With waiting lists for urban gardens in the UK often stretching into the decades, many would-be growers have no place to get their hands dirty. A new digital platform called AllotMe has a solution, as Gavin Haines finds out in this curated piece from Positive News.
As the UK went into lockdown last year, sparking a wave of panic buying that left supermarket shelves bare, many people looked to vegetable patches for solace and security. With shades of ‘dig for victory’, sowing, hoeing and growing were ways of taking control in uncertain times – but only for those lucky enough to have gardens or allotments (urban plots of land you can rent for planting).
170-year waiting list?
Many of those who had neither joined waiting lists for the latter. The National Allotment Society reported a more than 300 per cent increase in applications in some areas, extending already-long waiting lists by decades. One allotment in Leeds now reportedly has a waiting list of 170 years – that’s a long time to hang around for your runner beans.
While would-be growers wait indefinitely, many homeowners are either unable or unwilling to tend their gardens, meaning potential growing space is going to waste. If only there was a way of connecting the two.
Well, now there is, thanks to architect Conor Gallagher, who recently launched AllotMe, a digital platform touted as the ‘Airbnb for gardens’. It allows people who have green spaces they don’t use to rent them out to would-be growers looking for land. Gallagher came up with the idea after moving to London from Belfast.
“It dawned on me that there is an untapped reservoir of outdoor space”
Conor Gallagher / photo: AllotMe
“I was aware of so many people with no garden or access to outdoor space, and of the difficulty verging on the impossibility of obtaining an allotment through traditional routes. It became apparent there is a huge desire for sustainable living but no way of satisfying it,” he says.
“As an architect, I’m trained to spot opportunities in space, and it dawned on me when passing an overgrown and unloved garden that there is an untapped reservoir of outdoor space in London that is going unused, so why not bring the two together.” AllotMe was born.
“The chance to grow my own is brilliant, but it’s also so therapeutic”
Corrie Rounding / photo: AllotMe
The first plot listed on the platform was Gallagher’s own back yard, echoing Airbnb’s founders, who were the first people to post their homes on the site. Gallagher’s garden has been rented by Corrie Rounding, of south London, who is the first ‘greenfinger’ to use the platform.
“I’ve wanted to find a space to grow my own for so long, but it’s so hard to come by in London,” says Rounding. “The chance to grow my own is brilliant, but it’s also so therapeutic. I love how calming it is to work in outdoor space.”
Not just good for plants
Gallagher himself is a recent convert to gardening. He plunged his hands into the soil for the first time a couple of years ago, discovering the mental health benefits of growing his own. He hopes AllotMe will help boost other people’s wellbeing in much the same way, while also strengthening relationships in communities. That AllotMe launched in Mental Health Awareness Week is apt.
So, how much? Well, the going rate for a plot is currently between £15 (€17.50) and £30 (€35) a month, depending on size. Part of the fee goes to AllotMe, which provides insurance – or ‘garden guarantee’ – for those renting out their yards.
The platform’s ‘greenfingers’ can’t be neatly potted into a particular demographic, says Gallagher, but he reckons “they are probably slightly younger than the typical perception of a gardener”.
Enabling a greener society
Despite only launching in May, there are already more than 1,000 people on the AllotMe waiting list in London alone. But this isn’t just a trendy capital initiative. People are signing up all over the UK, says Gallagher, though he admits that demand for plots is currently outstripping supply. This is something he hopes will shift as more people become aware of the platform, and the desire for sustainable living catches on further.
“Sustainability is a big part of it,” he says. “Hosts, for a wide variety of reasons may not be able to use their outdoor space, but by letting somebody rent it and use it to grow food, they are enabling a contribution to a greener society and playing a part too.