Billy's Lane allotment in Cheadle Hulme is growing a community spirit as well as vegetables

PUBLISHED: 16:00 18 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:14 05 April 2013

George Manley, Jean Jefferson, Ian Ray and Anne Ogden enjoy a mug of coffee

George Manley, Jean Jefferson, Ian Ray and Anne Ogden enjoy a mug of coffee

Nurturing an allotment is rewarding in many ways, especially if you're part of the friendly crowd at Billy's Lane in Cheadle Hulme. They carefully tend a community spirit as well as vegetables. Words and pictures by Keith Plant

Its a bitingly cold winter day. At noon the frost still crisps up the grass and puddles remain frozen.

Theres a light scattering of snow over some of the soil at Billys Lane Allotments next to a housing estate in Cheadle Hulme.

Yet despite the cold, an impressively warm welcome awaits me from some of the allotmenteers who offer me coffee from an extremely well-appointed shed cum hospitality centre. It later transpires that local wines and ciders, all made from the produce of the allotments, are on offer, should I have the urge. Ian Ray, a former teacher at the local school, enthusiastically takes up the story for me.

Hes at pains to demonstrate the diversity of people who farm the 80 allotments right in the heart of this Cheshire community. The 89-year-old war veteran Roy Sampson is there with his memories of the Italy campaign (these days hes more famous for his cauliflowers). Sprightly Roy is also proud that he still manages to dig his own plot. A former academic from Manchester University is famous for his cider apples and the liquid product of his crop!

But many young families with children also enjoy the allotment life, so pleasure is being passed from generation to generation. A willingness to share gardening knowledge is a key element of all the conversation, and the social life seems to be as important as the gardening.

They hold two open days a year, inviting locals to share their pleasures. They work in conjunction with the local flower society indeed many of the allotment holders use their plots to grow flowers. Chrysanthemums are a traditional favourite. Self-help working parties maintain the paths, hedges and access road.

One innovation is having a group of raised beds for the disabled and elderly so they can continue to gain pleasure from growing. Local gardeners are encouraged to use the centres trading shed which offers huge discounts on compost and fertilizers. These events are planned to perpetuate the community spirit and, like the open days, end with barbecues and yet more of the wine and cider. Sometimes you think they are having such a good time there cant possibly be any time for planting and weeding!

Future plans include a community shelter which can be used to host local groups who want to learn more about self-sufficiency and healthy eating
In winter, there are many rickety sheds, plastic bags stuffed with leaf mould and sometimes the only green is a few persistent weeds. But even though the allotments are in hibernation theres still a lot of evidence of loving care. Early rhubarb is poking its neck out, the leeks glisten with frost and Ive rarely had such an enthusiastic conversation about the future of green manure!

Ive been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and generosity of the welcome in this friendly place. Im not surprised the waiting list for allotments is so long that its had to be closed. But the pleasure these people gain from sharing their space makes you feel you are missing a lot of warmth and community spirit if youre not part of this Good Life.

And who was Billy? Nobody seems to know!

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