Allotment holder Karen Thirkell


RETIRED nurse manager, Redrow home owner and first-time allotment holder Karen Thirkell is enjoying the fruits of her labour.

Karen, who lives at Horsforth Vale, near Leeds, is one of many Redrow home owners around the country who have been encouraged to ‘get growing’ thanks to the availability of community spaces on their developments.

As National Allotments Week 2022 (Aug 8 – 14) gets underway, Karen shared what prompted her to get started, how she’s been getting along and why she thinks it would be a good thing if more home builders offered similar resources. 

“I got my allotment in February last year when they were first released. I was still working in the NHS at the time, we’d been really busy through Covid and we were also still in lockdown. I wanted to get out in the fresh air and do something different. I was looking for a release and growing things seemed a great idea. I already had a little greenhouse at home and this was the next step,” Karen explained.

“I started with just a flat piece of dirt so there was a lot of digging in the early days, before I could plant it and make some raised beds. Since then I’ve grown lots of things – beans, peas, courgettes, fruit, flowers. In fact, you name it I’ve probably grown it – or tried to grow it! I’ve just picked three kilos of redcurrants and am making them into jam and syrup. I made lots of soups, curries and pasta dishes last year, which I froze, and this year I’ve got mountains of potatoes and onions, so it will probably be potato curry!”

With just herself and her grown-up son at home to eat the produce, Karen has frequently found herself sharing it with friends and neighbours: “Last year I even put a big box at the end of my path, filled it with produce and left it for people to help themselves.”

Learning what to plant – and when – has been trial and error for Karen and she’s largely taught herself with the help of books and the internet, as well as a friend who was already an allotment owner.

“Having an allotment is certainly great for your mental health and wellbeing. It also helps on the cost-of-living front as you need to spend less on shop-bought fruit and vegetables,” said Karen. “And it’s nice to chat with other allotment holders and see what they are growing, plus we swap stuff between us when we have a glut. I love it and think it would be great if every new homes development had community growing spaces like this – and perhaps more of them.”

Karen secured her plot in a ballot that was held amongst Redrow residents who had applied to take one on. It’s hers now for as long as she wants it, providing she carries on living in her Redrow home of six years and observes the terms of the lease.

Redrow’s Horsforth Vale development – which transformed the former site of the old Clariant Works and neighbouring Riverside Mills – features eight growing spaces for rent and each one is what’s classed as a full-size allotment of around 250 square metres.  They are managed on Redrow’s behalf by specialist management company, the Greenbelt Group, who have offices in Leeds. Greenbelt also take care of the open space, mature trees, sports pitches and other amenity spaces at Horsforth Vale.