From overgrown allotments to attracting worldwide attention – How a community transformed their estate.
Nine years ago it was two overgrown allotments in the heart of a deprived area of Sheffield.
But today, almost a decade later, Firth Park Community Allotments is attracting worldwide attention.
Keen gardeners from Nigeria, Germany, Turkey, Slovenia and Poland have all visited the four plots just off Vickers Drive.
The latest visitor to pass through its gates was American Ron Finley, well-known in the horticultural world.
The guerilla gardener started something of a revolution in his home town of Los Angeles for planting in abandoned car parks and along the kerbside.
Ron, who tied his visit in with talks at the University of Sheffield, dropped in at the allotment with Libby Goodacre of the Royal Horticultural Society, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
An RHS spokesman said: “We wanted to show Ron that we are doing similar things over here through RHS Britain in Bloom which is the UK’s biggest community gardening campaign with 300,000 members and a presence in all major UK cities, from Edinburgh to Cardiff, Nottingham and London.
“Ron’s trip marks the 50th anniversary of RHS Britain in Bloom and Firth Community Allotments is an amazing place where volunteers grow fresh produce for local residents, hold workshops and involve people from a variety of backgrounds, nationalities and ages.”
Firth Park Community Allotment is run by the local Sure Start Centre and managed by project worker Dot Rodman, who is employed by Heeley City Farm.
Dot said although the allotment marks its 10th anniversary next year there is still a lot that can be learnt from the RHS and other similar organisations.
The family-friendly allotment is open to all ages but has a particular focus on young children. Activities on site include toddler sessions and holiday schemes where youngsters get stuck into sowing seeds and harvesting crops.
A DIY course for women set up earlier this year has also been a huge success.
Dot said: “At the moment were running something with Women in Construction, Arts and Technology. We have been working with them for many years.
“We have just converted the ruins of an old greenhouse. It was only two bricks high and we have run two courses in DIY.
“Women who had no DIY skills at all have done all the work. They have learnt skills in bricklaying and mixing mortar.
“We’ve used all recycled materials. One of the women had an old conservatory and we’ve used the panels from that.
“There were 24 girls and women who didn’t have any DIY skills have worked on it. They were aged 14 right through to pensioners.
“But now we have run out of money. Everything was recycled but we needed a roof and didn’t have any money left.
“The trainer ad her head shaved and raised £380. So the roof is the next thing going on.
“Next we are hoping to find more funding and have other courses in other areas such as plumbing.”
Around 240 families have spent time at the allotment since it first opened nine years ago, when a double site became available.
The other allotment holders felt it was an ideal site for a community group to take on rather than an individual.
Dot said: “They went to the Sure Start at Firth Park and because they are child care orientated they could see the fantastic value.
“But they didn’t know anything about gardening and wanted a partnership with Heeley City Farm. Over a period of time a worker was employed to be on site and the rest is volunteers.
“There are all kinds of people from those who are out of work and those who are retired.
“Around 240 families have come. Most are them are from Sheffield but we’ve also had them come from Rotherham and Doncaster.
“Part of when we opened was to share good practice and learn from us. We had visits from 35 different groups including churches and schools.
“We had a group coming from Nigeria to have a look around and to see about setting one up. Heeley City Farm arranged an exchange project with schemes in Poland, Germany, Turkey and Slovenia.
“Staff from Heeley City Farm went out to visit one of them and they came over to visit the site.
“A lot said it was quite an inspirational visit.”
The allotment has been awarded an outstanding and thriving grade from Yorkshire in Bloom and has won a Green Flag Community Award for three consecutive years.
Dot believes the passion and enthusiasm from volunteers is what has made the project such a success.
“Its success is down to the amount of work put into it over the years,” she said.
“I have worked on community things in poor areas before and have worked in child care for 40 years. I have never seen anything like this.
“Its child care and community development alongside gardening. If you feel passionate about something you put more into it.
“The families and volunteers feel passionate and its somewhere they are proud of.”
* To get involved, or help with funding, call Dot on 07985421346 or email firstname.lastname@example.org