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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Alys Fowler, The Guardian , Home Farmer Magazine and the next phase of the Poster Campaign…

Guardian pod cast

It has been an interesting week. The kids are back at school – phew! And I finally could get back on the computer – uninterrupted. First job was the web site. I hate updating this as it takes me ages to make one small change when I am sure an expert would say something like “instead of doing all that  just press F4!” But it has been done- slowly, please have a look and tell me what you think. http://savefarmterrace.wix.com/savefarmterrace  My friend Sian suggested we should put a timeline of events up. I think it’s a great idea as I already forget bits about everything that has happened to us.

On Wednesday I was very pleased to be invited to the Guardian HQ to do a pod cast on the importance of Allotments. The HQ was VERY cool as you would expect and I felt VERY old as the average age was about 30! Hosting the pod cast were Alys Fowler and Jane Perrone. I got completely star struck meeting both of them! Unlike me I was very quiet and shy to begin with. They were both absolutely lovely and I was thrilled when Alys took a picture of us all for her social media sites!

The debate itself was really interesting and it gave me a lot of food for thought (excuse the pun) I don’t want to give too much away before it is released on Wednesday but we talked about the political history of Allotments and the reasons why they are different from growing stuff in your own garden. Also there was the lovely Lia Leendertz (on the phone) and the very interesting George McKay author of Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion in the Garden http://georgemckay.org/radical-gardening/

I will put a link for the Pod cast up soon as it is released.

Obviously I gave them all #SignForVictory posters and this reminded me that we need more famous people to endorse the campaign so let me know who you think we should contact and if anyone has any connections that would be most appreciated!!

Thank you to those of you who have been posting your #Shedfies.Agents of Field 2  #Shedfie

This is one of my favourites from @AgentsOfField !

You can download yours here – http://tinyurl.com/orcfv27

I am getting a bit frustrated as we need loads more signatures on the petition and although the poster campaign is going well we need a real surge now! This week there were more stories about allotment deregulation ‘fiascos’ which while it makes me sad at least they are getting press coverage. I should contact them with our posters –

http://m.newsshopper.co.uk/news/12903264.Neighbours_campaign_against_plans_to_build_Chislehurst_school_on_allotments/?ref=fbshr

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3047651/The-Good-Life-cancelled-allotment-holders-council-bulldoze-old-plots-build-car-park-football-pitches.html

Thanks to @kevmarriott for putting us in touch with @homefarmer Magazine who have done a great blog on us and are going to put a full pagr poster in their magazine. Interestingly Ruth from the magazine’s mum was originally from Bushy (Near Watford) and they are based in Preston (Near my home town Leyland) It really is a small growing world!http://homefarmer.co.uk/save-all-allotments/

I have been potting on more Tomatoes, my husband is addicted to tomato seeds (Particularly Italian ones!) and I have lost count of the different varieties we are growing. Must go and water them now. Will put up another blog next week. Until then please keep reminding everyone to sign the petition – http://change.org/SaveOurAllotments

And keep growing… x