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History of WASHA

This article was authored some years back by ex-Allotment Tenant Siobhan Sagar. It's been added here as a piece of history and a partial record of how the Aldershot Road allotments came to be saved.

Why was WASHA formed?

It's complicated. The site had fallen into dereliction in the 1990s. It was managed by Stoke & District Horticultural Society.

A lot of plots were vacant and GBC, the landowners, decided that it would be better used for housing. In the Local Plan which they were in process of preparing, the whole site was designated for housing.

Nobody on site at the time, in 2003, was aware of this. The tenants just worked their plots and didn't know each other (a far cry from now, where everyone gets to know each other and regularly chat).

In 1993 The North Guildford project was started to address deprivation issues in Westborough and Park Barn. This evolved into Community Works, which employed a Community Worker. Joram and Bev, from our site, were on its management team.

The new Community Worker in 2001 was Astrid Jahn. Her degree was in planning. The Local Plan was being prepared, which she read. When she was invited to look over the site she was enthusiastic at the end of which she said "This land is designated for housing. What a shame. You have real potential here!"

This left the tenants wondering how they could reverse this.

Fortunately there is a guide called "The Allotment Handbook - a guide to promoting and protecting your site." They followed this to the letter.

They got the names and addresses of everyone on site and told them about the Local Plan. The decided to form a group to oppose the local plan and save the site. This was in 2003 and had 100% tenant support. Tenants got to know all our local politicians and sought their support. They had a lot of help setting up WASHA. Including; Tim Harrold of Campaign for Protection of Rural England, Jim Rattray of Open Spaces Society, Paul Kassell of Stoughton Residents Association (Diane plot 74 – her brother-in-law), and Bryn Pugh – National Allotments Society.

At meetings they told tenants that they had a steep learning curve. They were right and we're all still learning!

With the inception of WASHA they wrote a simple, but legal, Constitution which sets out our aims and defined our governance.

The objects for which 'WASHA' is established are:

1. to ensure the site of the Aldershot Road Allotments is preserved as allotments for future generations

2. to promote interest in the cultivation of allotments in the community and to take joint action for the benefit of plot holders.

3. to promote the interests of all members in the gardening activities and to take joint action for the benefits of members

For this purpose, but not otherwise, the organisation shall have the following powers:-

a. to obtain support from SPONSORS.

b. to obtain FUNDING for improvement of the soil and site facilities.

c. generally do all such lawful things as are necessary for the attainment of such purposes

As per the Handbook, tenants leafleted the local residents, advertising the site and its potential loss. Westborough & Broadacres Residents Association (WBDRA) was set up as a result.

WASHA complained to the Ombudsman and organised petitions. WASHA protested outside GBC Offices with placards, had press articles and time slots on local and national radio.

WASHA managed to have the lower two thirds of the site saved as allotments.

David Bird, our current WASHA Treasurer, was the main man in this as he successfully proved that the Local Plan consultation process was inadequate. The top third of the site was still down for housing but WBDRA fought hard against this and it didn't happen!

Now, we are in the midst of the next 10 year Local plan and the site is designated as all allotments but there is a threat to our lower vehicular access. If we lose this, many of our elderly residents, of which there are many, will be unable to maintain there plots and have told WASHA that they would give up. This would be a massive loss of expertise, knowledge, health benefits for the individuals. This vehicular access at the lower part of the site is crucial for our tenants and the ongoing viability and safety of the site.

In 2003, just as important as the political fight was the battle to reclaim the site from the brambles and overgrowth, which years of neglect had produced. Everyone doing their own plot and no one doing anything for the overall good management of the site was to blame. Fortunately as word spread many really useful people took on plots and joined in.

The WASHA Committee soon realised that we had to have machinery both for the clearance work and to help tenants work their plots successfully.

St Josephs School had taken plot 29. They soon realised that it was too steep and overgrown to be of any use so Joram cleared and set up Plot 4 for them. He included a second hand shed and greenhouse which are still in good use. Cathy Kirk (plot 33) offered to get them started with using the plot successfully as part of their education requirements in Year 3. Work commitments meant she could not continue indefinitely and it was decided that WASHA would provide a team of mentors from then on, which still exists today to the benefit of all involved.

To provide the money for site machinery and improvements on the school plot, WASHA applied for a “Small Grant” from Big Lottery Local Food. This grant was for £9,600 payable over two years. It was a setting up grant for the WASHA Family Food Mentoring Project. John Steer and Paul Cragg, who are still on our site, chose the machinery and put it to good use. Honorariums were paid to mentors who took on actively helping novices and those managing the school plot. It bought top fruit trees, soft fruit bushes, compost, benches, and a fruit cage for the school plot. Keith Lawrence installed a rainwater collection system, put the benches together, set up the fruit cage and planted the orchard.

The school plot was taken to a new level of safety and visual enhancement in 2014, when Angus and Ian Weemes spent all Winter shoring up the bank with a long raised bed, levelling the steep side path, making permanent paths round all sides and relocating the fruit cage. Ian installed a pond in 2016. It's a great teaching plot. Each week the children from Year 3 come up to the plot and engage in gardening their plots, learning all about soil, planting, pollination, and harvesting. They take the food away with them at the end of the harvests.

In March 2003, when WASHA was set up, the Officers who were elected were:

Paul Bowditch (Chairman), Beverley Mussell (Secretary), Brian Gillings (Treasurer), and the Committee members were John Steer, Noreen Moynihan, Joram Ndweni and Alison Bird.

A second meeting was held in October 2003 to approve/amend the Constitution.

A fair flavour of what the site was like then, is a minuted item which states

"Unanimous appreciation was expressed for Malcolm Fry's hard work in single handedly clearing the middle path of the site which had been derelict for about five years. This had improved access for all plot holders in the middle section and enhanced the appearance of the site.”

I hope this helps inform our newer residents and local neighbours. WASHA holds at its heart retaining the site for all and helping others on the site, to ensure that all tenants get the most out of the experience of allotmenteering.

Author: Siobhan Sagar

Page Last Updated - 24/07/2022
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