The following will be discussed at a meeting of BHAF, BHCC and Site Reps at an Allotment Forum meeting on Wednesday 12th October.
Role of BHAF
BHAF is the voice of plot holders in the city. Every plot holder is automatically a member once they have signed their tenancy agreement. It is funded from a small levy on each plot holder’s rent. BHAF has a committee of 10 members, elected annually by plot-holders at the AGM. BHAF is also the official partner with the Council (BHCC) in managing the city’s allotments, including delivering the B&H Allotment Strategy. The current ten-year strategy was agreed by all political parties in 2014.
BHAF is responsible for the following:
- Organising and chairing site rep liaison forums (normally three times per year)
- Liaison with Council officers on allotment strategy implementation, site rep training and other operational matters.
- Management and disbursement of the site development funds.
- Carrying out work to support the allotment strategy (e.g. commissioning the recent review of the Business Case for Allotments).
- Communications and linking with plot holders via its website, social media (e.g. the BHAF Facebook Group) and a regular newsletter.
- Supporting tenants with general advice and assistance with grievances.
- Maintaining links with other stakeholder organisations, such as the National Allotment Society, the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership.
BHAF in the changing environment
The last few years have been challenging for everyone involved with allotments. The pandemic halted much of the routine work such as maintenance and lettings. Meetings could not be held. The Allotment Service has been understaffed and under great pressure. Problems at Council-wide level with the GDPR rules have limited BHAF’s capacity to work effectively (including no longer being able to access email addresses for our plot holders). We face huge challenges from the continuing high demand for allotments, financial and staffing constraints and the climate crisis.
We are now in a much better place. We have a cross-party agreement on stronger support to allotments from the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee, including funding for an Allotment Projects Officer. We are grateful to Beulah Knight, Project Officer, for all her work during the first year of this arrangement. We have been delighted to welcome Jim Mayor, the current post holder (working with the Allotment Service and with Paul Campbell), who took over the job recently. Jim is also a plot holder and a former senior manager in BHCC. He is the author of our recently commissioned review of the Business Case for Allotments. This has been very influential in the ETS Committee in supporting the implementation of the Allotment Strategy. We are keen to take forward the kinds of ideas that came out of the excellent “Future of Allotments” forum with Councillors at the BHAF AGM in April.
We therefore have a big agenda ahead. The BHAF Committee feels this is a good point to do some creative rethinking of BHAF’s structures to address these challenges and draw in more participation from our members.
Allotments are thriving places of voluntary effort and innovation. Site reps are the essential “workforce” on the ground and the critical link between tenants and Council services. Site Associations play another critical role on larger sites. They manage and support a wide range of services, such as shops, open days and links to the wider community. There are also many on-site initiatives for community gardening, bio-diversity etc. We want to make these site level groups and activities more central in setting BHAF’s agenda and deciding the issues that it takes forward on behalf of plot-holders.
- Enhancing the role of the forum
The site rep forums have not been held since the start of the pandemic but will now be restarted. The forums will be for Site Reps, Site Association reps, community plot organisations, BHAF Committee members, the Allotment Officer and relevant officers in City Parks, along with our nominated Councillor representative. BHAF will continue to organize and chair them.
Previously, the forums were mainly for report backs and for site reps to air any operational issues. We propose to widen the scope of the forums by also making them the key place for agenda setting on issues that the allotments community wants BHAF to take forward. BHAF Committee meeting timings will be tied to the timing of the forums. BHAF will take responsibility for overall co-ordination of this process:
- Consulting with site reps, site associations and BHCC officers beforehand on the agendas
- Ensuring follow up actions on the basis of decisions agreed
- Co-ordinating the actions agreed at forums and reporting back to the forum and plot holders.
- Tapping into member expertise on current issues
There is a large and growing agenda of issues facing allotments and we want to draw in more of our plot holder members and tap into the skills we know are out there. Linked to the forum, we propose setting up working groups on areas identified as priorities for action. These are some examples:
- Infrastructure and maintenance
- Health and wellbeing
- Community outreach
- Climate crisis implications
- Innovations (ideas already circulating include improved water harvesting, bulk buying of supplies for shops, compost supplies at scale)
Each working group would have a convenor and potentially be time limited depending on its remit. Members can be recruited by recommendations from sites and via requests on BHAF’s social media. Council officers and BHAF committee members can also be co-opted as members. Working groups will report recommendations back to the forum, along with a work plan. Forum agrees actions to be taken forward.
We hope that these changes will contribute to maintaining and building on the city’s thriving allotment communities and support everyone’s efforts to manage the challenges ahead. We welcome all your feedback – comments, questions, challenges and suggestions. We also welcome offers of involvement – if you feel you would like to be get involved in any way, please get in touch via our website www.bhaf.org or email Brighton and Hove Allotments Federation firstname.lastname@example.org