Allotment complex De Koekelt is located in the west of Ede (the Netherlands). Access used to be restricted to the allotment holders, but since the winter of 2011-2012 residents of the nearby neighbourhood of Veldhuizen are also welcome. The allotment holders initially came to the Wageningen University & Research Science Shop for advice about how the complex could be used to boost community spirit in the neighbourhood.
Allotment complex De Koekelt is a second home to Henk ter Maat. He has been a keen gardener for 23 years, and refers to his hobby as the perfect form of relaxation. “Every season is different. I love digging and turning the soil in the spring, but sowing, planting out and harvesting are also very satisfying. It takes a few hours every week, but I enjoy every minute.”
About fifteen years ago, the Ede association of amateur gardeners (VAT-Ede), which includes allotment complex De Koekelt, received an ominous notice from the local authorities. The ten-yearly rental contract that VAT-Ede had agreed with the authorities on behalf of the allotment holders was to be converted into a one-year contract. “The local authorities wanted to move us to the furthest reaches of Ede. They needed our land to construct eight new football pitches,” says Ter Maat.
Rather than protesting against the local authorities’ plans, the allotment holders put on their thinking caps and came up with their own idea. Ter Maat: “We told the authorities that we wanted to stay where we were, but that we were willing to reorganise the complex so that the neighbourhood residents could come and enjoy it too. The authorities went along with us.”
VAT-Ede first approached the Wageningen University & Research Science Shop in 2008. Their question was as follows: ‘Would you carry out an exploratory investigation to look into the viability of turning a private allotment complex into a multifunctional garden park?’ Their findings helped to create a design for the new garden park. A park no longer covering 5, but 3.5 hectares. The local authorities decided to construct two new football pitches rather than the eight it had originally planned. The initial exploration was followed by a survey among neighbourhood residents to find out what they wanted.
The garden park has been open to neighbourhood residents since the winter of 2011-2012. It now comprises four clusters of gardens, dissected by footpaths linking up with existing paths through the adjacent Veldhuizerbos forest. The fences have been taken down. “It’s obvious when you walk through the park that it’s no longer private property. Neighbourhood residents have been given a new place to walk and relax.”
According to Ter Maat, opening the gardens to the public constituted a first important step towards creating a multifunctional neighbourhood park. The only thing missing was a concrete plan for turning the park into a real park, run for and by the neighbourhood community. So the allotment holders again turned to researchers at the Science Shop, asking them how they could best go about this. And also: how could they boost the community spirit among the gardeners using the complex? They saw this as an important part of ensuring that the park would continue to look well-organised.
The researchers came up with various ideas for activities to enhance the community feel of the park. Cookery workshops or events on public holidays, such as an Easter egg hunt, were suggested. But also other ideas that would fit in with the character of a garden park, such as building and hanging nesting boxes and organising garden excursions. The researchers recommended installing various amenities within the park, including benches, a butterfly garden and a kiosk for refreshments. Activities like these would generate contact between the allotment holders and the neighbourhood residents. People would also be able to meet in the newly built clubhouse. The researchers stressed that it was important to capitalise on the talents and quality of the allotment holders themselves when deciding which activities to organise.
Ter Maat and his fellow-allotment holders welcomed all these suggestions, seeing them as an excellent starting point. “On the basis of the report, we’ve decided which activities we will tackle first, aiming for the official opening on 25 May 2013. We intend to organise a vegetable market, an excursion through the gardens and a number of workshops, one of which could be given by the Ede bee-keeping association, which has a few hives here in the park.”
In the long-term, Ter Maat envisages a “flourishing garden park, where people can wander around or sit on benches, and where neighbourhood residents can join the allotment holders to enjoy this peaceful green environment.”
Ter Maat is very enthusiastic about the cooperation with the Science Shop. “Their help and advice not only produced concrete results, but also strengthened our position within the community. It’s partly why the Ede local authorities have promised to devise an allotments policy. This should be ready by 2014, and it will give allotment holders the same rights as any other recreational group.”
The constructive role taken on by the allotment holders in helping to redevelop the area has safeguarded the future of this garden park. “The local authorities now agree that the park has become an integral part of this neighbourhood.”