Monday, 15 April 2013
What A Relief!
The jokes were flying out fast and furious including these gems -
"The forecast is wet and windy" to which some wit replied "Is that inside or outside?"
"When I was growing up you spent a penny not thousands of pounds"
Such mirth came about at the official opening of our allotment composting toilet building this weekend. Our VIP was the local MP. The gathering also included local council officials, representatives of community groups, other allotment site representatives and of course plot holders and their families. Following the formal cutting of the green ribbon we enjoyed afternoon tea, whilst for our visitors this was the first time some had visited an allotment site so they were keen to have a guided tour. The day was a celebration not only of the formal opening of a building also of what a small group of plot holders had achieved to get to this point.
There were not any toilet facilities at our allotment site before 2102, which made it difficult for many plot holders to spend long periods of time at the allotments. Whilst there was the option for some of disappearing into a shed with a bucket not everybody has access to a shed, whilst some folk have sheds but do not find the bucket solution particularly desirable. The lack of such basic sanitation was identified by plot holders as a major problem over a number of years especially as the number of female plot holders grew. The allotment association committee discussed this issue in some depth in 2011.
Lacking a connection to the mains water supply the committee decided that a composting toilet would be the best option for a site. One of the committee members volunteered to do some research into the subject eventually coming up with the recommendation that we consider a company called NatSol. This company has an established track record of providing composting toilet buildings for outdoor spaces including allotments. However we gulped when we saw the price which was way and above our modest funds. We are a relatively small site and membership of the association is voluntary. The annual subscription is kept at a relatively small sum to encourage people to join.
So we decided to investigate if there were any possible sources of external funding that we could tap into. Nobody on the present committee had any experience of this so it was a steep learning curve. We were fortunate though when a couple of committee members attended a meeting with other local allotment site representatives. Another site in the area had been successful in applying for funding for a project and suggested that that we looked into Awards For All. This is a lottery grants scheme funding small, locally community based schemes in the United Kingdom. The maximum grant that can be awarded is £10,000.
Acting on their suggestion we contacted the External Funding Officer at our local council and arranged a meeting to discuss possible sources of funding. Our initial meeting with her and a colleague was most encouraging and the consensus was that applying to Awards For All was appropriate. Of course we had to meet certain criteria to qualify for a grant so we were given advice on how to gear the application towards this, suggestions on how to fine tune our written constitution as well as a welcome critical pair of eyes to check through the completed application form before it was submitted for consideration.
Not long after this meeting the allotment association had its AGM where the committee gained the backing of members to apply for funding. We were also able to ask members to sign their name to a written statement that there was a need for such a facility. This piece of evidence went off with our application.
The next step was a visit to a neighbouring allotment site where we had found out that there was a similar toilet to the one we had our eyes on already in situ. We were made most welcome and it was great to see what we were considering in the flesh as it were. The pros and cons were discussed - more pros than cons.
So with all this information the committee decided to go ahead with the application and then for me as secretary of the association the hard work of completing the form began. Not only was there a form to be completed but we would also have to provide other written documentation if we were to receive a conditional offer. This included a copy of our written constitution, bank statements and an audited end of year financial report of our funds. Although initially slightly daunting the process was not too difficult but it was time consuming.
Our application was submitted at the end of January 2012 and we were delighted to be able to announce that we had been successful in May 2012. We were awarded £9,050 towards the purchase of a composting toilet with building together with installation costs. The balance of the final bill was raised by the association through plant sales last summer. The toilet was installed in July 2012 and has been in use since. Plot holders pay a nominal sum for a key to the toilet building which will be refunded to them if they give up the tenancy of their plot. This income has been used to cover the initial cost of having keys cut and also as a contribution to the cost of insuring the building. To date some 25 plot holders have asked for keys and hopefully this number will grow in the immediate future. As well as providing a vital facility for plot holders, the association is now in a better position to invite the local community on to the site to share our love of growing and wildlife. We are hoping to have small numbers of local primary school children visit the bee keeping area later this year.
The wet weather of 2012 meant that we still have some more work to complete in the area surrounding the building including the installation of a permanent path to the building this summer. There are also plans to shelter the area with some permanent planting.
So that is the story of how one small group of volunteers dreamed big and achieved their dream. If you belong to any voluntary group allotment based or otherwise which has projects in mind but few funds to achieve then do consider Awards For All. Further grants can be awarded to the same groups after a certain amount of time has lapsed so we are now considering our next project!