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A Magazine for Sheffield

"The joy of digging, nurturing and tending": Meet Archer Lane allotments

In operation since 1939, Archer Lane Allotment and Home Garden Society are finding new purpose as a group of growers who want to make a difference.

Grumpah at archer lane allotments

Grumpah at Archer Lane allotments.

Archer Lane Allotment and Home Garden Society has been in operation since 1939, voluntarily working on a site that is owned and managed by Sheffield Council.

Committee member Sophy Slyvester told me more about the work of the Archer Lane allotments, how they share knowledge and produce with Sheffield communities, and their newfound purpose and vision as a group of growers who want to make a difference.

Tell us more about the Archer Lane allotments.

The council owns and manages the allotments on the site and we run the allotment pavilion. This is a building on site with a shop that opens every Sunday morning, as well as offering a range of other activities aimed at bringing the allotment and home garden community and local residents together.

We are a membership organisation and we encourage allotment holders and local gardeners to join us at a very affordable price of £10 a year. This covers the ever-increasing costs of running the pavilion and some of our overheads, and offers members the chance to shop from an amazing range of stock at very low prices. Members can also take part in our annual show and receive the King's Seed catalogue for incredibly low-priced but high-quality seeds.

We have a beautiful site and lots of opportunities to share it with our local residents and communities. I think that we now have a responsibility to align our purpose to respond to more contemporary issues around food systems, protection of nature and the increase in social isolation. Seed swaps, guest speakers, giving growing advice and guidance, supplying low priced but high quality organic and peat free garden supplies and bringing people together is all part of that.

How are the local community integral to your ambitions for the site?

We know that not everyone wants to become a member and so we have started to run open activities to bring together local residents and members. We share the benefits of cultivating produce from positive mental health and wellbeing to the reduction of our carbon footprints and improved social connections.

This broader vision is quite new for us and we have just started to run more events and learn about what works and how we can improve.

Our members have been volunteering to host classes from our local primary school for the past year, linking to curriculum areas around growing food. We have just run a community Seed Swap Social to generate conversation, swap seeds and gain propagation advice from one of the Sheffield Friends of the Botanical Gardens volunteers. We have been taking part in Food Works' Grow a Row and Repurpose Your Surplus scheme for the past year and members are becoming more interested in sharing excess produce to benefit others.

Is there a growing demand for working on allotments as people are becoming more aware of the health benefits of these community activities?

There is a waiting list of around 140 people for our allotment site, so there is huge demand. We are definitely seeing a surge of interest in being more sustainable, gaining mental health benefits from being outside in nature and growing food with fewer travel miles, rather than buying it in supermarkets.

The allotment is my peaceful haven. It’s so joyous to grow your own fruit, veg and flowers. I also love meeting like-minded people and learning from my mistakes and experiences. Each year on the plot is different.

Carolyn, committee member

Lots of young families in the area are keen to be involved, sharing the love of the soil and the magic of growing with the next generation. With the recent cost of living crisis, awareness of the climate emergency and low stocked fruit and vegetable shelves, people’s motivations are shifting to a more local, community-based circular economy where we can grow, propagate, share seeds and produce and support one another by passing down skills and advice.

We are passionate about what we do because we know how much better home grown produce tastes, and the joy of a day digging, nurturing and tending our plots, and we want to share that with others.

What are you most proud of and what are your ambitions for 2023?

We are proud that we have been going for so long, retaining the traditions of an allotment society that is about community, mutual support and a good chat over the hedge. Three members of the committee volunteer at the pavilion shop every Sunday morning, offering gardening advice and guidance alongside all manner of packets, boxes, bags, netting, cane, pots and seeds.

Our annual show is professionally run with external judges and a thorough process, but equally, it’s a day full of fun, laughter and joy as we gasp at the size of a pumpkin or wonder at a set of perfect beans.

Recently we’re proud that we managed to secure Arts Council funding for the jubilee event, bringing professional artists on site and drawing people from near and far as the amazing Grumpah performed a brass version of ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ up and down the allotment paths.

Archer Lane allotments Annual Show

Committee member Bill Atherton running the auction at the annual show.

Our ambition for 2023 is to raise funds to create a beautiful nature garden at the side of the pavilion. We hope to bring together volunteers to design and create the garden once the site is made more safe and accessible for community members to plant and tend to the area.

We also plan to run more events to bring people together and raise the profile of our society, membership and shop. There’s a plant sale on 14 May, open allotments on 9 July and our annual show on Saturday 2 September. We would welcome anyone who is able to come along to these events and offer skills, talks, demonstrations or workshops – do get in touch!

We will continue our partnership with Holt House and Carterknowle schools, supporting growing in their raised beds and inviting more classes to visit the plots and learn more about growing. Through this, we also aim to diversify our audience so that the people coming to our events are more representative of our local residents.

Can you share any tips for people wanting to have a go at starting to grow their own produce?

You can grow anywhere. Whether you have a few pots on a windowsill, or a large unruly garden, just have a go. Seeds can be found relatively cheaply, or talk to friends and neighbours who might have some spare.

Don’t plant too early. It tends to be colder in Sheffield than the planting advice on packets takes account for. Don’t be disheartened if some things don’t grow. There can be lots of reasons why. If you don’t fancy starting from seed, look out for local plant sales, where you can find tomatoes, courgettes or peppers at reasonable prices.

Beware of pests. Netting is important to protect your crops from birds and other animals. Be prepared to share your produce with our diverse wildlife!

How can local people get involved at Archer Lane allotments?

We welcome any volunteers who want to help us and everything we have planned is accessible for disabled people. We also need more committee members who are active and passionate about the plots and our ambitions. Anyone who has an interest and some time to give is welcome, whether or not you have gardening expertise. Just email us.

Learn more

Archer Lane Pavilion, Archer Lane, Sheffield, S7 2BU.

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