Growing popularity: Why people in Shropshire are rushing to allotments and gardening

Looking after our mental health and wellbeing has never been more important, and after a year like no other, getting back to our roots could be the key.

Elbow bump for Brian Huckfield, left, and Ed Howell at Castlefields Allotments, Shrewsbury
Elbow bump for Brian Huckfield, left, and Ed Howell at Castlefields Allotments, Shrewsbury

Allotments have become more and more popular over the years as people hope to spend more time outdoors and enjoy the benefits of homegrown food.

After a year of lockdowns and self-isolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it has never been more vital to get outdoors and reap the benefits of time in the fresh air.

Chairman Richard Steedman, and secretary Rosi Pearson

A report this week suggested gardening was the best therapy for our mental health, an activity that has been increasingly taken up by people during the pandemic. From garden boxes to larger plots, the rush to dig and plant has also led to a boom for garden centres in our region.

Members of the Castlefields Allotments in Shrewsbury have spoken of the soaring demand for allotment space in a town like Shrewsbury and how gardening has helped them during lockdown.

Richard Steedman, 74, is the chairman of the Castlefields Allotment Association and his partner, Rosi Pearson, 68, is the secretary – they both live in walking distance.

He said that before lockdown, they had three people on the waiting list, but up to about a month ago, there were 32 people on the waiting list and they turned away at least a dozen more.

Speaking of the benefits of having an allotment, Richard said it had become a lifeline for many older people during lockdown.

Chairman Richard Steedman at Castlefields Allotments, Shrewsbury,

"In particular for the older people, we have been able to come down here nearly every day as part of our daily exercise," Richard said. "So lockdown was made much easier for us.

"There is a big social aspect as well to allotments. People are able to speak to others when they may not have seen anyone for a while, especially during lockdown.

"People were also very graceful about all the Covid-19 safety rules, which was all new to us as organisers as well. We had to close the community shed – where people usually stop for a chat and make tea – due to safety concerns, but everyone has been really good about it. Everyone here is great and supports each other."

Rosi said: "For people who work from home it has been really good for them to get out in the fresh air. It gave them a chance to leave their homes and get outside, an escape really. It's been good fun, it's still good fun when all the regulars and newcomers meet.

Vice-president Chris Davies

"There are approximately 100 plots here. We grow a mix of everything from stuff we eat fresh, to bits we freeze and fruits for jams and cordials.

"When you grow food yourself, you just pick it and eat it the process is very fast – there are no preservatives and we don't use anything really on our plants so it's really good for you. There is also no food miles because it's so local.

"It is hard work and I think people can underestimate how hard it is but you have to put the hours in to get the results, and when you do, it's lovely."

The allotment is a family affair for sisters Teresa Adams, 48, and Helen Fletcher, 51, both from Castlefields, who have plots next door to each other.

Teresa said: "I have been here around 20 years – when I started I was quite an oddity but more women have joined recently which is great.

Teresa Adams at Castlefields Allotments, Shrewsbury

"I have been home schooling during the pandemic so I have missed times when I couldn't come down here. I get to grow maybe unusual things I wouldn't normally find in the shops as well. And it does taste better because it's so fresh.

"In a normal year it is definitely an escape for me from everyday life."

Helen added: "I love the space and it's so nice to feel a bit of peace and quiet out here. There is a really friendly feel to the place and you get to see a mix of different people which I love.

"My kids are grown up now but when they were little it was great to show them nature and get them interested in gardening. I have been doing it for 15 years now. I get to see my sister, Teresa, as well as our plots are right next to each other."

Brian Huckfield, 77, has lived in Castlefields his whole life and can even see his plot from his house.

He took over the allotment from his father 50 years ago and has been caring for it ever since.

Brian Huckfield

He said: "Once I started gardening and tending to all the plants I couldn't stop. I only live in one of the houses off the front gates, so it's like having an extended garden.

"I feel sorry for anyone who doesn't have outdoor space or is stuck in a flat. I think I can sometimes take it for granted but it's so beautiful here and there's a great community spirit. It's good for the soul to come out here.

"You have to be patient with it, it will be two or three years before things start to pick up."

Chairman Richard Steedman, and secretary Rosi Pearson

Ed Howell, 70, has had his plot for 23 years and said he loves the fact it keeps him active.

"It's definitely a community thing here," he said. "I used to be in the building industry so I'm used to being outdoors and it keep me active and healthy. If I was to be stuck indoors all the time I would hate it.

"It has been a way of expressing myself out of the house. It's been a real lifeline and thanks goes to the committee for helping keep it open because we wouldn't be here without them."

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