Plotting the path to a greener land

John Cunningham (18 months) celebrates National Allotment Week.

John Cunningham (18 months) celebrates National Allotment Week.

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IN less than a year the former walled gardens at Bantaskine Estate have been transformed.

Since Falkirk Allotment Society took over the land, the disused ground is now home to vegetables, flowers and plants, as well as hundreds of types of wildlife.

The society fought a long battle to get the land and is now campaigning for more allotment sites throughout the district.

With over 80 people on the waiting list and dozens of enquiries every month they are much needed.

Chairperson, Hilary Muir, is delighted with what the society members have achieved in such a short space of time.

“I’m really amazed at what the allotment holders have done in just a year,’’ she said.

“We are constantly getting positive feedback from people walking past the gardens – they say it’s turned the area from a patch of land to something really special.”

Falkirk Allotment Society is holding an open day on Sunday, August 14. to let members of the public have a good look around.

The event ties in with National Allotment Week– an awareness campaign to encourage people to grow their own.

The week, from August 8-14, will see allotments across the country opened up to the public.

The society was started three years ago as a pressure group to lobby Falkirk Council to provide a space for allotments.

The local authority was one of only two councils in Scotland not to have any sites.

In 2009 they were given the lease on the former walled gardens at Bantaskine Estate and since then have turned it into 18 individual plots.

They were helped by the Criminal Justice Service who gave hours of labour from people carrying out court-imposed community service orders.

Using materials provided by the society, this allowed pathways and borders to be created.

By September 2010, the gardens were transformed and 18 people from the waiting list were given their allotments.

However, that left 60 people still without a plot and since then even more have joined the list.

Amanda Cunningham (37), from Lionthorn in Falkirk, was one of the first members of the society and so was awarded a patch.

She uses her plot to grow vegetables for her family.

Amanda often spends the weekend at Bantaskine with son John (18 months).

“The allotment is a huge part of our lives and it’s been great for my son,’’ she said.

“It gives us a good excuse to get outdoors and keep active.

“Although we have a garden, our house is a new build and the outdoor space isn’t very good for growing vegetables.

‘‘Since getting the allotment we have started growing all sorts of vegetables, from peas to broccoli.

‘‘In fact, I’ve not had to buy any veg from the supermarket for months as we have just been working our way through the produce from our patch.

“It costs a fraction of the price and you know that it is as fresh as can be and organic.

“John loves coming here and playing, getting mucky. It’s so beneficial for him to see that fruit and veg comes from the ground and not just supermarket shelves.

“He can crack open a pea pod and eat them seconds after they are picked – you can’t get that from a shop.”

Hilary and Amanda break the stereotype that only old men keep allotments and they fit in with the trend of professionals and families benefiting from having a plot.

Hilary said: “All types of people keep allotments.

“We have applications all the time and they can come from young single people, families and older people.

‘‘With the recession everyone is keen to save money where they can and we are becoming more interested in where our food comes from.”

The Bantaskine allotments use organic principals, meaning no chemical pesticides or fertilisers can be used.

All the plots are designated on a first-come first-served basis and the society is keen to have more throughout the district.

Hilary added: “It off-sets the green aspect of the society if people have to travel from the other side of the town to get to the allotment.

“Ideally we would like to have them dotted around but at this stage we would be happy to have any land.

“Falkirk Council has been great and we have discussed various options.

“There are so many people in the area looking for plots, it’s just a case of trying to find suitable land.

“Lots of the unused ground around Falkirk is former industrial land and can’t be used to grow vegetables.

“We are optimistic another piece of land will be identified soon and we can get on with transforming it to a site to be proud of.”

The open day on August 14 will run from 1-4 p.m. and all are welcome to look around and chat to plot holders.

To apply for an allotment, visit www.falkirkallotmentsociety.org.uk or go to the open day to find out more.

Application costs a one-off fee of £12 and your name will be added to the waiting list.