Annual Report 2008/2009

Since last years AGM there have been changes to the committee elected at last year’s AGM. Nancy Oakley is now Secretary. She took over from John Hall, who felt that the post was not for him. We thank him however for the work he did in moving the ambitions of the Association forward, and for the voluntary work he is doing on site.


The other change is that Roger Maltby is now Treasurer. Unfortunately, Julie Swannell had to give up due to ill health. Huge thanks are due to her for getting our accounts in order and professionally audited. Financial accountability is crucial when applying for grants etc., so thanks to Julie and accountant David Pratt’s efforts, we are now in a position to move ahead.


Overall it’s been a good year. We have seen a positive move forward with full occupation of 105 plots and we have 19 people on the waiting list. There has been a move towards half plots and we’re going to instigate even smaller ones for beginners, that way we should cut down the failure rate from novices who don’t understand the commitment required.


Demand for gardens means we need to be stricter about keeping plots in order.  Also neglected plots caused considerable nuisance to others last year, so in 2009 we will be carrying out monthly inspections to ensure plots are being worked.  In accordance with our tenancy agreement we will give 28 days notice to show improvement, then serve 7 days notice if nothing is done. This may sound harsh but it is how other allotment sites in Darlington uphold standards. We do understand that problems crop up that get in the way of gardening so PLEASE LET US KNOW IF YOU’RE ILL OR HAVE PROBLEMS. We can’t guarantee to maintain your plot completely but we’ll do what we can to help.


We have had problems:   flooding to name but one. However it was the wettest August on record and every other site in Darlington also had problems. Drainage has always been an issue at Bellburn but we hope things will be helped by the developments involved in the Groundworks Project.


Security or lack of it also caused problems, as sheds were broken into and property taken. The police were involved and did identify a culprit, but unfortunately he’d moved on to another town. We advise that you don’t leave valuables on site and leave sheds unlocked, that way locks and doors aren’t damaged by forced entry. If you do have anything bulky that is difficult to transport back and forth, please ask to store it in the container. We can’t be held liable if anything did happen but the likes of rotavators should be safer there. Hopefully this problem could also be helped by the Groundworks Project as it incorporates a steel fence along the Black Path boundary.


In general the whole site is looking better. Most plots look cared for and are productive. We feel the work done by the youth offenders has to be noted as they’ve improved the external access to their site and that of others, as well as the parking area at the lower end of the site.  They have offered to help others if anyone is stuck.


It’s good to have the group integrated with the site rather than working in isolation. 


There seems to have been a stronger community spirit this year as the Bank Holiday BBQ and the Bonfire on November 5th shows.  Also we hope the AGM will be more of a social occasion than simply business. If anyone has any ideas about what else we could do let us know.  For example a Scarecrow Competition has been suggested.


Open Days are now expected of allotment sites – sadly ours was rained off. The council’s meeting for allotment representatives in December showed how active other sites are and how they are working to support charities. The Smithfield site for example is to be included in RHS open gardens scheme. Involving the public in this structured way is good for community relations and is invaluable when applying for grants.


The community garden will definitely be finished this year. Problems with weather, waiting for materials and volunteers has held things up but we’ll get there. The garden is for everyone’s use; a place to sit and chat, a meeting place for retired gardeners, an afternoon out for visitors from Age Concern etc.  It’s worth pointing out that very little has been spent on this project and involving the wider community in this way could be beneficial to our finances as it is essential evidence of our intentions to incorporate when making grant applications,.


Talking of community we now have our own website thanks to Emma Crawley, Mike’s daughter. Again this has not cost us anything but it shows we’re moving forward into the 21st century.  or through Darlington Council’s website. Thank you Emma, your invaluable efforts have enabled us to achieve a goal we’ve aimed at for some time. If anyone has any information, advice or ideas to develop our site please let us know. All contributions gladly accepted.


Another community project to consider is whether we want to have a small shop in the container?  Smithfield’s allotments run a scheme which sells fertilisers, compost etc and are prepared to share a bulk order with us. Is it worth committing Association funds to create something similar?  We shall still offer King’s seed catalogues, which, thanks to your support raised almost £50 last year.  


The main change for the future is the development project being put forward by Groundworks.  The centre of the site is the main focus for improvement and will include a pond, reclaimed gardens for use by community groups to work/visit. To allay fears that have been expressed, these groups will be supervised by a paid guide.  Members of the public will not be able to just walk in off the street. To develop the site to the extent required we feel we need to work with Groundworks. We do not have the funds, workforce or expertise to tackle such an enormous task. And we will all benefit as drainage will be improved, a steel security fence along the Black Path boundary will be erected and a ditch dug. A composting toilet will be created and this, with all other facilities provided, will be for everyone’s use.

This project should also help to secure our future. Our contract with the council only runs till 2020. Whereas, if the site is fully developed, and becomes more important to the wider community, then our tenancy should be more secure.   


Happy gardening in 2009.  Jean Atkinson and Nancy Oakley

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