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LDA's Destruction of Century Old Evicted Allotment Community

UPDATE ON MANOR GARDEN ALLOTMENTS FEATURED IN BBC2'S 'BUILDING THE OLYMPIC DREAM' SERIES. By Julie Sumner

After belated planning permission was finally acquired, £1.3M hurriedly spent on building temporary plots, the ravaged Manor Gardening Society (MGS) had earth under their feet again. Perhaps the hope that bursts through with the first broad bean shoots would begin to heal the wounds.

.: Tom struggles with his waterlogged plot.: Tom struggles with his waterlogged plotInstead broad bean seeds rotted as the first allotments constructed from scratch in fifty years became a quagmire in the November rains. The ground was too wet to cultivate on a third of the plots until May 08 and remained too wet throughout the season on half.

Traumatised plot holders who had lost their life’s work when they were thrown off their compulsorily purchased plots despaired. For those kept sane and integrated into the wider community through their allotments, the fragile balance tipped. By this stage a third of the original members had given up, had invested their energies elsewhere or were sitting at home, too depressed to do anything.

The Olympic stadia begin to rise up from the so-called ‘wasteland’ that once surrounded some of the most beautiful allotment gardens in the country. ‘Demolish Dig Design’ is progressing to schedule and Seb Coe makes sweeping gestures as he looks out at the piles of particles stacked ready for re-profiling, ‘Out with the old, in with the new’. Is anyone monitoring the impact? The monumentality of the Olympic movement overshadows the plight of the displaced.

The sheer strength of community bonds kept some of the plot holders unable to work their land in contact with the Society as we negotiated for the LDA to commission drainage works to be carried out. By November 08 the repair work was put to the test by a month of heavy rain. Minor improvement but still half of the plots unworkable. Further time consuming and dispiriting battles with the LDA for a serious resolution and several more long time members overwhelmed and handing in their keys.

February brought the news that only very disruptive pipe laying drainage work remained as an option to try and reclaim the land. Plot holders who have made remarkable efforts to get on and re-establish plots in this bleak, windswept and noisy site are dismayed that their efforts could be razed to the ground yet again.

It’s all too complicated and exhausting even to relay but suffice it to say work, completion of which was promised for the start of this growing season, has still not even begun and three more core members have thrown in the towel. 86 year old Tom continued to plant up saying 'This could be my last year,' while 76 year old Reg said 'They'll have to go round it,' as he contemplated how the LDA pipe laying plan, posted on the community shed notice board, showed that his newly erected greenhouse will be in the way.

Manor Gardening Society has existed for almost as long as the modern Olympics, however, unlike Athens after 100 years there is little will to celebrate. The very core of the Society is being eroded, as allotment holders who have shared a life's cultivation with the Society simply cannot bear it any more. Despite endless promotion of 'Legacy' one is only able to interpret such claims as hyperbole when faced with the fact that MGS (amongst many others) have received such ill consideration.

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Is it carelessness or a systematic attempt to dismantle one of the trouble makers' nests? The divide and rule LDA community policy was present in the BBC 2 documentary ‘Building the Olympic Dream’ with local Lammas and open public land defenders set against the interests of MGS.

MGS should have been an opportunity to tell a wonderful story about how we can endeavour to allow the survival of the most valuable facets of a changing urban landscape. It remains to be seen whether Major Arthur Villier’s Eton Manor legacy will survive the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Contact Julie Sumner at: allotments@lifeisland.org


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