Wigan allotment set to grow as community group takes over

Keith Moss from the allotment society with councillors
Keith Moss from the allotment society with councillors

Allotment enthusiasts are making plans for the future after successfully taking over their green corner of the borough.

Balcarres Avenue Community Allotments Association in Whelley will be stepping up its plans to transform the overgrown site into a growing oasis after being given permission to run it.

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The group successfully applied for a community asset transfer from Wigan Council and now wants to encourage more local people to grow their own.

The association has received a five-year lease from the town hall, a deal which it is hoped will allow lavish improvement plans to come to fruition.

Led by plot holder Keith Moss, the group has developed proposals to tidy up the site and bring many of the plots which are currently abandoned and covered in grass and weeds back into use.

It is then hoped that more residents from the Whelley area and children at local schools and community groups will get involved and discover the joys of digging for victory to produce their own fruit and vegetables.

Society secretary Keith first got involved in 2013 because his brother-in-law lived nearby and had a plot at the secluded location off Balcarres Avenue.

Keith travels every day from Bryn to work on the site and formed the committee to apply for the community asset transfer.

He has been a landscape gardener for 25 years and knew he was taking on a big challenge but is committed to seeing the masterplan through to being a reality.

Keith said: “I’ve spoken to a lot of the residents in the area and they’re all willing to work with us.

“I just want to make it a nice area for everybody to enjoy.

“Although we have now sadly lost my brother-in-law, once I became involved I wanted to see it through.

“When we’ve cleared the land we’re going to lower the trees and build a 25ft cabin to use as a community shelter and classroom.

“I want the local schools to use the shelter and the plot so children can be taught how to plant and grow their own.

“It’s been a real community effort.

“I want to thank Phil Dawber from Cliffe Packaging and Alan Waterworth and Sons for helping us with the pathways.”

The group has had support from ward councillors and also received funding to improve the site and open it up to the committee.

The efforts by Keith and his volunteers to spruce up the most weed-strewn plots did not run entirely smoothly with what appeared to be a grave discovered during the tidying process.

The area had to be sealed off and police called but in the end the ground beneath a number of stones arranged like a tombstone and a memorial plaque turned out to be empty.

Wigan Council staff from the In Bloom and corporate land management teams have also chipped in to help the transformation, including advice on setting up the committee and applying for the asset transfer.

Earlier this year Keith told the Observer of his vision for the site, which includes leaving one of the plots for community and teaching work.

A former judge from the Royal Horticultural Society is already on board and keen to share expertise.

Before the asset transfer went in Keith and fellow volunteers spent back-breaking weeks cleared debris, Japanese knotweed and other rampantly-growing plants from the long-abandoned areas.

They also put wooden fence posts into the ground in order to set out where the plots are.

Coun Chris Ready, cabinet member for communities, said: “The group demonstrated aspirations to develop and improve the site to allow for use by local schools, incredible edible and other initiatives under The Deal which is exactly what we were looking for.

“This is a great example of what can happen when communities come together and work in partnership to improve the local area.”