The statistics around loneliness are quite startling and although it’s well known that is is a major problem in society, especially as people get older there aren’t many places that actively support the lonely. There are charities such as the Campaign to End Lonelines that are at the forefront of tackling the problem helping people to make new connections and to bridge generation gaps through housing initiatives other projects.
Where I have my allotment plot in Bristol we are incredibly lucky in that we not only have a shop, community orchard and over 250 plots, we also have a thriving allotment community. Our shop is open 2 hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings and is a focal point of the social scene of the site, this is where people meet for a coffee and a chat and to sometimes to even buy something. As the movement towards growing you own food seems to making a resurgence it’s becoming a popular activity with a younger generation as well as the old. According the the Office for National Statistics loneliness is something that is now affecting more and more young people and is no longer confined to an older generation.
We have plot holders from 22 to 92 and there are connections between them all, sometimes not perfect relationships but this can also add to the sense of community in the place. Knowledge is shared from both the old imparting sagely wisdom and the young introducing new ways that things are being done. Times, fashions and growing practices change over time and so the experience flows both ways. Working on an allotment is an inclusive activity especially for us as we have two plots that have permanent high raised beds for disabled access. This means that we have infirm and wheelchair bound people who actively manage growing their own food on site.
I have a corner plot by one of the main entrances and so there is no hiding from people as they come by. I joked that the plot was the most inefficient one on site because for every 20 minutes I work I spend another 15 chatting with someone who’s come by. At times there are 4 people huddling in the polytunnel from the wind and rain all talking about what and how we’re growing this year, I wouldn’t change that for anything.
There certainly are people on the site who rely on the connections that they have with the place to enhance their social interactions immensely and I think that it performs an important function in our local area. It’s also becoming more of a hub for connecting other local allotment sites. We have reached out to other sites and had a warm reception with people coming from all over to see the shop and to have a natter about growing things, although mostly about the appalling weather.
Remember then that although you may have your head down preparing your bean poles or turning the compost take note of who’s around and say hi, you never know who you might meet and you may be the only social connection that they have that day.