Landlord develops community allotment to help tackle social isolation in his neighbourhood
On National Allotment Week 2022, read more about landlord and handyman Steven Fletcher, who has put his passion for gardening to good use, tackling loneliness in his local area by developing a community allotment. Article first featured in NRLA magazine Property.
Steven Fletcher is a man on a mission. Inspired to tackle the issue of social isolation in his town of Eastbourne head on, he has transformed an area of land as a community allotment, encouraging locals to get into gardening to improve their mental health.
In 2019, Steven and other volunteers helped transform a disused patch of land at the local allotments into an increasingly popular ‘community plot’. He now works closely with doctors’ surgeries and other voluntary groups to encourage people to come to the plot. “The community plot we’ve created is run entirely by volunteers, and the money for the seeds and the tools we use there comes from donations and fundraisers,” he says. “Unlike renting your own allotment space, the community plot is free to use, and it’s a great chance to work with other people to create a shared goal of growing something.
As a volunteer, I’m there to give people pointers and provide some companionship. It’s a chance for people to get out of the house, connect with other people and learn new skills along the way.”
In February 2019, the plot was just a sparse grassy strip next to the main entrance of the allotment site. Now, it is an inviting place where people can make new friends and learn how to grow their own veg. There is even a cosy wooden cabin with cheerful bunting around the outside, and comfortable chairs to relax and socialise in.
Steven has been a landlord for 10 years. He has two rental properties in Bexhill and a flat he rents out. Despite balancing the responsibilities of being a landlord and being selfemployed, Steven tries to spend one day a week volunteering at the community plot.
The project is having a positive impact. “Sometimes it is hard for people to admit that they’re lonely, but what we offer is a non-judgemental way of socialising and also contributing something positive to the community. We swap the veg we produce at the allotment plot with each other. The on-site shop helps supply the materials needed. “There are now a couple of familiar faces around the community plot, and we are hoping to expand it a little. I hope to see even more people there.”
Widespread research has shown that being able to access green spaces is highly beneficial for a person’s mental and physical wellbeing. A study in 2015 by Westminster and Essex universities questioned 269 people – around half of whom did some gardening. The research found that people who spent as little as 30 minutes a week in their allotments saw significant gains in mental wellbeing, such as better self-esteem and mood.
This is something Steven can relate to, as it was the positive impact of working in his own garden that inspired him to share his passion with others. “I’ve always enjoyed growing my own fruit and veg, and it has had a positive impact on my own mental health. There’s a sense of achievement in growing your own produce,” he says. What started off as a hobby has now grown into a project helping to transform local lives for the better.
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Are you a landlord who volunteers in your community? Or perhaps you have recently fundraised for a good cause? We'd love to hear your story. Please email [email protected].