Sandwiched between the river Lea and the Eastway cycle circuit, slap bang where the 2012 Olympics will take place, is a thin strip of productive agricultural land. These are the Manor Gardens Allotments - an unlikely green oasis in the midst of a drab industrial backwater. The allotments are ecologically sound, carbon-friendly and fully sustainable. They encourage healthy living and are supportive of a multicultural community. Indeed, they tick almost every box that a "Green Olympics" facility ought to have - every box except 'location', that is. Because (according to the 2012 masterplan) a big concrete footpath is needed here instead, to guide spectators towards the Velodrome, BMX track and Fencing Hall. It wouldn't be acceptable to incorporate allotments growing cucumbers in the middle of a highly-secure Olympic site, obviously, so everybody has to move out. In less than two months time.
The allotment holders of Manor Gardens are mightily annoyed at having to abandon their cultivation to the bulldozer. And rightly so. These allotments have been here for 100 years, and were bequeathed 'in perpetuity', whereas the Olympic footpath will be used for just four and a bit weeks. There'll be no sustainable food production on site in 2012, just the usual corporate suspects peddling burgers, paninis and cappucinos. Not surprisingly the owners have been protesting loudly. They've established an angry but endearing blog and have set up an online e-petition which has already attracted several hundred signatures. A few weeks ago they held a locally-produced 'New YearFeast' on the allotment site, with a Sunset Barbecue lit by a fake Olympic flame. They don't stand a chance of standing in the way of imminent redevelopment, of course, but at least they're trying.
The entrance to the allotments is well hidden, down an unsignposted track off Waterden Road between a bus garage and an auction site. Access is via a dedicated footbridge across the Lea, then up a gentle slope into the allotments proper. It's a much larger site than you'd probably be expecting - fairly narrow but stretching off some considerable distance in both directions. Walk down the central trackway and you'll discover a motley collection of sheds and lean-tos amidst a patchwork of tilled soil, wheelbarrows and water butts. There's a definite feeling of a 'village' community amongst the 85 plots - you almost expect Arthur Fowler to come walking out of one of the sheds clutching a spade and a steaming mug of tea. It's a charming tranquil spot, even in midwinter.
In past summers these allotments must have been a riot of colour and growth, but at present they lie fallow and pale in doomed hibernation. A handful of diehard gardeners can still be seen tending their patches, pulling up the weeds and preparing for the season ahead. I do hope they've planted something which harvests before Easter.