Ealing Allotments Partnership
March 7th 2012
Polygon, St Mary’s Church, Ealing W5
Eighty Members attended the Ealing Allotment Partnership AGM
1. Minutes of the previous AGM
The minutes of the meeting held on 16th February 2011 were approved.
2. Matters arising
There were no matters arising.
3. Chairman’s report
The Chairman presented her report: a copy of which is attached to these minutes.
She emphasised that EAP is not in receipt of any funds to cover the cost of its AGM and associated events and was facing problems covering the costs of these events. The question of an alternative cheaper location for the AGM was discussed. The Log Cabin close to Northfields Station was identified as a possible venue.
Maurice Wells suggested that given that the Partnership was intended to act as a bridge between Ealing Council and the Ealing allotment community, the Council should be asked to provide council facilities for the AGM. He put forward the following proposal, seconded by Doig Simmonds, that was formally adopted by a unanimous vote of those present:
Provision of space and facilities for the Ealing Allotments Partnership AGM and its associated activities are required for about a hundred participants for about three and a half hours. As active members of a partnership between the Ealing Council and the local allotment community, this meeting feels it would reasonable to ask the Council to make a meeting room available for our AGM, free of charge.
She also raised the fact that she had received reports that the posters advertising the AGM had been removed from the gates of a number of sites. In all reported cases these were the only items that were removed. No clear explanation was forthcoming. It was agreed that it would be better if notices were posted on the inside of gates where access is possible.
4. Treasurer’s Fundraising Report and Presentation of the Annual Accounts
The Treasurer presented her report covering EAP’s grant applications and the accounts for 2010-2011. A copy is attached to these minutes.
5. Election of officers and executive members
Helen de Jimenez, Dominique van Dooren, Maurice Wells, Catriona Mitchell, Patrick Williams and Derek Harris were re-elected to the EAP Executive Committee. Helen de Jimenez and Patrick Williams were confirmed as Chairman and Secretary respectively. Maurice Wells elected Treasurer in place of Angela Richardson who stood down from the Committee for family reasons. Derek Harris proposed a vote of thanks to Angela for her sterling work as Treasurer. This was carried unanimously.
6. Welcome to Guest Speaker and Gardeners Question Panel Members
The meeting welcomed the guest speaker Doig Simmonds (Pitshanger Allotments Conservation Association), who was to give an introductory talk on the “Self Management – The Pitshanger Experience”. Also welcomed were Saul Walker (organic gardening expert), Andy Pedley (beekeeping expert) and Eddie Weston (expert gardener) who were to join him for a Gardeners Question Time panel following the AGM.
7. Allotment Manager’s Report
The annual report from Stephen Cole, Ealing council Allotment Manager was tabled. It was accepted, in his absence, without discussion. A copy is attached to these minutes.
8. Any Other Business
EAP ran the Organic Gardening Course, which was funded by Awards for All. The course, which was run over two Saturdays, was duplicated. This meant that members of the committee covered four days during May and June.
We were able to hire a room, with a kitchenette and toilets facilities, based at Grange Primary School. The courses were taken by two students from RBG Kew, Saul Walker and Robert Alcock. We received very positive feedback overall, with a few helpful suggestions for improvements. We were also very fortunate in that we were able to have access to a suitable allotment plot on the neighbouring site.
The website that was set up last year proved very useful as a forum for contact between the individual allotment associations. Through this and the hard work of Patrick Williams, a meeting was set up with the Council to discuss the future of allotments in the Borough.
Our Treasurer, Angela Richardson, is standing down from the committee for personal reasons and I would like to take this opportunity to thank her for all her help and help.
Looking towards the future, it is likely that the role and status of the Partnership is going to be affected by the changes that are being discussed by the Council, with regard to the Management of Allotments.
EAP was set up many years ago, to act as a liaison between the Council and plot holders. Over time is has become apparent that, although all plot holders are part of the organisation, very few have been able or willing to give their time to engaging with the Council. We have regular meetings with a representative from the Council. It was through the Allotment Manager’s report, prepared for us for the AGM that the changes and rent increase proposed by the Council were brought to light. Some allotment associations were then prepared to meet with the Council and this resulted in a reduction of the Council’s proposed increases. These increases could have been a lot higher.
We receive no funding for our work. Any funds that we do receive are for a specific project and have to be spent on that. As a result of this our funds are very low. This may well mean that next year we do not have the funds to hold an AGM in a public venue with a speaker and question time panel.
We would appreciate any ideas as to how/where we could hold such a meeting.
Finally, it has been brought to my attention, that some of the notices that were put up, to publicise this meeting, were torn down shortly after they were put up. We are obliged by the Constitution to put up notices to advertise the meeting. Many of you will have been advised about this meeting through the website. If your site was one of the ones that appears not to have had a notice then this is the reason why.
Helen de Jimenez 07.03.2012
|Opening balance||£699.89||£ 3,088.83*|
|Awards for All||£ 2,600.00|
|Organic Gardening Course||£ 2,659.68|
|Surplus / Deficit||£ 3,088.83||£499.80£3088.83*|
*contains £2600 restricted to Organic Gardening Course
Prepared by Angela Richardson for the AGM March 2012
Let’s start with the hosepipe ban and water taps. Contrary to popular belief, the council didn’t have many alternatives to introducing a hosepipe ban – the regulations that apply to allotments are considerably more stringent than those applying to domestic properties. It could have sought a judicial review of the interpretation of the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999, but this would be costly and unlikely to result in a favourable interpretation; it could have installed pumping systems on each site to allow the water to be wholly isolated from the mains supply, but that is also a costly option with substantial ongoing maintenance implications. Perhaps the oddest feature of the regulations is the requirement to provide only taps without a hose-union thread, which for us meant that in the short term the threads had to be cut off existing taps. The council is very well aware of the displeasure and nuisance this has caused. Every week I find modified outlets that have subsequently been replaced by plotholders with new threaded taps, which only serves to increase the cost of the operation and leaves people open to the possibility of a criminal prosecution by the relevant water company, as well as loss of their allotment.
We lost site managers over the implementation of the water regulations. This isn’t surprising. Site managers are allotment tenants who have volunteered their services to help their allotment site run more smoothly, and when sufficient complaints start rolling in it becomes difficult to reconcile this voluntary support with being able to continue to enjoy their own allotment. My heartfelt thanks go to all managers present and past for all they do, and I’d like everyone to remember that site managers are volunteers who give much of their time whilst frequently hearing only criticism.
Over the past year the council has pursued the continued expansion and development of the service, and Ealing’s first new site since the peak of allotment gardening during the war is being prepared at Popefield, near Ealing Common. Another site, this time a long-abandoned allotment in Greenford, is re-opening, as are pockets of land around the borough on existing sites. Around 70 additional plots are or will soon be available. 2011 also saw the first site to become managed by a Transition Group – if you don’t know about the Transition movement visit transitionnetwork.org and locally ealingtransition.org.uk.
On the subject of taps, some of you will be aware that allotments are being targeted by thieves who remove taps to sell for the scrap value. This is nuisance (and costly) enough whilst the water supplies are turned off, but there are clear indications that the thieves are just as happy to steal taps and leave water gushing all over the place. This could have a significant impact upon our activities in the coming year, and I’d like to ask everyone to be on their guard and to call the police if they believe that a theft is occurring. This doesn’t relate only to the taps, either. There has been a substantial increase in the number of reports of break-ins and thefts, with clear indications around London that professional gangs are sometimes involved in wholesale clearance of easily saleable power tools and equipment. The worsening financial news may point to more of these problems in the future, and reports from other boroughs suggests that the only practical defence is increased numbers of gardeners on site, and possibly over a longer part of the day (for instance, there are night-time watering schemes on some sites).
The council has been tightening its belt, as most will be aware, and this resulted in a decision in 2010 to increase allotment rents to the point where the rental income covers all the outgoings. Initially the outgoings were not going to change, but after representations from the community it was decided to cut the overall budget so that less money need be raised, and to phase the increase over two years to reduce the impact of one large increase. Negotiations resulted in the announcement of a 40% increase in October 2012 with a further 10% in October 2013. There will be a 10% cut (ca. £10k) in the overall budget, which means a 20% -25% cut in the amount available to spend on repairs and improvements. I hope that people will become more involved with their site managers in the maintenance of their own sites, thus ensuring that there is no reduction in service.
There has always been a need (it’s in the rules) for people to become involved in site maintenance. Some managers receive terrific support, some do not, and plenty of instances are brought to my attention where people say they’re too busy to help. That puts a burden on those who do volunteer as well as on the council’s limited resources. Whilst there are those who will readily suggest further rent increases to cover routine maintenance, this penalizes those who are happy to do their share. By comparison, Wyevale Garden Centres offer 3½ pole plots and they take care of paths, hedges and the like, charging £5 per week for the plot. Over a year that’s £260, roughly £75 per pole, or double with a shed.
The council is currently looking at a range of management options for allotments. The increase over the last few years in the number of sites (Ealing has more than most London boroughs) and tenants (ditto) results in a substantial workload. There are various alternatives: a contractor could reduce administration by streamlining many processes; similarly a boroughwide trust – either allotment tenants elected to voluntary roles or a professional body – could pool and distribute resources much as the council does today but with reduced costs; a third option is one many people will be familiar with – local management of a site by a group elected from and by the local tenants, responding directly to their collective wishes, as so ably demonstrated by Pitshanger Allotments Conservation Association.The decision on what model (or models) to adopt has yet to be taken, and I hope that many of you will take an active interest in pursuing the best result for the future of your own and all council allotment sites.
After a very mild autumn and winter, flowering trees and shrubs (and probably our fruit trees) are in a bit of a muddle, and some have already flowered and attempted to produce 2012’s fruit last autumn and may not have the strength to repeat the effort this spring. You’d expect vegetables grown from seed to escape this, but the mild weather means that many pests and diseases will have survived the winter and are ready to launch themselves on whatever we grow. It may not be an easy year for a variety of reasons, but with care and attention I’m sure we’ll be putting copious quantities of food on our tables this year.
Presented by Doig Simmonds at EAP-AGM 2012
Pitshanger Allotments Conservation Association first started planning the move to the self-management of Pitshanger Park Allotments more than twelve years ago. This was carefully done with much cooperation with the Borough Council Allotment Service. In 2000 we became officially self-managing with a five-year lease agreed between ourselves and the Borough of Ealing.
The most vital factor in our subsequent success was and still is an enthusiasm to do the job. In other words you have got to WANT TO DO IT.
We inherited a site that was only about 50% occupied, a large part of which was overgrown with brambles and scrubby shrubs, fences that were damaged, rusty and ineffective and the usual poorly maintained gates with No. 3 Padlocks.
A number of key requirements were identified for setting up a self-management scheme:
(a) A strong management team – in practice this needs to be made up ten or more people committed to the project and willing to put in a lot of hard work. Key officers are – a chairman, treasurer, secretary, a site manager and a fundraiser. Initially some of these tasks can be rolled into the same office, much depends on whom you can find. It is important that the officers have some computer skills. This ability makes for easy and efficient communication between them.
(b) The support of a large majority of the plot holders – Your first AGM is vital. You need to get the majority of plotholders agreeing to the new plans and management policies, constitution, rules etc.
(c) A Constitution – this has to involve the allotment community. The roles of officers, tenure etc need to be clear. Rules have to be carefully formulated right at the start. It is much easier to enforce rules if plot holders have been party to their formulation. It is also much harder to bring in rules at a later stage where you may be dealing with specific cases. It is particularly important that the rules are perceived to be fair and that there are agreed procedures for their implementation - notices to quit etc. Conditions relating to bonfires, rearing livestock, nuisance to local residents and fellow plot holders, non cultivation, maintenance of paths, planting/removal of trees etc. all need to be specified in detail.
(d) A Business style Bank Account – The Bank will usually be very happy to help you set this up. (it helps if you can enrol someone on site who already has accounting skills). The accounts have to be presented yearly at the AGM and must be audited by a recognised and accredited Auditing Service. This is vital when applying for grants. You must be able to show that your association functions as a properly constituted business.
(e) Site Survey – it is essential to carry out a careful site survey before entering on self-management. Check that all is OK regarding plot sizes, boundaries marked out, agreed paths are established. This may require modifications to plots – get these sorted out. Check state of site boundaries etc. The Council may need to be reminded that the site must be in good repair before handover.
(f) Legal Matters – lease conditions and any rent issues regarding the site need to be sorted out. Matters of insurance and liability need to be clarified. Here the best advice can be obtained from the National Society of Allotments and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG). Once you become self- managing factors like third-party liability and the Landlord and Tenants Act may become important to you.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Self-Management
The main advantages of self-management are:
(a) Self-managed sites are eligible for grants from charitable bodies not available to Council managed sites. In the case of Pitshanger this has meant that they have been able to raise funds for a borehole thus freeing them for water restrictions; money for raised beds; new and higher fencing; a leaky-hose irrigation system (this delivers water slowly to plants, can be controlled ie left on for long periods without worrying about waste); and a water-less self-composting toilet system. Finally we increased security by eliminating one gate, getting rid of the No.3 key (which is used nation-wide) and replacing this with a key system where the key cannot be copied except by an authorised officer of the committee.
(b) At the moment, all of the rental income, is available for expenditure on site repairs/improvements. This is particularly important as problems can be solved rapidly rather than waiting in a long line for the Council to sort things out. The range of possible improvements is also much greater.
(c) Long term security – depends to some extent on negotiating a long lease. No question of being “contracted out” to “Agents” with little track record and appreciation of allotments.
The main disadvantages:
There were no obvious ones identified but clearly one could be internal disputes/disagreements on management policy, or disputes between plot holders. There will inevitably be an increase in these. However, a strong, sensible and sensitive management team is usually able to deal with them.
Questions raised from the floor:
How do you deal with “difficult” tenants? The Committee appoints eight people – four groups of two – each to check for problems on a quarter of the site. They do this four times a year. They note transgressions – non-cultivation, lack of maintenance of plots, shed size problems etc. They speak to offending tenants and if necessary warning letters are issued. Three warning letters and you are out. This system has worked well to date.
What about pre-existing problems e.g. large existing sheds? The Committee tries not to be too heavy handed over such things and exercises discretion. One of the criteria with sheds or other structures on site is that they must be ‘temporary’ i.e. able to be taken down. We forbid the use of cement or concrete anywhere on the site.
What about letting to new tenants? At the time of writing, there is a waiting list of about a hundred. New tenants go through a probationary period to check that they are willing and able to cultivate their plots and stick to the rules. This period is about eight weeks and may be adjusted according to time of year and weather conditions. We stipulate that a prospective plot holder must do the work themselves and not via a third party.
How about rents? Our last AGM in 2011 agreed that rents would be raised to £15 per square rod (close to that for the Council managed sites in October 2012). People are happy to pay this as they know all, or most, of the money is ploughed directly back into site maintenance and improvements.
How long is the lease? Initially five years but we are currently on yearly renewal (most other sites in other boroughs are on much longer 25/35 year leases). We are not uncomfortable with this as Ealing is very supportive of self-management but we appreciate that a longer lease period would be a good idea.
Do you have a Trading Hut? Yes – like many sites the setting up of a trading hut preceded the formation of the main Local Association. With hindsight, it is probably a good idea that the relationship between the two is clarified before taking on self-management. For accounting reasons it seems a good idea to keep the two businesses separate.
Is the size of the site a factor? Ideally you need a site of at least a 100 to 200 plots simply to have enough people involved to generate a motivated management committee. It is difficult for small sites with smaller numbers of plots to generate enough momentum as not unreasonably many tenants simply want to get on with cultivating their plots without getting involved with site management. That said there is nothing to stop a group of small sites in the same area getting together to set up a Local Association that runs them as a co-operative unit.