As the warm Spring sunshine lazily beats down on the muddy turf high on a Cornish hillside, the only sound that can be heard is the quiet tinkering of garden tools digging at the soil.
Taking a moment to catch his breath as he grapples with a new fence at this peaceful site in Quintrell Downs is Phil Richards, the inaugural chairman of the Park An Colan Allotment Association. The green-fingered group was set up after the Duchy of Cornwall gifted former farmland to the community, just a stone’s throw from its Nansledan development on the edge of Newquay.
The land has seen quite a transformation after being handed over to the enthusiastic allotment association last October. Since then, a team of local people has toiled at the turf, creating 30 allotment plots, and have recently welcomed a clutch of uniform potting sheds among the flora and fauna, supplied by the Duchy.
When the association first arrived at the site, it was in need of some TLC. Having been ploughed and harrowed over, reminders of its crop-growing past could still be seen sprouting up through the three acres of land. A lot of elbow grease would be needed to get the plots ready to welcome their first line of seeds.
Phil, also known as Wilson’s Dad, thanks to his beloved pet dog, another familiar face at the allotments, said: “We have got a core group of people who have rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in and you can already see their hard work paying off with gardens ready to sow and fences put up. We have got a real mix of people here, from pensioners to young couples and families and they are all joining in to get the allotments looking their best.”
When they put out the call for growing enthusiasts from the local area, Phil said the association members knew they would be inundated.
He said: “We took over the allotments in October and we advertised the plots for people living in the Newquay area. We knew that there was a real need for more allotments locally. I put my name down for one when I first moved here and I was about 195 on the list.”
Trees are already taking root and strawberry and gooseberry bushes have been planted among the plots. And while some have already begun sowing their seeds, others are taking a more methodical approach.
“I have used grid paper to mark out exactly what I want to do and where I want to put it all,” said Phil. “And I’ve been putting up a fence. We have a lot of rabbits up here so we need the fences to keep everything safe and secure.”
Sprucing up the unused farmland and transforming it into a fruit and veg community hub began when the Duchy of Cornwall offered to gift land to the allotment association.
With a series of allotments and green spaces already taking shape as part of the Duchy’s neighbouring Nansledan development, the donated land is a way of reinforcing its commitment to encouraging local food production and more sustainable lifestyles.
Nansledan has already seen a former Duchy-owned paddock revitalised with allotments and a community orchard, and further neighbourhood gardening plots, recreation space, pedestrian and cycle paths are all planned. Park An Colan is now the third set of allotment gardens so far associated with Nansledan.
As well as the individual plots, the Park An Colan Allotment Association worked with the Duchy to create a new hardstanding track, which was built to allow ease of access for people bringing things to and from their allotments. In keeping with Nansledan’s sustainable approach, all the soil removed to make way for the track has been put to good use.
New embankments have been created with another area earmarked as an orchard, and a working party has looked at hedgerows surrounding the allotments, turning them in to sustainable hedgehog habitats.
Phil added: “Over time this will become a really special place to enjoy and we look forward to inviting the local community along to take a look at what we have created and buy some of our produce.
“It has been absolutely brilliant working with the Duchy of Cornwall. We have formed a very strong partnership and it’s lovely to see our relationship growing through our allotments.
“I think it is fantastic that the Duchy has given this land to the community. It is an incredibly neighbourly thing to do and with land at a real premium it is a valuable asset, so gifting something like this to local people is brilliant.”
Just before he begins another onslaught on the land’s unwanted weeds, Phil pauses to take in his surroundings; from the green shoots emerging among the plots, to the sheds being carefully daubed with colourful paint by an eager young boy, and the pensioners stood together swapping their years of gardening knowledge.
“This land has gone from something that was barren and unused to a stretch of allotments growing plants, fruit and vegetables,” he said. “And alongside that, a thriving community has grown, which is passionate about getting the most out of our square plots of land and sharing our knowledge and experience to support each other and the local wildlife.
“This is a wonderful place to be.”