Holmlea Gardens (Allotment) Association

'A Wee Oasis': what do you think about your local allotments?

The Group
Holmlea Gardens Association is an independent allotment association based in Cathcart, Glasgow. Membership is open to anyone living in Greater Glasgow.  There are 37 members, plus a wider group involved in allotment activities.  There are 28 plots on the site and there is a waiting list.  Each year, members rent a full or half plot, keep it to an agreed standard and look after communal parts of the site.

What were they trying to achieve?
The research was prompted by the Association's wish to increase opportunities for allotment gardening for the local community, to increase membership, to improve the accessibility of the site and to develop the site in a sustainable way.  The group wanted to ensure that any changes were based on an understanding of the needs of members and the local community.

The research aimed to find out what the local community thought about allotments, what the barriers were to having an allotment and how to overcome them, to gather evidence that would assist with obtaining funding for further development work, and to provide an example of good practice of working with the local community.  In addition, the Association wanted the research process to give the Association a positive image in the community, and to be as inclusive as possible.

How did they go about it?
A project management group managed the project, with assistance from a wider Advisory Group.  The research methods used were: interviews with 75 individuals from the local area, with the ten organisations that provided services for excluded groups, a visitory survey at the annual Open Day, focus groups with older people, people of Indian/Pakistani background, and local community groups, an access audit, a members' event, a landscape architect event, a schools' project, and a final event.  Seven members of the Allotments Association were trained as co-researchers, and worked in pairs.

What did they learn?
The interviews and focus groups found that people generally had limited knowledge of allotments and associated them with older people and men in particular.  Greater awareness was based on personal contacts, the media and Open Days.  Comments by people of Indian/Pakistani background reflected a more direct connection with the land.  Despite the lack of knowledge, people identified many positive benefits of allotments.  Direct experience, such as the schools' project, led to more positive attitudes.  The main barriers to having an allotment were time, health and mobility.  Smaller plots, plots close to where people live, and access to gardening were the main suggestions for overcoming barriers.

The landscape architect drew up two proposals, both including a new building and toilet, a reedbed to treat sewage, a wildlife area, raised beds for rent, an orchard, and improved communal leisure and storage areas.  The access audit made several recommendations on physical access.  A comprehensive list of recommendations was drawn up by members and non-member supporters.  The main priorities were:

  • to review resources to ensure there are sufficient people for maintenance and development activities
  • that Glasgow City Council help to ensure the allotments are not compromised by a planned housing development, and use our research to promote awareness and value of allotments throughout Glasgow
  • to build on the networking developed during the project
  • to proceed with physical changes to the site
  • to continue to offer opportunities for involvement to primary schools

What difference did it make?
The evaluation process considered whether the project's aims had been fully or partially achieved or not.  It identified additional outcomes, including increased confidence and skills of co-researchers, interaction with local people, and promotion and publicity of the project among policy makers and the media, including a case study in teh Greenspace Scotland (2004) Making the Links: Greenspace and the Partnership Agreement, and a presentation at the Scottish Allotments and Gardens AGM 2005.