What is your vision?
Before you start on this adventure, ask yourself as an individual or collectively as a group, what type of land are you looking for? Within walking distance of homes so its visible to the community? Or large enough to start a farm-sized operation? What are the needs of your community? Create a general shopping list of what you are looking for.
You may like to comment on characteristics such as:
• Type of growing project - small community garden or large community supported agriculture project?
• Quality of Soil
• Relationship with neighbours
• What you are hoping to grow
Click here to read the helpsheet put together by the Community Land Advisory Service that lists many more issues to consider when choosing a site.
Howling for your pack: Finding others to make your vision a reality
Working with other people can be the make or break between making something happen or not. In a group you have access to resources and energy that you can’t generate on your own - from contacts and skills, to spare time or that boost of enthusiasm you need.
When it comes to accessing land and convincing a landowner that your presence will be of benefit, having a well-organised group also makes a difference.
You may find others who want to grow by:
• Tapping in to existing networks, such as local environment groups, WIs, Transition Groups and so forth. Check out our list of local networks in Somerset here.
• Put the call out - advertise for others by putting an advert, letter or article in the local newsletter, newspaper, shop noticeboard or website. Put posters up in your parish.
• One suggestion is to organise a public meeting, which can act as a get together for anyone interested. You can advertise and say that you are looking for others to form an Awaiting Allotment Association. Invite local landowners and the community. You could also invite people to talk who have done it already and are an inspiring model. A speaker from a national group (see a list of them here) may also be up for talking, or you could show a short film (see the Incredible Edible Somerset films here). A meeting like this could help generate enthusiasm for the project and convince any landowners present that the group has the skills and commitment to take the project forward.
Before you start - is there already provision for growing in your area?
Before starting to search for new land to bring into community food production you may wish to research:
• Are there allotments in your neighbourhood? Is there a waiting list?
• Is there a community garden nearby that could do with an injection of energy?
• You can find your nearest community growing project in Somerset on the Foodmapper website.
Starting to search
When starting to look for land it may be more useful for your group to start wider and then slowly filter through the different options.
In the Community Land Advisory Service guidance on finding land they list a number of potential ways to find suitable land:
• Physically walking around your local area
• Talking to local people who are generally a great source of local information
• Advertising that you are looking for land, for example:
⁃ Placing leaflets in your local library, leisure centre, community centre and so forth saying you are looking for land to start a community garden or whatever project you are undertaking. If you are looking for farmland then agricultural stores are a good place to advertise.
⁃ Online through social networks like facebook and twitter. There are other online tools including:
⁃ The Somerset Local Food Update newsletter noticeboard
⁃ You may also wish to advertise on local email lists, news sites and more
⁃ You may wish to write a press release to get your search featured in local newspapers and magazines
• Use internet mapping tools such as Google Earth to identify undeveloped or open land within your search area.
• Use brokerage services that are detailed online, such as landshare, you may have a local community food organisation that may provide a similar service.
• Access documents from the local council office or website, these may include:
⁃ Plans and policies of the planning development, which may indicate potential future developments and opportunities
⁃ Their open space strategy - which should indicate all open space within the council area & as well as their strategies for future spaces
⁃ Allotment strategy - which may include potentially available allotments and the councils strategy for developing any future spaces. Read Taunton Deanes District Council’s allotment strategy here as an example.
• You may find land through a local estate agent, in office or online. You can also register your plans with them and if they are friendly and supportive they may notify you with any potential leads
• You could also contact other local businesses that regularly interact with landowners, such as architects.
• Public landowners may also have potential land available, potential organisations include:
⁃ Local Authorities
⁃ Local NHS Trusts
⁃ Local Housing Associations
⁃ The Forestry Commission
⁃ The National Trust
It may also be worth thinking of people who you can survey about their experiences, for example has a local parish council tried or previously advertised? Is there an experienced community gardener in your midsts? What did they learn and what can they share with you about their experiences to help you with your project?
In terms of potential spaces, the options are endless. You may consider:
• Village halls & adjacent land
• Playing fields - including edges & verges
• Hospital or GP surgeries
• Local mental health projects
• Housing Associations
• National trust
Finding out who owns the land
If you do not know or are not sure who owns a piece of land, you could try the following:
• Asking neighbours of the land
• Posting a notice on the land to ask the landowner to get in touch
• Advertising your query through social media, local newspapers and other avenues as detailed above in the looking for land section
• Contacting your local council. People you may wish to speak to include the Property Department, Rates Assessor and District Valuer
• You can pay a small fee and use the Land Registry’s Aerial Land Locator
Please see the page with information dedicated to approaching landowners, here.
Evidencing demand & making your case
It is useful for your own project, and for landowners, to demonstrate there is demand for what you are trying to do. Somerset Community Food surveyed nearly every parish council in every district of Somerset as part of the Somerset Land & Food Project. You can see the results of that survey here, which is organised by district. This can help you see if there is a waiting list in your area.
Please note that the National Society of Allotment Leisure Gardeners suggest doubling this number to account for latent demand - all the people that haven’t put themselves on the waiting list, or get the buzz to start once a site opens and so forth.
If approaching local authorities there are several resources which you can quote or reference when making your case including:
• Local planning or open space (PPG17) amenity policies and strategies
• Sustainable Community Strategies and Neighbourhood plans
• You can also Talk directly to developers if new housing is being planned in your area. 106 agreements and the new Community Infrastructure Levy can be used to acquire growing space (see information on Section 106 agreements here).
• If you anticipate future demand, make sure that space for growing food features in new Local Development Frameworks for your area.
Next steps once you’ve found a plot & engaged a landowner
Now you will need to get the paperwork in place to ensure all parties are happy and in agreement in how the land should be used.
Click here to go to the leases & legal section.
You may also need to consider planning permission or consents.
Or your group may be potentially interested in buying land, click here for more information & resources if so.