it looks like its shrinking PDQ to me. Oh well, there’s no shortage of junk lying around up there to build a few barricades.