Meet Chris and Dave – the unsung heroes of St Ann’s Allotments

St Ann’s Allotments is home to 75 acres of 670 individual allotment gardens, conservation areas for wildlife and green spaces for community projects. We went along to meet Chris and Dave, the dynamic duo responsible for maintaining the site – from water taps and walls, to miles of historic hedges and lanes.

Chris Jamson – Site Maintenance Officer

“I applied for the post 10 years ago and got it out of 62 applicants. Back then, the 10-year restoration and conservation programme funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund had only just started, so the allotments looked very different to how they do now.

The contractors involved in the project were on site and a number of things were underway – including new paths laid, a borehole sunk for water and some of the heritage buildings restored – but the allotments were still really overgrown and there were only a few plots being used around the outskirts of the site. The hedges were up to 20 foot high and were so thick in places you couldn’t walk down the avenues!

All kinds of people helped with the restoration, including big groups from local employers like Experian and Boots, allotment holders, and the small site maintenance team I led – who took over a lot of the work from the contractors.

I’m from a construction background, so I helped to build walls and lay all the small paths around the site, which were just mud before, and the maze at the entrance to the Visitors’ Centre. Not everyone knows, but there’s actually a time capsule in the maze containing some of the things we found during the restoration, including Victorian artefacts.

The restoration programme transformed the allotments from a largely empty and neglected site into the thriving green space it is today. One of the things that has made a big difference is Oliver’s Plot – the allotments’ display plot and outdoor museum – which is used by a whole range of community groups and open for visitors to explore. When I first came here, the old Victorian greenhouse and summerhouse on the plot were ready to fall down, now they’ve got heritage status and have been preserved for future generations to enjoy.

The Visitors’ Centre has also helped bring people into the site and provides a space for community groups, along with the Community Orchard and straw-bale building.

Overall, my favourite thing about the allotments is the atmosphere and the people – there’s a huge diversity of people here from all walks of life and it’s incredible hearing their stories – especially what the older generation did during their working lives. I’m not just a maintenance officer, I’m a community officer too.”

Dave Rawson, Assistant Site Maintenance Officer

“Like Chris, I’ve been at the allotments for 10 years. I started via a Future Jobs Fund scheme to employ local trainees as part of the restoration project. Originally, it was a six-month placement, so it’s great to still be here, nine and a half years later!

I love how friendly it is here – it inspired me to get my own plot around eight years ago and now I grow lots of different fruit including plums, strawberries, apples and raspberries. Everyone knows us so we get lots of plants given to us.

With 75 acres to manage, the allotments definitely needs a maintenance team on-site – if there’s a water leak or a tree blown down blocking access we’re here and can get it sorted straight away. In a nutshell, our job is to keep on top of everything done during the restoration project. It’s a big task for two people but I love being outdoors and every day is different.

Before starting at the allotments, I worked as an electrician and in foundries, so I bought plenty of experience with me. That’s why myself and Chris can turn our hand to all kinds of things – and you definitely need to be a Jack-of-all-trades to keep up with all the hedges, roads, paths, fences, walls, water taps and more!”

Last chance to vote for the allotments!

St Ann’s Allotments is in the finals of The 25th Birthday National Lottery Awards, the annual search for the UK’s favourite National Lottery funded projects and people.

Please vote for us online in the Best Heritage Project Category:

OR by tweeting #NLAAllotments

Your vote could help us win £10,000 for St Ann’s Allotments! Voting closes at midnight on 21 August!