Plot-holed! Row buries kids’ allotment site

HAPPIER TIMES: The BBC's Springwatch visited Julie (centre, back) and the allotment project.
HAPPIER TIMES: The BBC's Springwatch visited Julie (centre, back) and the allotment project.

AN AWARD-WINNING horticulture project has abandoned its allotment site in Mexborough... after a bitter row with fellow plot holders.

The Just Ask Project has seen hundreds of kids learn the art of allotment keeping and veg growing, winning numerous awards and high praise along the way.

Since forming in 2008, the group has also raised thousands of pounds for charity from its base at the Adwick Road allotments site.

But project leaders Julie Thompson and Jim Robinson have now ended all activities on site, claiming they have been forced out by other allotment holders.

They alleged the Mexborough Allotment Society committee have:

* Excluded kids from ANY school outside of Mexborough from the allotment

* Banned youngsters over the age of 16 from taking part, and

* Demanded to know the project’s plans for the next YEAR.

Julie claimed: “It just got to the point where they made our position untenable.

“Their rules and regulations meant that we could not do what we could before.

“We estimate that every child in Mexborough currently over the age of seven will have been involved in some way with the project.

“And it is a great shame that it has come to this point.”

She explained that youngsters from all across the Dearne had taken part in the scheme, learning such skills as growing crops before selling them on, to make money for charity.

Every school in Mexborough has taken part over the years, and the scheme has also raised around £3,000 for local good causes.

The scheme won gold Yorkshire In Bloom awards and the Mayor of Doncaster Peter Davies was so impressed with the project he came to town to present them with certificates for their good work.

But in a letter to Julie dated October 2010 – a copy of which the Times has – the committee asked her to provide: “A diary list or/and plan of your projects and activities for the rest of this and the following year.

“Furthermore it should be understood that you are only permitted to have on the Just Ask Allotments children up to 16 years of age and those children should only be from Mexborough schools.”

Julie told the Times: “Firstly, it’s unfair to ask us to provide plans for 12 months ahead. The project has always done things on a month-by-month basis.

“The project has always been for young people, with no cut -off point at 16. Some of the kids have been with us from the start, and are coming up to 17.

“They wanted to carry on with the scheme, so how am I supposed to turn them away?”

She added: “We had school kids coming from Mexborough and all over the Dearne – including Conisbrough, Denaby, Swinton and Edlington.

“Why should those kids who aren’t from Mexborough be discriminated against? There’s no good reason why they couldn’t continue with us.

“This was the final straw. It got to the point where all we were dealing with each month was letters from the allotment society. We couldn’t focus on our own project and objectives any more.

“I told the kids in December that the project could not continue on site and they were gutted.”

The scheme will continue to run its S.E.E.D.S. scheme for adults – which includes horticulture courses – until March. But Julie said this would be “out in the community” with no project work taking place on the allotment.

It will also hold a meeting to see wether the project still has a future.

John Seagrave, Chairman of the Mexborough Allotment Society, stressed that the project was only given permission to cater for junior school pupils on the site.

Secretary Arthur Morton added: “Over the last eight months, the committee has been bringing the constitution and the rules and regulations up to date.

“We felt that the leaving age of school was 16... so, conversely, once they reached that age they would not want to be in this scheme any more.

“Running alongside the Just Ask Project is the S.E.E.D.S. scheme, which is for adults, and we felt the idea was that they would then join that project.”

He told the Times that the committee wanted to know the project’s annual plans for insurance purposes adding: “We have another community project on site called Daisy Meadows.

“They provided us with their plans for the next 12 months, no problem. We just wanted a rough idea of what they wanted to do.

“The committee was disappointed that the project finished, because these kids are our future generation of gardeners.”