2020: a year that will be written about for centuries to come. Whilst the entire earth has had the shared experience of struggling with a global pandemic, we still won’t know what the second or third order effects will be.
The world of events, live music and the arts remain paralysed and yet to get back off the canvas. Meanwhile schools and higher education have seen chaotic shifts in scheduling, and the very delivery of teaching. Retail and hospitality are having to adopt in order to survive, with many small businesses already closing their doors following months of inactivity.
When we’re talking about the second or third order effects, primarily it’s about how we, the public, respond to the changes in day to day life. Five months of lockdown is enough for anyone to question their habits or routines, and seemingly that has happened for most people. Now with another lockdown (2.0) underway as of early November 2020, it’s lead us to reflect.
Where to start? The one place that Britons have seen more of in 2020 than anywhere else: the home. Whether it’s rest, exercise, communication, learning, gardening or gaming; everyone has had to find ways to keep our physical and mental health in check. That’s not to mention the additional stress felt by those in society who are still sheltering in place or facing extreme isolation.
One of the ways we at AllotMe have kept ourselves together is through tending to our vegetable patch. The additional time at home has meant that the garden has seen plenty of activity and care. By all accounts, this instinct to get our fingers green is one that has been shared by many.
When droves of people started queuing around the block to get into their local supermarket, it seemed like everyone would have taken an allotment against the fragility of our global food supply - however it occurred to many that tending to your own plot brought more than just a consistent source of fruit & veg. During the first lockdown in the UK, multiple accounts surfaced from allotment holders in publications expressing how their vegetable patch had been a lifesaver for them when it came to mental health.
Whilst it’s clear to see why an allotment would serve as a green oasis in such uncertain times, what was also discovered is how much of an appetite there is amongst the population to take up vegetable gardening for the first time.
Across the board, we saw waiting list demand for allotment plots soar from both local councils and private allotment associations during the UK's first lockdown.
This comes off the back of a provision which already massively under-serves the demand that existed pre-pandemic. The majority of allotment waiting lists in urban areas of the UK are simply closed, or with lists of people waiting as long as 40 years to get their own plot.
As it turns out, this rising demand to an increasingly lowering supply is a long standing trend. The land set aside for allotment sites has continued to decline by about 65% since the peak of allotment usage in the UK during the post-war era.
So why such an increase in demand for growing spaces when we’re asked to remain indoors? Surely most people have their own space, right? …Not exactly.
When we look at the national average, at least 1 in 8 people do not have their own private outdoor space; and when it comes to the capital, that figure rises to 1 in 5 people without a garden.
Alas, when the entire population is being asked to remain within their own premises, and that space barely exceeds 50 m2 - it becomes clear why one would search for the green oasis of their own allotment plot (following government advice that attendance at allotment sites were allowed during lockdown).
Increased demand for these types of spaces is one thing, but the population density numbers show us that this lack of access to personal outdoor space is a problem that is only going to proliferate as time goes on.
For example, in London every year the city’s population increases by approximately 77,000 new people. That’s over 15,000 new residents living without any outdoor provision.
These numbers also align with the wider trends in national populations who are moving more and more into urban areas. Whilst Covid-19 has allowed for many to leave the city to work remotely, it is still estimated that by 2050, roughly 70% of the planet will be living in cities.
Right now, we can only wait for the end to another lockdown in hope and anticipation of some more good news: whether it be word of flattening the curve once again or another potential new vaccine, it’s important to take stock of what we’ve learnt during 2020:
Space remains the biggest issue for residents of our major cities in creating room for sustainable and healthy habits. It's also a problem that's not going anywhere, post-pandemic - as more and more people continue to flock to the cities.
However, our habits can change... as demonstrated by the ups and downs of 2020, and can lead to more healthy and sustainable practices for the better.