Now they're growing bananas in Doncaster after 100 years at allotments

There have been a fair few prize marrows and carrots grown at Strawberry Island Allotments over the site’s 100 year history.

By David Kessen
Monday, 29th March 2021, 5:00 pm

But the next crop to come from on its members could be bananas!

This year, the allotment holders at the site in Wheatley are celebrating 100 years of cultivating their own fruit and veg at the Doncaster site.

But they believe if the banana tree being cultivated by one of the members bears fruit, it would be a first for the site.

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Celebrating 100 years of Strawberry Island Allotments are l-r Marie Jeeves and Tilly, Tony Mulhall, Robin Story, Vice Chairman of the SIAA, Carl Probert, Bob Peace, Charlie Bennett, Chairman of the Strawberry Island Allotments Association, Sandra and Andy Faulkner, Russ Haywood and John Hill. NDFP-09-03-21-StrawberryIsland 2-NMSY

Chairman, Charlie Bennett said: “At the moment, we have a member who is growing a banana tree in a polytunnel – it will be nice to see how it comes up.

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"Now we have polytunnels here we can grow most things here. I’m not sure we’ve had bananas before though.”

Charlie, a retired painter and decorator from Wheatley, has been working the allotments for 16 years, and in recent years has been chairman of the Strawberry Island allotment holders association. Initially he shared his plot, but has had his own for eight years.

Sandra Faulkner, pictured with her indoor Lettuce, grown in a Polytunnel. NDFP-09-03-21-StrawberryIsland 3-NMSY

He and the other plot holders are currently celebrating 100 years of the allotments, which first opened up in 1921.

Strawberry Island Allotments Association was formed in February 1921 on land leased from Sir William Cooke's Wheatley Hall Estate.

The original lease gave Wheatley miners the right to garden on around two and a half acres of land at an annual site rent of £16.

The Wheatley Hall Estate was sold to Doncaster Council in 1933 for £60,000 – and Doncaster Council subsequently became the landlords.The site consists of 25 full plots, but many are split into part plots bringing the total number of gardeners to 38, plus their friends and relatives.

Bob Peace, pictured on his Allotment. NDFP-09-03-21-StrawberryIsland 5-NMSY

Charlie said: “The longest serving members have been on the site for around 50 years each.”

“Boats were introduced to the Island around 1947 and this has resulted in a gradual increase in security by Strawberry Island Boat Club. Access today is by security key only, making our allotment site one of the most secure in the country.”

Up until a few years ago, he and many of the allotment holders also kept livestock.

Charlie himself once around 30 kept chickens. But the allotment committee decided it had to be stopped after rats started appearing.

He said it was hard work looking after livestock, as they had to be fed and well looked after.

But he still loves to grow things on the site.

"Planting your own vegetables and having your own produce is the most rewarding thing,” he said.

"We at the allotments give away a lot of our veg away to some of the local pensioners too.

" We use it to make up food hampers which we take to the old folks home on Avenue Road. We always find that we have grown more than we can use ourselves. Everyone shares what they produce.”

He said it had been a tough year for everyone on the allotments, due to lockdown.

“We’ve lost some of our older members to Covid,” he said. “But they will not be forgotten.

"Our thoughts are with their families. We have asked their relatives if we can put a plaque up on the gardens to those who passed away.”

It would not be the first time allotment holders have been remembered in this way. There are already plaques at the site in memory of former plot holders.

The custom was started after one of the members died after suffering a heart attack at the allotments, around 10 years ago.

The plaques have now become a tradition at the site said Charlie, who was at the allotments at the time.

But Charlie believes keeping an allotment has helped many through the stress of lockdown over the last year.

“Everyone has been socially distancing,” he said. “You have to stop in your own garden, and you can’t socialise. But it has got people out and given them something to do.

"I believe it does help your mental health. I suffered from stress after cancer and heart surgery. An allotment helps with your mental health because it takes your mind off things."

Those looking after allotments on the site are aged from 24 to 92.

And they are determined to mark their centenary by helping others. They already have a banner to mark the anniversary.

They plan a get together to celebrate when it is allowed.

And they are also planning a stall to sell produce from their allotments to raise money for the Doncaster charity Firefly.

"We’ve not really been able to do a proper celebration,” said Charlie.

“But we want to raise some money for Firefly.”

Only time will tell if the sale includes bananas!

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.