Farm Terrace Allotments now (and then)

(‘Now’ photos credit Marcus Dove)

Mayor Dorothy Thornhill and her Lib Dem council have finally bulldozed Farm Terrace allotments in Watford. All that remains are a couple of stubborn sheds (left to give the last few animals some refuge) and piles of rubble.
Of course we knew that this would happen and we know that in their embarrassment to wipe out any connection to an allotment site the area will change beyond recognition. That is why it is so important for us to record it now.


Farm Terrace allotments date back to 1896. They were at least three times the size they were at the end and reached out to behind the hospital and towards what is now Laurence Haines school. They can clearly be seen here behind Vicarage road stadium.

fb_img_1522147252013483563584.jpg

Many people ask me what exactly Watford Borough council will do with the land and the truth is that we honestly don’t know. When the judge at the Royal courts of justice finally ruled in favour of them destroying the allotments she did so unconditionally.
Originally Watford borough council said it would all be used for a new hospital and then they said it would be for part hospital ‘buildings’ and partly for housing on the development known as the Health Campus. the irony was not lost on us and within a few years they could no longer claim any health benefit and the name has now been changed to the Riverwell development. Here is the latest photo that I could find of that and you can see the allotments listed as part of the Northern development zone, you can just about still make it out.

screenshot_20180327-115101517379457.jpg

In 2009 when we first got a plot on Farm terrace There were roughly 120 plots and around 90% occupancy. Typical of that of any allotment. We had neighbours all around and there was a waiting list for the vacant plots.


The first thing Watford Council did was to close the waiting list, they then asked for voluntary relocations. Some people who had already fought development took this. There then, as is well documented a huge public legal battle. We were fighting not just for our own site but for the protection off ALL allotments. In spite of our best efforts and after a bitter 6 year battle we lost. During this time, and make no mistake, in order to make the allotments look derelict, unused and unloved the council started picking off the remaining plot holders. We were offered, new plots, shiny new sheds and up to £1000,00 in compensation to vacate. In the end just 24 plot holders remained. I estimate that around 10 years ago there were probably about 90.


We won the first legal challenge and even after that, we continued to offer a compromise to the council. They could take most of the vacated site, but they were not interested. They wanted it all and I do believe the mayor Dorothy Thornhill wanted a win.
As per legal requirements we were offered replacement plots but there was nowhere near enough to take us all and the site offered was more than two miles away. In the end around 10 of us relocated to 4 or 5 different sites but the move was too difficult for most.


My own personal difficulty lies in the fact that for the local community of Farm Terrace (of which I am part) there are no local allotments now. Slowly over a period of time they have been cut back and cut back until now like Farm terrace there remains absolutely nothing!


We will still have our memories but soon all that will be left of Farm Terrace will be these blogs and the well documented press coverage of our case.

Advertisements

Starting over again.

It has been one full year since we received the keys to our new allotment. It was bittersweet. After being evicted from Farm terrace, part of the legal requirement was to offer us a new plot on a new site. “Like for Like” that phrase will stick with me forever. In the end six of us took plots on the second nearest site of Hollywell allotments. It is about a 20 minute walk from our house whereas Farm Terrace was a 5 minute walk and was an old sewage farm so the quality and indeed general appeal was not ‘like for like’. However for the purpose of this blog I am not going to focus on the negative but instead the positive. I have had too many years of negative.

We went to look around the new site on a cold winter’s morning. It was not inspirational but then hardly any allotments are at that time of year! We talked about it and decided that we would take over an area of wasteland, thick with brambles and overgrown weeds so that we would be able to be together. The council would have to rotovate the ground and replace everything we had as part of the ‘relocation’ so at least we knew that we wouldn’t have to clear the plots. This did not make us popular with other plot holders as usually when you take on a plot it is your responsibility to get rid of anything unwanted.

This work was done and the plots were measured out. Those who had (and still wanted) 10 poles or 20 got them. We had 5 and we are happy with 5. The highlight for me was a brand new shed! At Farm terrace we had an enchanting home-made shed which had been left by the previous tenant. But for all its charm it was rat infested and falling apart! The shed the council had to give us is brand new (another big faux pas for other allotment folk) and big enough for the whole family to shelter from the rain in!

Because the quality of the soil at Farm terrace had been so good they also had to give us a lot of fertilizer. However this was dumped at the end of the allotment site and we had to organise ourselves to transport it to the new plots before anyone else could help themselves. This was done by wheel barrow load for load and took days.

I felt completely apathetic to the whole move. I can only liken it to having to have a pet dog put to sleep only to be given a new pup. Yes, it’s lovely and yes you are so ‘lucky’ but you don’t want the new puppy you want your old beloved dog. I felt hurt and completely unappreciative however for the sake of my family and friends I got on with it.

Now starting a new plot all over again is bloody hard work even with the ‘help’ we had but in our favour we had years of gardening experience and most importantly we had each other and that made it easier. We got to work quickly as a united group helping each other. Our first job was to put in the (now dilapidated) raised beds we brought with us from farm Terrace. I was also able to create a flower bed which I had always meant to get round
With the help of our friends we put in a patio in front of the shed and created space to sit and have a chat and a drink! We also made some temporary beds and began putting in plants and seedlings. My husband and I both work and could only spare weekends and the occasional morning or evening but I am proud of what we achieved.

Other ex Farm terrace plot holders were similar to us and worked about 50% of their plots others managed to work almost all of theirs again helped by the fact we were all in the same position and we could help each other. Thanks to Roger who is next to us I got my first ever harvest of peas!

The kids found it difficult at first. whereas before they had basically had the run of Farm terrace and knew it like the back of their hand they too had to start afresh and unfortunately they got shouted at a couple of times by other plot holders who understandably did not appreciate them on their plots!

Even I have found making new friends on the new site difficult. I had no enthusiasm left in me and was not in the mood to be happy and positive. Like most allotments our new one does not have an association and despite the desperate need it is often difficult to convince people. Allotments need an association because without one you cannot legally fight any threat of a land grab and, as we found out, an association brings people together even if the leg work can be difficult to begin with. Organising this is on my list of jobs for this next year.

The best thing about the new plot was that for the first time in 5 years we can plan and make arrangements for the future, It was never worth investing neither time or money in Farm terrace as we never knew if and when we could lose it. The luxury of being able to build something knowing it can be improved and bettered in the future is priceless.

In the middle of the summer we organised and held our first Allotment gathering and we invited past Farm terrace plot holders and supporters of our fight. It was a lovely day.

We have all named our plots Farm terrace Corner so that the name Farm terrace will never be forgotten. We regularly meet up there and have started a Wednesday coffee morning and have been able to encourage friends and neighbours to take plots on the site.

Now a year on I do feel positive about the new plot and have grown to love it as I did our last plot. We are lucky to have it and each other and gradually I have reduced the amount of times that I compare it (unfavourably) to Farm terrace. The kids feel like its home now and the added bonus of new children to play with is a luxury Farm terrace could not offer them.

I will never forgive Dorothy Thornhill and her Lib Dem Council for orchestrating and overseeing the destruction and abandonment of Farm Terrace Allotments. The people in that, my, local area who either live in small terraced houses or flats will never be able to grow food there. It will be a car park.
But now it is time to think about myself and to think about the future. That said I am aware that we are not safe from land grabbers. That no allotment site is. But prevention is the best medicine and if we can build a community here, create an association and make sure all the plots are worked it will be much harder to lose this plot.

An unlikely vegetarian

People usually laugh out loud when I tell them that I am a vegetarian! As a loud, pint drinking northerner I never did look like a stereotypical vegetarian but then who does?

Last month- January 2018 was known as ‘veganary’ as many people tried a Vegan diet. Possibly because of that vegetarianism seems to have cropped up (pun intended) in many recent conversations.

Years ago at a Weight Watchers meeting in Wigan my mum was told that in order to make a certain dish for vegetarians she just had to add chicken instead of red meat. Funny as it sounds there is still a lot of confusion around the terminology.

Basically. Vegetarians don’t eat any meat products including chicken, fish and sea food. But we do eat dairy and eggs. The technical term is Lacto-ovo- vegetarian. Vegans don’t eat any meat products as above but they also dont eat cheese, milk, butter, yoghurts or any dairy produce nor eggs .

Now inbetween these two definitions you have a lot of personal choice. You can eat eggs but not dairy and vice versa. Some people don’t eat red meat like steak but will have white meat like chicken. Some people won’t wear leather clothes and will check ingredients for animal by products like gelatine and rennit. The level people take this to is very personal and varied.

Thinking about writing this blog I wondered just how many people in the UK were vegetarian. I guessed about 10% but was shocked that the total was much less at just 2%

I became Vegetarian in February 1984 I was 12 years old and my friend Anne who was two years older and way cooler told me that she had become one and explained what it was.

My mum didn’t seem to mind when so announced my life change in fact I think she was relieved as I had never really liked meat. As I was only 12 she did take me to the doctor who was really positive and gave me some great advice 1) take a multi vitamin with Iron 2) watch your bowel movements (to check they were ok) 3) Eat a varied vegetarian diet. Plenty of Vegetables, a few portions of fruit and eggs, cheese and beans.

The problem was that as a typical 12 year old I actually didn’t like much fruit or veg! So my diet mainly consisted of cheese and bread in different forms! My mum told me that I would have to prepare my own food as she rightly, was not going to make a separate meal to everyone else. However as this was 1984 in Lancashire there weren’t exactly a lot of vegetarian options in the supermarket! There was however ‘sosmix’ and ‘burgermix’

However from the age of 14 I visited Italy regularly and found the variety and quality of meals I could eat was much wider only of course they didn’t call it ‘Vegetarian’ it was just ‘food’. In fact for many years I had to explain to many older Italians what a Vegetarian was. But the range and taste of the vegetables and fruit was amazing. There I tasted so many different pasta and vegetable dishes and living without meat was easy. Although there were a few problems particularly when I would ask many times if a dish contained meat, always to be told no but then I would sometimes find a chunk of meat in the dish and would be told not to eat it. It was only there to add flavour!

It was a huge problem to my husband when we first met. As a Sicilian, fish is a big part of his diet. He could understand me not eating red meat but no clams, mussels or white fish? Was I mad?

I have never been tempted to eat meat or fish and you may be surprised that even the smell of bacon doesn’t tempt me. You see to me it is about not wanting to eat flesh. I find eating animal parts as disgusting as someone cutting off their thumb and saying “this is gorgeous try this”!

Of course when I was young I was quite militant about my vegetarianism carrying around folders with ‘Meat is Murder’ on them but of course these fell on deaf ears. My friend’s were supportive although one friend’s mum used to give me ‘tomato sausages’ – I chose to believe her that they were vegetarian although they smelled tasted and looked like pork ones!

I am lucky that even through three pregnancies I have never been anaemic and have never needed Iron injections. I also dont ‘present’ as a stereotypical vegetarian . ‘Waif like’ would never be used to describe my physique!

Our children have never shown any interest in becoming vegetarian. I remember them chewing on a leg of chicken and asking me if this was once a real chicken. When I told them that it was and that it was just like one of own back yard chickens they shrugged their shoulders and carried on chewing. I have no problem cooking meat for my family but I wouldn’t like to carve a chicken or fillet a fish! I’m honest with the children about why I am a Vegetarian and I think that hopefully it will in the future help them to think carefully about the food they eat.

Cheese and bread still feature too high in my diet but I do try to eat as many vegetables and legumes as possible. I have to admit to being rubbish at eating fruit though. Well fruit here in England. With the exception of fruit grown on the allotment, most fruit I get here looks beautiful but tastes of nothing. I find it an expensive waste of time.

Having an allotment means we do eat a lot of Vegetables and they are organic, fresh and so tasty but no I don’t think that the plants scream in pain when I pick them!

I always get asked that if it was kill an animal or starve what would I do? Of course it’s a ridiculous question so the honest answer is that I don’t know.

Most of the meals I make are Italian. Indeed this is where I learned to cook. None of my immediate family is vegetarian so meals have to be flexible so that meat or fish can be added. I am very proud of the meals I make and so I will be sharing them on my blog and I hope you like them and try them yourselves! Please let me know what you think. I will be trying to use seasonal food where possible. I’m sure you don’t necessarily want to become a Vegetarian but I think the health benefits from eating some vegetarian or vegan meals regulary can not be ignored.

Here is a link to the vegetarian society website which has lots of information and some amazing recipes.

https://www.vegsoc.org/definition

I hate February

Don’t get me wrong, it has been a llooonnnnggggg January and I am glad February is here but it’s my least favourite month. Let me explain.

The good things about February are the following;

  1. We FINALLY get some money after what feels like 3 months since the last pay day.
  2. No council tax to pay! (Yayy!!).
  3. Valentine’s day and carnival (IF you are lucky enough to live in a country which celebrates it).
  4. Longer days and shorter nights (just).
  5. Imbolc (half way point between winter solstice and summer solstice).
  6. We begin to see a bit of sun.
  7. It’s short.

Now let me use the counter arguments…

  1. Oh yes we get paid. Then we have to pay back all the money we over spent on Christmas and we are back to being skint again!
  2. Do we even notice not paying council tax? No didn’t think so. What we do notice is April when £100+ suddenly starts going OUT of our account! WTF?
  3. Who actually celebrates Valentine’s day? Me and the husband do our best but it’s quite forced, over priced and over too quickly!
  4. I love longer days when it means I can get out in the garden or down the allotment. I even like the short days when you can light candles, switch on fairy lights and get all snuggly because it’s dark outside. It just doesn’t feel the same however when it’s light but grey and cold outside. Too dark to go out and too light to get properly snuggly!
  5. Imbolc should be a proper celebration here but I am one of only a few I know who celebrate. As I said some abroad get to dress up for carnival or Mardi Gras and eat gorgeous food. What do we get here in Britain? Shrove Tuesday or pancake day! Instead of exotic costumes we get soggy bloody pancakes and a bit of ash on our foreheads!!
  6. But this next point is my biggest bug bear. February is like a naughty glimpse at the unobtainable fruits of spring. “Yes” I say. “It’s so sunny!” I say “I will go out without my coat”. 5 minute later as I strut down the street in my cardigan and sunglasses I realise just how fricking freezing it is and then it rains or snows! You have more chance of snow in February in England then you ever will at Christmas. And the seeding… Oh the seeding… As a gardener I am desperate to start my seedlings but if you start too soon and it’s a rubbish spring then all your hard work can be for nothing if the seedlings don’t prosper and/or are too long and stringy. And that’s a disappointment I can’t take
  7. Lastly it is short. I can’t argue with that! Thank God for that. But soon it will be March and then the summer and finally it’s December and we think “where did that year go?”

I do hate February. To hit a serious note I lost my dad in the month of February and it seems to me that as I have lost quite a few friends and family in this horrid month so maybe just maybe I bare a grudge against it.

Here I am living in February 2018 when others aren’t. Then I remind myself of Mark Twains saying –

“Do not complain about growing old it is a privilege denied to many”.

I think this is how I have to look at my February and force myself to enjoy it for those who can’t any more.

So let me grab my sunglasses and cardigan and get planting those chilli seeds!

In the beginning there was Wham

I got my very first house plants when I was 12. I begged my mum to buy them me on a soggy sunday trip to a garden centre. It was 1984 and I named them George and Andrew. Andrew was the taller leaner one but George was my favourite. They lived a long and happy life in my ever changing bedroom and I am told that Andrew  (a yucca) was moved into my mum’s garden and there continued to thrive. 

It would be many years later that I would own my next plants. I worked in Italy for years and was never lucky enough to have a garden. Then in 2000 my dad (who had recently started growing vegetables too) brought me one of those propagator sets you can buy in bargain shops. It had a plastic propagator with lid, tomato and chilli seeds and a small amount of compost.  It was only small but it was not a small gift. My dad brought it over to Italy for me knowing I had a small but sunny window sill. I loved taking care of it and watching the fruit grow. Those tomatoes were the sweetest I have ever tasted and from there grew my love of growing veg. 

A couple of years later I moved back to England and together with my future husband we rented a tiny flat on the ridiculously polluted Camden road. This didn’t put me off however. We had a large sunny window by which I grew many varieties of house plants and I took in sick plants and tended them back to health earning me the nickname ‘plant whisperer!’

Our window in Camden –

From there we moved to Chalk farm and finally I had a lovely balcony! I grew tomatoes and chillies, peppers and even aubergine! There wasn’t much light but I loved spending weekends there and dad gave me some plants called ‘night scented stock’ which he planted under our window so that as evening came in so did this wonderful floral scent. Unfortunately I have never been able to grow it since.

Caring for these plants, planting seeds, watering them, nurturing them also fulfilled another need in me. Following a wonderful wedding and honeymoon pregnancy we lost the baby after an ectopic pregnancy ended in emergency surgery, a removed fallopian tube and a long period of recovery.  I swear that being able to grow these plants and reap their results aided my recovery greatly.

A much wanted successful pregnancy brought us to Watford and our first house and garden! Ok ‘yard’ or ‘rear courtyard garden’ as the estate agent called it! It was small, shady and uncared for but I loved it!

There were no decent window sills so again Dad came to the rescue and in the summer he put up a mini plastic greenhouse for my seedlings.  My Sicilian husband put in a (very optimistic) vine and a beautiful Rosemary bush. I grew beans up the washing line pole and tumbling tomatoes from the fence.  Buckets became carrot and potato beds and every spare bit of soil had a herb!

Our small back yard in Watford –

We found out we were pregnant with baby number two which would mean having  two babies under 18 months old.  We had started to literally outgrow the yard. That’s when my husband suggested we get an allotment, I thought he was mad. Two babies a yard full of plants and he wanted an allotment?! In March 2009 we picked up the keys to our beloved plot on Farm Terrace Allotment but that as they say is another story…

Farm Terrace Allotments – One year after we lost the fight to keep our plots.  

20171102_0943501883903839.jpg The entrance today

One year ago todaywe lost our fight to save Farm Terrace. We fought a good fight but the odds were stacked against us. Farm Terrace allotments stand behind Vicarage Road stadium in West Watford and date back to the late 1890s. There were over 128 plots which accounted for just under 10% of all allotments in Watford. Farm Terrace was the largest allotment site in the centre of Watford, a densely populated town of 80,000 covering eight square miles.

It was May 2012 when the Farm Terrace Community received a letter from Watford Council stating that the land was needed for the so called Health Campus to rebuild the hospital situated next door. It soon became clear that the hospital was not the priority and housing seemed to be the real pursuit of the land grab, leading the remaining Farm Terrace allotment holders to challenge the eviction. The initial reaction was to tell us we were wrong and force a legal battle but in 2014 the Mayor of Watford, Dorothy Thornhill, admitted at a Mayoral hustings there would be no new hospital for Watford and only a possibility of new facilities. The campaign that followed to save Farm Terrace was bitter, raw and passionate. The Mayor of Watford swayed the public with untruths and unfulfilled promises. Ultimately the truth came out that the land would be used for a football carpark, housing and possible hospital facilities if there was funding. In the end the dubious council campaign did its damage.

We finally lost our four year fight at the Royal Courts of Justice late last year and were given just 48 hours to leave our allotments despite requesting a short extension to remove our belongings. This was denied and the council arranged a fence to completely surround the fence already around the allotment to prevent re-entry. Almost one year on the allotments remain abandoned and derelict with a season of fruit and vegetable crops rotting in the ground.

The council had to offer us new allotments that were close to Farm Terrace. Their proposal to the UK government was to replace the lost 128 plots on a site two miles away on the outskirts of Watford at Oxhey Village. To date only 22 plots have been replaced with 11 used by new tenants. The site chosen by the council was not accessible for most Farm Terrace users and eight of us reluctantly optioned to relocate to an existing site relatively closer than the Oxhey Village option.

As any allotment holder knows starting a new plot is daunting. Luckily we had experience and knowledge but it was hard work and bittersweet preparing the new space. In the first week we found our plots had been rotavated for us by the council but contained bricks and other building rubble. We dug deep and through hard work and perseverance similar to our four year court battle we have moved forward and pursued our true goal of growing vegetables. We now have new sheds, worked-over land and fresh compost that has led to a productive first season. Despite the group success we still felt like misplaced refugees in a place we did not choose after decades developing our Farm Terrace community.

We have turned our anger and bitterness into digging, building and planting. The fact we could do this side by side was invaluable. To retain some identity we named our plots in the corner of Holywell allotment site ‘Farm Terrace Corner’ so our old site will never be forgotten. It is still difficult to walk past Farm Terrace but as I began to write this piece I felt that I had to. It stands like a decaying museum piece and I fear for inner city and town allotments as developers continue to eye up short term financial gains rather than long term social profit of community assets like Farm Terrace. The partnership between Kier and Watford Council to redevelop the area around Watford Hospital is a good example of this. Farm Terrace was not lost because people didn’t want it or that it wasn’t needed but because of short term greed.

Dorothy Thornhill and her Lib Dem council now wish to distance themselves from the sordid affair and have already relabelled the Health Campus as the Riverwell Development which currently has permission for 85 ‘housing units elsewhere on the development’. No planning permission for Farm Terrace has been submitted yet. While we wait to see exactly what will become of our beloved site I worry how little value the government places on green sites over quick profit.

It has been depressing, demoralising and destructful but these feelings are being recycled and reused as physical energy as I weed and plant spring bulbs on my new plot whilst other allotment site continue to be closed and developed throughout the UK.

Is this the end? How do we feel?

It has been a few weeks since we received the Government’s decision on the third application to ‘deregulate’ (close) farm terrace. People keep offering their condolences and asking is this is the end of the line? Honestly I don’t know. How do we feel? We know the decision is morally wrong. We are thankful that our fantastic legal team have agreed to look through this latest document to see if it is legally wrong and we are comforted by the support of local residents and supporters far and wide.

And we have been here three times before.

The first time back in May 2013 was the worst. We were sure that the government would back us up. Andy our chairman and others spent weeks completing our submission, which still stands as a robust document, so when the Watford Observer called me for a quote about the fact ‘we had lost’ – it was the first I had heard and I was shaking with shock. I met my neighbours who also have a plot there and we cried in the street. Luckily in July 2013 we got legal support funded through crowd funding and challenged that the decision had been incorrectly made. In August 2013 the Secretary Of State acknowledged his error in the decision and through a Judicial review formally quashed the deregulation decision. But in September 2013 Watford Borough Council put in a 2nd submission to close the site.

In December 2013 the SOS agreed a second deregulation whilst stating exceptional circumstances for the first time as the statutory criteria to close had not been fully met. I heard about this when a friend called me. This time I was not so surprised but the exceptional circumstances threw me. It still does. On July 25th 2014 We took the government and the council to the Royal courts of justice for a second Judicial review and on October 31st 2014 we found out that we had won!

In January 2015 Watford Borough Council put in their third submission to close the allotments. They believed that it was simply a matter of updating the information that was referred to by the judge and that the decision would be made quickly. The update from the Council that ran to 44 pages and 43 appendices.

We were made to wait 15 months.

On the 26th May 2016, this year, I was sat on the park having a picnic after school with my family when the same friend called to tell me the news that the government had agreed a third time to deregulate. My phone didn’t stop ringing that afternoon. It was mainly the press but also supporters trying to make sense of the legal jargon.

I felt numb. I still do. As I have explained we have been here before but each time you hope that this time ‘they’ will see sense. That this time David will beat Goliath.

We know that there will be no hospital buildings built on the Farm Terrace land. We know that all the plots will be bulldozed over to build flats and car parks. We know that this unique green lung that has been with us since the 1890’s and surrounded by buildings and traffic, once lost will be gone forever. We are not unique, many allotments are being ‘sold’ to developers but we are the most high profile case.

One day I am convinced that school children will study our case. The question I ask myself is whether they will study it because finally we won or will they study it because we lost and it marked the end of allotment gardens?

Don’t worry. We will fight on!