Monthly Archives: February 2013

Your starter for 10

The good news continues unabated, comrades, for this week I was the lucky recipient of something called a starter pack. It is a truly wondrous thing, some 17 years after my dear wife and I first started as allotment tenants, to find this in one’s intray. Better late than never.

In truth, it was sent to me by the People’s Republic of Haringey to ask me what I thought (this pack being something that could be handed out to new recruits when they first walk through the door). And in truth, it contains a fair few nuggets of useful advice – so I’ve sent it to everyone. After all, a fresh start would benefit a fair number of our fellows.

I have managed perfectly well over the past 12 years and more as site secretary by providing my own starter pack, which includes a copy of our plot protocol (a voluntary code of conduct), plus one or two other bits. But now that I have the official version, I am more than happy to go with it, not least because it includes a standard and fairly perfunctory “sod off” letter to those who fail to pass muster after their three-month probationary period has expired – one of the bits that I have found most tiresome. But it’s written on the republic’s headed notepaper, so that takes the heat off me when the manure hits the fan and the wailing and howling starts.

But alas, I am going to have to demur over one or two bits of this starter pack – so, in the spirit of bruno’s allotment blog, lets dwell on those.

First up, it is immensely long. Anything more than one side of A4 is likely to be interrupted with a snooze. It then goes on to urge the applicant to “think carefully about the size of plot that you can reasonably manage” (guffaws all round – we have plenty of existing tenants who can’t manage, reasonably or otherwise).

“Take on a half of quarter of a plot first. Master this and then plan for a larger plot.” Yeah, and how is that supposed to work? What am I supposed to do with the other quarter plot that is busy going to seed while they fail to master the bit they have been allocated? A half plot is not just the maximum allocation at the Hill, it is also the standard allocation – and no one has the chance to expand beyond that. But anyone who is offered less than that in the first instance may well have cause to grumble. Am I to be left with a clutch of neglected quarter plots to offer to new recruits who may well be the real McCoy (or not)?  Wotever. We’ll work it out.

It goes on to list a fair number of aspirations (“keeping the plot clean and free of weeds”, “areas of grass and hard standing to be kept to a minimum and occupy no more than 25% of the total plot area). Forgive me for saying so, comrades, but we all know that these requirements are at best guidelines, and at worst, a work of fiction.

I can’t  bring myself to scoff at much of what this pack says, as it is mostly reasonable enough, even if it is a bit Noddy and BigEars for anyone who knows one end of a spade from the other (and there are a few of those around too).

But to round it all off, part of the covering letter to me contains the proverbial killer blow: “There will be no change in the decision making process as to when a tenancy will be issued or refused. It will remain the decision of both the site secretary and the allotments office.”

Righto then. Not much change there. So the site secretary tells the prospective tenant to take a hike because they’re crap; the prospective tenant then goes and has a good whine to the republic; then, in the interests of avoiding an expensive and time-consuming row over something that they don’t give a toss about, the republic pulls the rug on the site secretary, tells the prospective not to worry about that fascist bastard, and yes, of course it will be alright. You just do what you can manage and the rest of it can go to hell in a handcart.

Starter pack? Y’know, my friends, I’m getting a bit old for this stuff. I wonder if they do such a thing as a finisher pack.

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Categories: Allotment blog, Allotments, Gardening, Horticulture | Leave a comment

The big freeze

Praise be, fellows, for we have a small and equally rare snippet of good news to impart this week. Our esteemed but somewhat skint landlords, the People’s Republic of Haringey, have gone all Michael Gove on us and withdrawn the proposed 100% rent rise. Marvellous. No, not even a 50% rise either. Nothing (above inflation at any rate). So there.

And what prompted this, one might ask? ’Job to say really. The head honcho for the environment, mentioned in posts passim, wrote to all 27 site secretaries borough-wide a few days ago. She didn’t tell us all much, apart from “having listened carefully to people’s concerns and reviewing all the feedback, we have decided to freeze the charges for 2013/14”. The extra £60,000 they hoped to raise from this hike was never going to be any more than a drop in the bucket in any case, given the dire financial straits they are in – but I guess she could be forgiven for not mentioning that.

However, she went on to say: “We still want to develop an improvement plan for the allotments, as previously discussed, and have asked officers to draft a scoping document to share with you before the end of 2012/13. Your comments on this will be most welcome”. Uh huh. Scoping, eh?

I’m afraid I can’t help feeling mildly exasperated by this – not least because we went through most, if not all of these hoops about six or seven years ago when the republic carried out a “review” of the “service” and came up with a detailed report as to what needed to be done on a site-by-site basis. The whole lot ended up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere, not least because the bill for infrastructure repairs came in at something in the order of £500,000, and in the absence of any external source of funds to match the council’s promise to stump up half of that, nothing very much has changed – or been done. The neglect at some sites remains rampant.

Since then, responsibility for the “service” has been transferred from the parks department to the tree section (presumably to save money), we have lost our dedicated allotments admin officer and we appear to be back at square one so far as listing all the outstanding repairs is concerned as these people do not appear to be in the habit of talking to each other.

There is, however, one bit that was not considered during that review and which, I am led to believe, may pop up in this “scoping report” (the report already exists in draft form but has yet to be seen by any of us at the coal face). And that bit is self-management.

This is a big subject which was touched on the last time I paid a visit to the talking shop known as the Haringey Allotments Forum. The reaction was pretty hostile when I mentioned it, with one old duck referring to it as “privatisation” (no doubt the appalling Gove would be in favour if it meant knocking yet more lumps out of local government), but I fail to see how the notion of “stakeholders” (apols for that ghastly bit of jargon) becoming masters of their own destiny could add up to privatisation.

A more useful contribution came from one of the more sensible forum stalwarts who flagged up recent experience in neighbouring Barnet – a Tory-controlled borough where they appear to be hell-bent on flogging or hiving off absolutely everything. Those allotment sites where a measure of self-management already existed (i.e. those big enough to have a site committee) were pretty much bounced into taking the whole shooting match off the council’s hands with results that could euphemistically described as mixed.

For my part, I can see some obvious attractions in paying the republic a peppercorn rent for the site and sorting the rest of it out amongst ourselves, but I am far from persuaded. The republic may be totally crap in various respects but, like education for example, there is a stack of things that they do behind the scenes that would otherwise have to be done by someone else.

And as my forum colleague said, most of us volunteers have already got quite enough to do without taking on another great pile of admin and management. If there was money in it – a part-time job or two, perhaps – then maybe it would be worth exploring, but once the subject of money raises its ugly head, could we find ourselves wandering down the road of commercialisation? And once that happens, the nature of the beast may well change radically.

Did someone mention peppercorns? ’Never tried to grow those before. Any tips?

Categories: Allotment blog, Allotments, Gardening, Horticulture | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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