Volunteers from the local community have been thanked during National Allotment Week for their part in helping to bring Fort Amherst’s historic allotments back to their former glory as part of local projects to help improve health and wellbeing across Medway. 

The volunteers were invited to a BBQ at Fort Amherst’s Victorian Allotments to thank them for all their hard work on the historic site’s community plots over the last year.

The event was coordinated by local community organisations based in Medway, all of which were allocated community plots as part of the Fort Amherst Heritage Trust’s Community Allotment project early last year.

The organisations include; Medway Community Healthcare, Medway Adult Education, Open Road and AMAT UK who all work in the local community to help improve people’s health and wellbeing. The community allotments are being used by the organisations for their own projects which benefit local people through reducing isolation, developing new skills, encouraging physical activity, improving mental health and promoting health eating, among many other benefits.

Julie Webster is the programme lead for Medway Community Healthcare’s ASPIRE project which has two of the plots and will use them to encourage a 'grow your own, sell your own, eat your own' ethos when it launches this Autumn.

“We are so grateful to everyone who has planted, weeded, watered and harvested the two allotment plots we have for the ASPIRE project. The work that has continued to be done on the plots by volunteers over the last year has been vital in ensuring that they are ready for participants who register on to the ASPIRE programme this Autumn. Participants will be able to learn how to grow their own food at the allotment right through to practical sessions on how to cook their own produce at our community kitchen in Gillingham.”

Joanne Payne is a Peer Mentor at Open Road which supports adults who are affected by substance and / or alcohol misuse: 
“Our allotment at the local heritage site, Fort Amherst, has been an integral part of our service user’s recovery, especially during COVID-19 lockdown. It provides a tranquil, safe environment allowing people to socialise at a distanced space. Many of our service users live on their own, suffering with the effects of isolation. The issue was magnified during lockdown, becoming far more intense and having a negative impact on their mental health. Come rain or shine our service users and volunteers have worked hard to turn what was once a blank canvas in to a living, productive and fruitful space. It brings happiness and positive wellbeing to all those who involved from preparing the ground, making beds or pathways, planting seeds and nurturing them as they as they grow.  Our service users and Peer Mentors enjoy gaining some quality, therapeutic time in a beautiful natural place.”

Natasha Steer is the Allotment Project Coordinator for AMAT UK – a Medway-based charity which provides rapid and direct access to housing and support for homeless people and those at risk of homelessness.

“The allotment project has come a long way since the ground was cleared to create plots and it has been wonderful for the residents at AMAT to see the development. They have learnt how to cultivate and grow their own food, as well as deal with issues that arise in a way that respects the local ecosystem by using Victorian gardening methods. Being part of the allotment project helps participants to get outside, spend time in nature and grow food for themselves in others - which in turn supports good mental health and wellbeing.”

Bill Fowler is Chairman at Fort Amherst Heritage Trust: 

“It’s wonderful to see the allotments at Fort Amherst thriving and to see them benefitting the local community again, as they did during the Victorian period. In fact, in 1864 the war office instructed that crown land be set aside for soldiers to cultivate and grow vegetable for themselves. This was met with great success at Fort Amherst, with several acres of land being set aside for this very purpose. This was really enlightened thinking for the later Victorian period, when the social wellbeing of the soldiers gained greater prominence.”