Plot-holders battle to save award-winning Mersey allotments
2 months ago
Plot-holders of an award-winning Mersey allotment site are fighting a desperate battle to save it from closure.
Gardeners at Stan Pennington Allotments need to raise £106,000 by May to buy the site from its current owners – or face losing the treasured green ground for good.
The allotments in Alder Hey Road, Eccleston, are a help and haven for 90 plot-holders as well as organisations like St Helens Coalition of Disabled People and the Stroke Association whose members grow produce there to achieve certificates in horticulture and boost their well-being and self-esteem.
Giles Whalley, chair of the Stan Pennington Allotment cooperative, says: “We have to stay positive and we have to save the allotments, not just for us but for future generations too.
“The allotments are used by people from 25 to 80, who enjoy gardening and growing vegetables and flowers.
“But for many too it’s a social hub, and they come and chat to other plot-holders who, over the years, have become friends. If the allotments were to close, it would be devastating for so many people.”
The allotments were opened more than 70 years ago after WWII by the town’s philanthropic Pilkington Brothers who set up the Pilkington Horticultural Trust to give its employees, many of whom had served in the war, the chance to manage them, grow their own produce and put food on the table amid post-war rationing.
When Pilkingtons was bought out in 2006 the Pilkington Horticultural Trust offered the allotment site for sale, imposing two covenants that would ban housing development on it and ensure its future for horticultural use.
Long-standing allotment holder, Stan Pennington – who was renowned for his prized dahlias – bought the site and, for a while, its future seemed certain. It flourished and even won Best Allotment Site 2016 from the North West Community Allotment Association.
Prior to Stan’s sad death in 2018, a management team was appointed to run the site, and in 2022 it received notice from the current owners who inherited it, says Giles, to quit by November 2023.
Giles says: “Almost 3,000 people signed a petition and we got a stay of execution until May 1, but we need to come up with £106,000 to buy it.”
Last year the plot-holders formed a cooperative as a show of strength and to band together to help raise funds. They have set up a JustGiving page and organised a variety of events.
Giles says the plot-holders, who have also registered to protect the site as an Asset of Community Value with St Helens Council, have applied for help from the Government’s Community Ownership Fund which, if successful, could secure £40,000 to go with £10,000 they already have.
They also aim to plan further events and apply for further funding: “But we’re still a long way off and time is running out,” says Giles.
“I have had a plot since 2008 so I know the benefits these allotments can bring. I never thought I’d take to gardening but I love it and grow everything from tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, beetroot, cauli, and spuds – this allotment grows the best potatoes.
“My younger sister Kelly, who’s 47 and is deaf and suffers from cerebral palsy after contracting meningitis as an eight-week-old child, attends one of the disability groups that use it, and I want to save it because I know how important it is to her, and them.
“Allotments are great places for growing fruit and veg and flowers – and save money in these hard times – but they are also therapeutic and a real boost to mental health and wellbeing.
“People bring their children here, and their grandchildren here. To many of the plot-holders, especially the older ones, this is their life.”
He goes on: “We can only hope that we can raise the money by May or, even, get more time if the owners see how committed we are to raising what we need to buy it.
“This is vital to the plot-holders and to the town’s heritage, and we’ll do everything we can to save it and keep it.”
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