On Spring Bank Holiday Monday, May 26th 2014, Bernard Atha, retiring Labour Councillor for Kirkstall ward and Fiona Venner, the newly elected Labour Councillor for Kirkstall ward, ceremoniously cut the garland of toilet paper (with garden shears of course!) across the door of the newly constructed composting toilet on the Church Lane allotment site, just off Queenswood Drive, Kirkstall.
Bernard Atha – a member of Adel and Wharfedale and Leeds NW Labour Party – retired this year after 57 years of service to the city. This was one of Bernard’s last engagements as a Councillor – and Fiona’s first.
Team effort to raise funding.
The management committee of the site have worked hard over the last few years to raise the necessary funding from a variety of sources, including a “Community First” grant aid and a substantial donation from the Skipton based, Ecology Building Society’s Charitable Foundation.
Members of the sub group affectionately known as ‘Team Toilet’ with association secretary Matt Sykes-Hooban leading, researched the design and materials to get the best possible value for the money raised. The walls are clad in a British made recycled Plastic Product called Eco Sheet which is weatherproof and flame retardant, which made it an ideal material for standing up to the demands of allotment life. The roof is made of recycled plastic tile designed and manufactured in Gloucestershire by a family firm, Small Planet Tiles. The actual compost toilet system was sourced from the market-leading Welsh based company Natsol, who provided all the fixtures and fittings along with plenty of support.
Part of the Community First grant conditions required volunteer hours from the allotmenteers themselves. Local Carpenter and fellow polt-holder Peter De Hann led the construction team and fabricated the wall panels and roof in his Kirkstall based workshop. Committee member and local builder Andy Mchale with the kind help from local building firm Rouse provided the digger to dig out the foundation and lift the tank into position. From delivery to site to the grand opening, it has taken a little over 4 months to complete the construction project and all of it done by a willing band of volunteers.
The facilities are well appointed, and easily usable with full wheel chair access. The site does have some community Group operated plots, and disabled access was a must.
A “Phoenix” site
Less than 4 years ago the Church lane allotment site was derelict. A few hardy allotmenteers clung on in the face of neglected plots and vandalism. The Kirkstall councillors, Bernard and John Illingworth, both Cookridge residents, fought hard to keep the land from being sold off for housing development. Several factors combined together to turn around the site – the increasing demand for allotments, the changing demographic of young people moving into the area, an able and hard-working management committee with the helping hand of the local Councillors. Perhaps most important, an ad placed in the local magazine, Kirkstall Matters generated the ground swell of local interest to start and maintain the momentum required to bring back to life 5 acres of unloved land in the heart of Kirkstall. The problems are still there, but every year there is significant improvement: increased security, facilities, a greater area cleared and marked out as viable whole or half plots, a sense of community.
Some said it would never take off others said it would take 10 years to turn it around. But after only 4 years of hard work, the site is up and running and is a true testament of what a local community can achieve when properly motivated and supported.
Now all the plots are let, and there is a waiting list. And there is a robust policy to deal with those who don’t work their plots!
The celebration barbecue
It was great to see so many people there – must have been about 50, and a great age range with some invited from the neighbouring allotment sites. There is good co-operation between the Kirkstall allotment sites and comradeship. Live musical entertainment was provided by a talented local group. One of them was overheard to remark, ‘this gig title will look interesting on our listing”!
Best of all, it was warm, the rain held off until packing up time, and the users pronounced the new facility First Class.
Local Allotment sites:
Leeds North West is very badly served with allotment sites.
Can you think of one in Cookridge and Adel?
The assumption is that everybody has a large enough garden to grow their own fruit & veg; but that isn’t true. Modern developments have small gardens which suit many. But there is a demand for allotment plots and people have to travel several miles – if they are lucky enough to get a plot.
All our local development sites give little or no thought for the pressure on the local infrastructure: roads, schools and recreation. We should be able to ensure greedy developers expend a little of their profits benefitting the local community.
‘Its funny really all I wanted to do was grow some veg’, says Matt ‘and I ended up involved in one of the biggest Allotment renovation projects in Leeds – and all because the waiting lists for a plot in Leeds were so long that the only opportunity that came up was to take on a piece of land that nobody loved. Looking back on it now, its probably the best decision I ever made.’