National Allotments Week is organised by the National Allotment Society, but what does the society do and how can you join? Lesley Upton finds out.
For the past 18 years allotmenteers have been celebrating National Allotments Week, organised by the National Allotment Society (NAS). National Allotments Week started in 2002 as a way of raising awareness of allotments and the role they play in helping people to live healthier lifestyles, grow their own food, develop friendships and bolster communities.
This year it is being held from 10-16 August, and for the organisers, the NAS, it’s a special year as the society is celebrating its 90th anniversary. So what is the NAS? And, if you grow fruit and veg on an allotment, what are the benefits of joining the society?
National Allotment Society origins
The National Allotment Society was formed on 24 April 1930. The organisation was an amalgamation of several organisations that had been working to support the movement from the early 20th century. The main concern for the society at the time was to help a scheme of assistance for the unemployed and partly employed. Assistance came from the Ministry of Agriculture, and during the winter of 1930, 64,000 families were supported.
The society was part of a joint committee that supplied seeds, tools, fertilisers, booklets, and support to plot holders and societies. In response to the threat to allotments from the expansion of house building in this period, the NAS began a campaign for the inclusion of allotments in every new town planning scheme.
Today, the society has seven members of staff, three of whom are full time, and it is the national representative body for the allotment movement in the UK. It represents the views of its members on a national level and raises awareness of the social, cultural, heritage and health benefits of the allotment movement and its relevance to wider environmental issues. The NAS also works with government at national and local levels, the media, NGOs, environmental charities and landlords to provide, promote and preserve allotments for future generations to enjoy.
As well as associations, schools, local authorities and landowners, individuals can join the NAS. Individual membership costs £23 per year (plus a one-off fee of £1 for a nominal share in the society) and benefits of joining include: a free quarterly magazine with contributions from members; an e-newsletter; personal gardening advice; discounted seeds and retail offers.
Members can also enrol onto the society’s free Allotmenteers’ Liability Insurance. This provides protection to member plot holders accused of accidentally causing injury or damaging property, in their personal capacity. The benefit is worth up to £5,000,000 and will pay for defence costs and the cost of any award made. The NAS also offers initial legal advice on tenancy agreements and areas of law affecting allotments, with some exceptions.
At the moment the NAS has a membership of 2,100 associations with 110,000 affiliate members, plus 2,000 individuals. During ‘lockdown’, applications for individual membership rose by 16% and for associations by 33% compared to the same period in 2019.
The NAS has 11 regional bodies, comprising groups of volunteers who support members and promote the society and the allotment movement. They attend shows, give talks, help to develop sites, support the creation of new associations and guide those who take on site management. Individuals are welcome to attend regional meetings and get involved in regional activity. There are various mechanisms for these volunteers to feed in to NAS policy and strategy, which is led by the management board.
The bulk of the society’s work is supporting associations that have taken on management of sites from a local authority. The NAS also gets requests for information and advice on various subjects, ranging from information on how to get a plot to students wanting input from members for research projects. Recently, the society’s Covid-19 advice was used by a vast number of councils to help keep sites open and safe during the pandemic.
Any councils that are considering selling allotment land are obliged to seek the opinion of the NAS. This enables the society to ensure that statutory allotment sites are not disposed of unfairly, alternatives are considered and that local authorities uphold their duty to provide allotment land. If disposal is granted, the society can act on a site’s behalf to make sure that any alternative provision is adequate and meets the statutory requirements.
The society’s in-house lawyer and assistant can also offer initial legal advice on a range of issues. These include tenancy agreements, leases, land disputes, rent rises, health and safety, environmental, contract and company law and data protection. The NAS also has horticultural advisor Aaron Hickman, who helps answer individual queries from members, as do staff and volunteers who have a wealth of knowledge and experience.
So, for an annual membership fee of less than £25 allotmenteers get an awful lot of benefits. I think it’s worth joining – and I have! Visit nsalg.org.uk for more details.
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