Sustainable Cottenham talks with Sue Arnold and Cecilia Tredget, founders of the Cottenham Community Allotment. The story from waste ground to profusion of crops in 4 months.
SC – Hello, it’s so exciting to hear about this inclusive and sustainable project! How did the idea of the community allotment come about?
Sue – Last year in lockdown, I had an allotment for the first time with some friends. There was a plot close to ours which was unused and had been for several years. I was eyeing it up and had the idea I’d like to start a community allotment. For a long time, I didn’t do much about it, then in a chance conversation with Cecilia, I mentioned it, and she said straight away she’d be up for it and we started to formulate a plan to make it happen. We envisioned it as a positive legacy from COVID ’19, not least because, although we only live a few doors apart, Cecilia and I had only met through doing the COVID volunteering group.
Cecilia – Co-incidentally the Baptist Church minister was also thinking on the same lines and also approached the Cottenham Charities who manage the allotments on Rampton Road. They set up a meeting and as they say the rest is history! The aims of the community allotment are that it is both a place to grow fruit, vegetables and other plants, and a place where people in Cottenham can connect with each other through these activities. It has been created to enable those in need of support to meet others over the shared activity of growing and harvesting. It is designed to be a place that serves the community and encourages positive wellbeing for all ages. It will provide produce for those who need it, and a space for groups and individuals of all ages to learn and try their hand at growing and nurturing plants and vegetables.
SC – How does it all work and how many people are part of the allotment?
Sue – We’ve been finding our way with all of the practicalities. Soon after we started trying to make the dream a reality, we discovered that Kate, from the Baptist Church, had also had a similar idea. We managed to link up and asked for the plot I’d been eyeing up together and have since been working it as a group.
Cecilia – The group has a small management committee of 5 people who meet regularly and a small group of regular volunteers. We also have a wider group of volunteers we know we can call upon for big work parties. We have allotment volunteering sessions, usually two weekends per month.
Sue – A big next step for us is working out how to get more people involved and reaching out to the wider community, especially making it available to people who might not otherwise have access to growing produce or who would welcome the opportunity to meet others and experience the pleasure of working the soil and meeting others.
We have had a number of people make donations too, which has been amazing. Everything from tools, potting bench, water butts to plants and seeds. The shelter and the raised beds were all built by local talent and created using largely upcycled materials.
SC – What work did you have to do to the land before you could start growing?
Sue – The land was completely overgrown and the plot had not been worked for 3-4 years. That led to our biggest, most amazing volunteer weekend. 2 days, 12 people, lots of spades, forks and sheer hard graft got the plot cleared.
Cecilia – In March 2021 we had a big working party from across the village who helped clear the very overgrown plot. Fortunately some of the volunteers are very handy and built some amazing planters with upcycled timber and wooden pallets from Travis Perkins. One of the biggest jobs was building a lovely wooden shelter with seating to provide shade and shelter from the rain.
SC – What kind of produce have you managed to grow so far?
Sue – We have had an amazing summer. Potatoes, onions courgettes, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, chard, rhubarb have already all cropped profusely and continue to do
Cecilia – We have also grown black eyed beans successfully, one of the volunteers used to grow them in Sudan when she was growing up.
SC – Were there any big obstacles to overcome?
Cecilia – Distributing all the produce – we have had too many courgettes this year and they have been difficult to get rid of!
Sue – No big obstacles really, we have just had to put in the time and work hard – people have been wonderful with giving their time and energy, and it wouldn’t have happened without that.
Cecilia – We do have a very small plot and it is very cramped so we would like to expand if we can. We also need to grow our pool of volunteers and start to work with referral agencies to support people who are lonely or depressed and want to visit and enjoy the allotment.
SC – What have you enjoyed about the allotment most so far?
Cecilia – We have all found it very rewarding to share our love of growing things and starting a community project together to provide a place for people to meet. We have all made new friends in the village through the community allotment which has been great and fun too!
Sue – The volunteer weekends have been fantastic, a place to meet others, get stuck into the work and watch the transformation of a barren piece of land into a fertile area growing an abundance of produce. I arrived back from holiday on Sunday and cooked a meal for 5 from scratch with produce from the allotment and garden where every single element was home grown – what’s not to like?!
Seeing the plot take shape and the shelter and greenhouse come into use has been exciting. And my personal favourite? Watching the sun set on a warm summer evening after doing the watering – truly beautiful.
SC- How and who can get involved and is there any other information you would like to tell people about?
Cecilia – Anyone and everyone can get involved and they can find out more on our Facebook page ‘Cottenham Community Allotment’ (note, not Cottenham Allotment which is the FB group for the allotment holders) or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sue – We’d like to reach out to more people who are perhaps on their own, or finding things tough and would feel the benefit of some company and the bonus of growing some crops too. We would welcome participation and would love to hear how people would like to be involved. There are volunteer weekends which is the first and most obvious way to get involved, which are all published via our Facebook page, and the Cottenham newsletter.
We have an exciting project underway to make a short video about the allotment. Ellie, a young local entrepreneur who has set up her own video production company has volunteered to make a video for us. Watch this space.
We would also like to consider expanding the plot if it is possible and would love to have a “Junior Cottenham Community Allotment.”
There’s nothing more joyful and therapeutic than putting your hands in the soil, planting seeds and watching as things grow, and what’s more, it can happen, even in a pandemic. Who’s in?
SC – The project sounds like it is growing and thriving, just like your produce! We look forward to following the journey of the community allotment and the achievements it will continue to make.