A lot to lose

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In the seventh of a series of articles by plot holders at the Redbridge Lane West allotments – which are under threat from the adjacent gas works – Shirley Grey-Allen explains her Caribbean cultivation influences

We are Shirley and Jennifer of Plot 78 (since 1 July 2008). Many will also know Dorothy, our mother, who is often with us. Dorothy is of the Windrush generation from Jamaica. A hard-working, ambitious woman who came to Britain in 1955 and worked as a nurse for the NHS.

Dorothy was the reason we originally obtained an allotment as a project to provide a space for her and her friends to enjoy the outdoors in their senior years, to socialise and cultivate in an area reminiscent of the West Indies, where they had their own land and people planted produce (although we’ve not yet been successful in growing avocados, mangos, pineapples or bananas).

As Caribbeans, we have brought diversity to the site and have thoroughly enjoyed working our plot and doing it our way. The experience has been filled with both highs and lows, with one of our senior citizens, Ms Esta, an experienced gardener, passing away.

Our plot had not been cultivated before so required a lot of back-breaking work. It was used as a dumping ground and filled with rubble and rubbish, much of which we used to create interesting feature areas, such as a hardcore rock garden and a gradient of steps. We have worked very hard to achieve the end result we now have. We also love to recycle and you can make a feature of almost any old item. All we have learned has been as a result of mistakes, reflection and correction.

We have been fortunate and produced much over the years, which we have shared within our community, as is the West Indies’ custom. Also, during lockdown, the freedom and tranquillity the area provided was wonderful. We have thoroughly enjoyed the company of our neighbours Geoff, Helen and Debbie. And over the years, our children and grandchildren have enjoyed visiting, with an appreciation of the hard work and energy required.

The saying ‘time waits for no man’ is very fitting for an allotment, where one hour can effortlessly convert into three. At the onset, we envisaged sitting for tea, cakes and relaxation. Well, nothing could be further from reality because there is always so much to do. The labour and finance invested would be difficult to calculate, and the plot is very important to us. We look forward to continuing to be able to work our plot for many more years and sincerely hope that Cadent (the gas company) will find an alternative way to carry out their upgrade work.

We are proud to witness the progress of the conservation and wildlife sanctuary and the marvellous Sprout There! project for adults with learning disabilities. Redbridge Lane West allotments are without doubt a local treasure. The contribution to the borough cannot be underestimated.

To view the petition to save the Redbridge Lane West allotments, visit wnstd.com/rlw

Author: Editor