Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Sadness of Broken Promises

Here we are suddenly in autumn it seems. Mornings have become misty and cool and the light has changed and is that bit lower making everything brighter and the colours deeper. Normally at this time of year allotments are a hive of activity;last tomatoes are being picked, pumpkins harvested, beans left to dry for haricots over winter, apples falling and being collected.........

At our allotment site it doesn't feel like this. The work at the front and to the sides to create new parking facilities and the new plots is almost done and the allotment holders who are moving from their old plots to the new ones are half way through their move.
A move that has been at best disappointing and at worst heart breaking.
A move that continues to divide an allotment site.
A move that makes no sense on this stunningly fertile, Grade 1, Best and Most Versatile soil.

At this point it's worth saying that the allotments team at Bristol City Council have done absolutely everything they could to make this transition less painful for those moving. There have been meetings with people moving, help sought from the contractors and deep kindness from the allotment officer who has had the unenviable task of being the go between with the allotment holders and Metrobus. And for that we thank them.

However, allotment holders were promised things that have just not appeared, such as new sheds(I was at the meeting in Lockleaze where that was promised along with several others) and real help with moving, when the reality has been that inspite of those promises these things have not materialised. New huts have been provided but allotment holders have been charged for them, a flatbed lorry was brought in for a day but with little thought as to when people might be available and that has been it. There are still no toilets or a building as promised for the association to use and we hear that the work is almost done and the contractors will soon be leaving site so I wonder if these things will materialise? The programme of works states that no work is to be begun on the road until the allotments are reconfigured so deep down I doubt anything else will be done with any sense of urgency and we could be growing in a construuction site for at least the next 18 months.........

And of course with this comes confusion and hurt. Plots lost that have been worked by the same families for generations. The chap on the new site opposite the end of our plot, where we used to have wildlife corridor and then Feed Bristol's amazing wild flower meadow, can often be seen sitting on a plastic chair looking bewildered at the task ahead and he is, at least, on the land and starting. Where the soil was brought in and stored for many months, the weeds have begun to take over and the new plots are head height in fat hen and other annual weeds.
At least they are annual I hear you say but they have started to flower and seed and will have an effect not only on the new plots now, but on all that are near by.
The new soil, although ok in terms of fertility, is not Grade 1 as it simply cannot be. It is clay, dense and full of stones, rather than of a decent tilth. It is, as we always knew it would be, disappointing for those who had spent generations maintaining the fertility of the soils on their plots.

And who is to blame? Funnily at this point we know it's far from being the city council, because thereare many, many organisations and corporations in the mix. In the first instance Metrobus should never have made promises that they knew they would not keep, and should have set up liason with the allotment holders which they said they would do but never did. They should have listened with open hearts and minds rather than thinking about purse strings and speed of delivery. They should have listened to the community who said and continue to say "we do not want this", "this is wrong" and "this will not work".
But in usual top down fashion those people think they know best. They think they are in power and that they are going to consult that community by saying this is what we are going to do and we expect protest but we are doing it anyway, making small alterations along the way that might mean something but in reality doesn't change the devastation people feel.

But these people are not elected officials.
They are officers.
They are corporations.
They are only as important as we allow them to be. Surely?
In a truly co-productive society this would never happen because everyone would be around the table not just the people who were for the event.
We would all have an equal say. So all communities would be listened to.
Imagine that........

And whilst you imagine that, we will listen out for the sound of the concrete lorries that will soon be pouring their load all over a significant part of people's lives as well as Bristol's best and most versatile Grade 1 soil on our precious Blue Finger.

New plots-weeds, stones, and not even layed out!!

The beginnings of the stones removed from one plot....