The 18 allotments at Inspired Villages’ development in Warwickshire are helping green-fingered retirees make friends, lose weight and enjoy the fruits of their labours
The joy of moving to a retirement community is that you don’t have to do any gardening if you don’t want to – but at Inspired village’s Great Alne Park, which has 78 acres of parkland, gardening enthusiasts have discovered something that is helping them keep fit, lose weight, improve their mental health and make friends.
The secret lies in Great Alne Park’s allotments. Measuring around half the size of traditional allotments the spaces are more manageable for older homeowners who have found them a boon in lockdown.
Stephen Walsh, 62, moved to a two-bedroom two-storey cottage at Great Alne Park near Alcester in June last year with his partner Pat.
He was two stone heavier than he is now and reckons digging and planting his allotment has helped him get fit and lose weight.
“Before I retired, I spent a lot of time in hotels because of my job,” he explains.
“I did a lot of sitting around and eating and drinking.
“The allotment has helped me get fit. I’ve lost that two stone, and it’s given me exercise with purpose.
“Pat and I walk to the plot and back, which is a good 20-minute round trip. Plus, the allotment is relaxing, so it’s satisfying for our physical and mental wellbeing.
“It also encourages healthy eating. You get the reward, which is the produce.”
“Our allotment has been a godsend during lockdown,” adds Pat. “I’ve always liked gardening, but Stephen doesn’t know so much about it, so he provides the muscle.
“We’ve been growing tomatoes, courgettes, beetroot, Swiss chard, lettuce, peppers, onions, and flowers.
“Being out in the sun and in nature has been good for our mental health too. There are birds, rabbits and pheasants, and deer if you get up early enough.
“It’s great to watch things grow and to eat your own veg; it’s fresh and organic, and you can taste the difference. Plus, we’ve been able to swap and share things with the other allotment-holders.”
Their allotment also offers a social element. “It’s not crowded there but when you do see people, we ask each other what we’re growing,” says Stephen.
“I’ve never had an allotment before, but Pat has always fancied one. Since we’ve had it, I’ve felt like a pioneer of the Wild West.”
Having an allotment has provided a welcome distraction for Susan Lewinton, 74, and her retired TV producer husband, Dave, 75. The couple have lived at Great Alne Park since May last year and they have two children.
“To be able to go to our plot at the height of the pandemic meant we could go outside, get some exercise and work on the allotment,” Susan explains.
“It was a marvellous distraction. Plus, there were other people there, so we could be far apart, while still being able to talk to each other.
The 18 allotment plots are free to residents and available to rent by non-residents who live in the village of Great Alne so homeowners get the chance to mix and meet the locals. Each allotment has its own shed so homeowners/locals can store tools and produce.
Susan says: “We’re friendly with a few people who live outside the development. They like to hear about what’s happening here and we learn a lot about the local area from them.
“Having the allotment also keeps your mind active because you have to think about what you plant in which month.
“Getting the fresh air is good, and it’s a double-helping of exercise because you have the walk to and from the plot, and the gardening when you’re there.”
Susan has been into gardening all her life and she describes Dave as her assistant. They’ve been growing basil, parsley and chives, and also potatoes, tomatoes, beetroot, cabbages, courgettes, leeks, runner beans, corn on the cob, parsnips and lettuce.
She says: “We’ve been able to give some of what we’ve grown to our friends, as well as eating it ourselves. I especially love beetroot, which I’ve been cooking and pickling. And our carrots are very sweet compared to the ones you buy in the supermarket.”
During their working lives, Susan was a bookkeeper, while Dave was the head of post-production for Thames Television with three BAFTA nominations to his name.
“I’d definitely recommend having an allotment,” she adds. “It’s been an all-round joy and I’ll continue to do it as long as I’m physically able.”
Charles Goody, 80, and his wife Anne, 76, moved from their home near Stratford-upon-Avon which had seven acres of land to their apartment at Great Alne Park two years ago.
“We’ve had our allotment just over a year,” Charles explains.
“Anne looks after the flowers outside our apartment, while I take care of the vegetables at the allotment. I go there about once or twice a week, and I have onion sets, potatoes, masses of beetroot and a couple of marrows.”
Preparing the ground at the allotment has given Charles plenty of exercise, while he’s found it satisfying to be able to see his vegetables grow and then eat them.
“Some of the gardening is quite hard,” he says, “but it’s relaxing, too, especially if you’re a country lad like me. And it helps to get out and about.”
Chatting to other keen gardeners is a further benefit, as Charles explains. “We compare the performance of our vegetables, but we’re not competitive,” he says. “We share growing tips and keep an eye on each other’s plots.
“And Anne and I have been sharing our veg with our neighbours because they don’t have an allotment.”
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