Manor Gardens, bequeathed to be allotments ‘in perpetuity’ by their original owner the ‘Right Hon’ Major Villiers, sit in the North central section of the Olympic Park. The LDA plan to remove them to make a footpath to the stadia, destroying in the process a century of devoted cultivation and a close-knit community rooted in this irreplaceable site.
Old timers, Tom and Albert, have been growing veg and keeping fit here for 54 and 58 years respectively, taking over from their fathers. 10 year old Boris, whose parents are members, nags them to come to the plot and wants to hand his plot down to his son. Members trust in the permanence of the site led one plot holder to scatter his brother’s ashes on his plot.
However this diverse community of Turks Cypriots, Greeks, Jamaicans, Africans and Brits welcome the potential for regeneration brought by the Olympic development. Rather than being moved out of the way they want to offer their contribution which seems to them to be entirely consistent with the Olympic and Government ambitions. They believe to remove the allotment gardens would be to rip out the ‘healthy heart’ of the Olympic Park area as well as to fragment the community.
Even if the Manor Gardening community could be protected by relocation the LDA cannot guarantee the relocation site. Come June 07 we could find ourselves leaving behind all our carefully tended stock, our sheds and tools because we have nowhere to take them to. If planning permission is granted it would only be for seven years after which the Society may be moved again. Yet it would take at least twenty years, plus the right conditions, to re-establish our current food production levels and to create a similarly viable community.
As plot holder Armagan and her friend Cavide said,
‘We could make the London Olympics different from all other Olympics’
‘Having the allotments in the Olympic Park and preserving them for the Legacy Park would send out the message world wide that the UK really does care after all.’
But do the LDA and the Mayor care about local grown initiatives even though they might be successful examples, like Manor Garden Allotments, of the Governments own strategies such as the London Food and the Biodiversity Strategies?
Can we allow the LDA to squander the opportunity to showcase to the world a truly British institution, which could provide a real legacy of historical continuity, real community, a human scale and a sense of soul to the Olympic and Legacy Parks? Will we find ourselves with the ghost town legacy of past Olympics and the Millennium Dome come 2013?
As writer and supporter of the campaign to incorporate the allotments, Iain Sinclair says, ‘We don’t want it (the Olympic Park) imagining for us. We don’t want it over-imagined. We want to imagine it for ourselves.’
Manor Gardening Society Support website: www.lifeisland.org