It all started, as far as I can remember, in early 2007 when I was having a look at one of the local websites and I strayed onto a ‘forum’ and somebody had asked the question “are there any allotments available on Mersea?”
That would be nice I thought so I e-mailed the local council to ask and if possible get my name down. The answer was not very promising and I was basically told no, there are not, there are no plans and there is no interest. I asked around and discovered that quite a few people would like to have an allotment if there were any on Mersea. Official response from WMTC and CBC was that I was the only person interested as far as they knew and it was suggested that I contact the Abberton Allotment Association or try to put my name down for an allotment in Colchester. This seemed to go against the whole point of growing food locally which is one of the main points of having allotments, and would also cost in terms of extra petrol used, etc. Official comments were restricted to ‘what’s wrong with TESCO? And various old fashioned comments about ramshackle sheds and cloth caps, ‘it’s a passing fad’, etc. At this stage I realised that it just wasn’t true to say that there was no interest in Mersea and decided to try and find out for sure.
I arranged for a public meeting to be held at the MICA and asked a Mentor (Karen Kenny) from the Allotment Regeneration Initiative to come and give a short talk. The meeting was held on September 18th 2007 and much to my surprise (and to a councillor who just happened to be in the hall at the time), the Meeting was attended by a large number of people. Ms Kenny gave us a basic overview of how to set up an allotment association, how we could get help and advice from the NSALG and told us what the basic responsibilities of the local authorities were with regard to providing allotments.
It was unanimously decided at that meeting to form an association (with the unfortunate acronym of MIALGA – Mersea Island Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Association, but that’s the luck of the acronym draw I suppose). A committee was formed with myself elected as chairman (I suppose I should have expected that). An annual subscription of £5 was agreed and all those present at the meeting who wanted to paid and were issued with a receipt by our new treasurer, Emma Gamble. An account was opened for MIALGA with Lloyds Bank in Colchester and our first Committee meeting was arranged for the 4th October at the home of our secretary, Di Saville.
At that first committee meeting Stephen Rice kindly offered his PO Box address for MIALGA use. It was decided that we would join the NSALG which meant that £2 of each of our members’ subscription would be paid to them each year. A constitution was drawn up with the aid of a draft supplied by Karen Kenny and the search to find suitable land was begun.
We started to try to persuade WMTC to provide allotments for Mersea residents and decided to attend as many council meetings as possible to make our views known. When the WMTC realised that we were serious and well supported they began to search for a suitable site, not an easy task, (the CBC were totally unhelpful with the exception of John Bouckley who has tried on our behalf to get some assistance for the allotments).
Since then we have had a few false hopes raised, first with a very small patch at the New Glebe (until the developers decided to plant trees in the chosen spot to indicate their opinion on allotments near their new almost gardenless homes). A site in West Mersea was offered but rejected as the landowner concerned only wanted to make a private agreement with no council involvement. It was felt that this would not give us any security of tenure or protection against sudden or expensive increases in rental costs, etc. A site at East Mersea was found and agreed with a pro-allotment landowner (although it would have been preferred to be closer to West Mersea), but excessive costs and some strange NIMBY attitudes from a few East Mersea residents made the prospect a bit less attractive.
At the AGM, having got the allotments firmly on the local agenda, I decided to step down and hand the baton over to a new chairman who would continue discussions with WMTC especially as new offers were being made. I am still a committee member and am very happy to continue working for our aims with less of the negotiating responsibilities, which are now mainly borne by our new chairman Mike Edwards.
At the MILGA AGM in September 2008 I was voted in as chairman with Stephen Rice as deputy. Along with the newly elected committee, we were determined to finish the job that Rob had started.
John Gray a local farmer keen on the idea of allotments was willing to offer the West Mersea Town Council (WMTC) a site for allotments. After discussions a site was agreed upon in Dawes Lane by the junction of East Mersea Road.
This appeared to be a suitable site for allotments, and the WMTC applied for permission to construct an entrance from Dawes Lane from highway authorities. However, nimbyism raised its head again from nearby neighbours resulting in one of them purchasing the land from the land owner (we did not think it worth asking them if they wanted to hire out their newly acquired land for allotments).
Happily in the same week as this occurred the WMTC were offered a very suitable site off East Road between the Fox Inn and Chapmans Lane. The Landowner is very keen to see allotments on Mersea as they themselves grow their own vegetables, and a heads of agreement has been reached between WMTC and the landowner. Once permission is obtained for the road entrance from the highway authority we should be able to go ahead and get digging in the autumn. Since the WMTC has been convinced of the demand and enthusiasm for allotments on Mersea Island they have become very proactive in the search for a suitable site. Councillor Peter Clements now the Local Mayor has been very supportive and has really got behind the effort in securing allotments for West Mersea.
The association now has 60 members and I am confident that we will soon have a thriving productive allotments on Mersea for the 2010 season.