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The Good Life

PUBLISHED: 12:34 26 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:15 20 February 2013

swiss chard

swiss chard

Plot 25b at Allington Avenue, Dorchester, is looking for some vintage gardeners, as Edward Griffiths discovers

Surrounded by the busy Dorchester by-pass and the main road to Wareham, Dorchester Town Councils allotments at Allington Avenue are surprisingly peaceful and fully occupied. On this open and sunny site, sheltered from the south-westerly winds by Conygar Hill, which overlooks Winterborne Came, Plot 25b was once run down and overgrown with weeds and couch grass. Its all different now, and the plot is ready to be worked as a productive allotment once again, thanks to an exciting project that has started here.

UnLtd Engage, a charity which supports and promotes social enterprise with voluntary organisations, has formed a partnership with Dorchesters Age Concern in the hope of targeting a specific and often hard-to-reach group in the older community. UnLtd Engages Fran Biley, who is known professionally as Dr Francis Biley, Associate Professor in Nursing at Bournemouth University, explains: We want to encourage volunteers, who will probably be men who are retired and in later life, to help on this allotment and become more involved in community life. Fran explains that statistics show that about 83% of people known to Age Concern are women, many of whom have an established circle of friends and relations. But, when men retire or move house or town, they often lose contact with friends and acquaintances. With long waiting lists for allotments, they dont have the chance to engage in allotment activities or to benefit from the light exercise which would help recovery from any one of a range of illnesses. Fran hopes that this project will give these men the opportunity to socialise with others, engage in productive activity, enjoy sharing that all-important cup of tea, and chat with like-minded individuals.

As well as the practical help offered by the team, Anna Biley, Development Officer for Age Concern, has arranged for the charitable organisation Thrive to provide allotment gardening training sessions for volunteers and supervisors. The sessions are particularly designed for older people and for those with various disabilities.

Bob Christian, a retired lecturer in Farm Mechanisation and an enthusiastic hands-on trustee of Age Concern, has done more than his fair share on plot 25b. He has dug over the entire plot by hand, removing the notoriously persistent couch grass. Born and bred in South Lincolnshire, Bob is well versed in all things agricultural. Fran, who is keen on organic gardening and vegetable production, has also been getting stuck in. Another key member of the team is Age Concerns John Yonwin who is responsible for Fit as a Fiddle, a nationwide programme supporting older people with physical activity healthy eating and mental well-being.

Fran, Anna and son James demolished the old tumbledown shed back in January and built temporary compost heaps with the old boards. The remaining rubbish and unwanted timber was cleared, and the site edged with treated timber boards for demarcation and as a basis for levelling the surrounding paths. A smart new 8ft x 6ft shed was installed in March.
The prepared allotment has raised beds for disabled access, and grass mats for people with restricted ability. Over the free-draining chalk subsoil theres a good 15in of soil with clay and flints. This topsoil has been well-prepared and composted, so all the hard work has been done for the first years production. Potatoes and salad crops have already been planted, and more plants and seedlings are being raised in Age Concerns greenhouse before being transplanted to the allotment.

So, if you live in the Dorchester area and would like to spend a couple of hours a week in the open air, helping out on this community allotment, or would just like to pop by for a cuppa and a chat, get in touch with John Yonwin on 01305 269444. Youll be made to feel very welcome.

To do in May:
Sow root vegetable seeds like carrots, parsnips and swedes directly into the ground where they can grow undisturbed.

Top tip for May:
Protect carrots from carrot root fly by constructing a barrier about 12ins (30cm) high around the beds. Polythene sheet on a slender wooden frame is ideal, or corrugated plastic.

Top plot plants:
Swiss chard: sow seeds now for winter plant cropping, and bed-in young plants now for a summer and autumn crop. Chard likes fertile, moist soil.

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