More on writing articles

When writing articles, look for gap in the market. If you study magazines carefully you could get a regular spot. I did this with a Christian magazine. I noticed that it was full of meaty theological issues which gave the magazine the appearance of being a bit dry. There was nothing light-hearted or anything to do with ‘real’ life. I crafted an article about the trials of a mum getting her children to church. It was a real experience at the time… you know the sort of thing. You get one child dressed and while you’re getting the other one ready, the first one has found the dog food and smeared it all down their shirt. You arrive at church hot and bothered and buffing your shoes on the backs of your legs and ladder your tights. Then your child annoys the person in the pew in front… etc. We’ve all been there. My article led to six years of articles for that same magazine.

Be observant. Specialise in subjects dear to your own heart.

Keep a notebook. Ideas come at the silliest times!

One idea can be re-written and with a new slant, you can tailor make it for several markets.

Here is an article about allotments. Using the same facts, but written in a totally different way, I could write it for a gardening magazine, an over-fifties magazine, a magazine concerned with historical facts, a market garden magazine, a cookery magazine or a keep fit magazine. Maybe you can think of some other magazines which might like to read about allotments. When you’ve read this, why not chose a subject dear to your own heart, find out some facts and have a go yourself. And when you get it published, don’t forget to let me know so I can buy the magazine and read it too!


The Field Gardens of Britain


Where can you get good exercise, fresh air, plenty of social life and good wholesome food for as little as £20 a year? Answer: On an allotment.

Although allotments have their roots (forgive the pun) in Medieval times, the bishop of Bath and Wells is supposed to have started the modern trend. He divided a field into small parcels of land and called them ‘allotments’. The practice of giving these areas of land to the poor had become common place by 1830. Under the General Enclosure Act of 1845, Parliament required that provision be made for any poor person without land of his own, to be given a ‘field garden’ which he could cultivate in order to help feed his family.

Because of food shortages, there was a huge increase of allotments in England and Wales during the First World War. The numbers grew from 600,000 in 1914 to 1,500,000 in 1919, and the fact that Britain is an island nation, the increase of submarine warfare brought the dangers of starvation into sharp focus. With imports almost at a stand still, the War Lands Cultivation Orders had converted 12,000 acres of wasteland into allotments by June 1917. In Kent, even hop growing was reduced in favour of market gardening and the Royal Horticultural Society ran a campaign to encourage vegetable growing. For the first time, women were encouraged to apply for gardening jobs. Once the war ended, the trend was downward until they rose again sharply during the ‘Dig for Victory’ days of World War 11. In 1943, a census revealed there were 1,400,000 active allotments in England and Wales – almost back to 1919 standards.

Ninety six years on, people like Margaret have followed in the footsteps of a long line of female allotment gardeners. She has a full vegetable rack and she’s generous to friends and neighbours. Her blackcurrants and raspberries end up as jam and she makes some delicious wine as well.

The vast majority of allotment owners are over 50, but coping with the work has never been easier. Most allotments owners have access to clean running water close by and the tenant can put up a permanent shed to store his tools on the site, provided he asks for permission from the council.

Wally had been digging his plots for fourteen years. He spends between 4-7 hours a day, depending on the time of year, out in the fresh air.

‘I’m a lot fitter since I started,’ he says. ‘I began because I fancied a bit of fresh veg, but now I grow soft fruit as well.’

Stealing from allotments has always been a bit of a problem. Way back in 1917, The Times reported that 700 cabbages had been cut from allotments in London and presumably, the London markets did a roaring trade!

Some years ago, after a spate of thieving, the council which owns Wally’s five allotments put up a high wire fence and the gates are permanently locked. ‘I do lose some stuff,’ Wally says, ‘but it’s not too much of a problem these days.’

During the halcyon days of 1950-1990, with its cheap food and intensive farming, interest in allotments dwindled. Many thousands fell into serious disrepair or they were taken over by local authorities and redeveloped. By 1996, there were fewer than 400,000 allotments in England and Wales but with the advent of organic food and the rising tide of fear over genetic engineering and the use of chemicals, allotments are once again becoming more and more popular. Although demand may be on the increase, some county and borough councils are actively promoting a reduction in availability. This is despite the terms of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908 which placed ‘a duty on local authorities to compulsorily purchase land to provide allotments whenever demand exceeded supply’. It’s a sad fact that for many a council, strapped for cash, the allotment is easy prey for the seductive developer. As a result, the number of council allotments has halved in the last 30 years.

Local authorities are not the only culprits. Rail Track sold many of its trackside allotments and the Church Commissioners, who own 200 acres of allotments, have gone on record by saying that 86 of those same acres are under threat from developers; hardly surprising when every year, an area the size of Bristol is built over. And it’s not only the housing developer who has his sights on allotments. They’ve been sold off to become car parks, burial sites and supermarkets.

When someone thinks about applying for an allotment, they sometimes get put off by the size. It may be true that most allotments are one-quarter of an acre (10 rod or 250 square metres), but the trend these days is to offer only half that amount (5 rod or 30m x 8m). Each authority has its own rules, but in the main, the land should only be used to cultivate fruit and vegetables. Pressure groups are trying to persuade government to allow allotments to be used for growing flowers and keeping livestock, such as chickens, and some owners have already agreed to this.

Wally reckons the one thing he hates is weeding. ‘And it doesn’t help much when the next-door plot is overgrown,’ he grumbles.

Although they annoy the devoted gardener, even unused plots can be a bonus. They often become a haven for wild life and are, in effect, seed banks for increasingly rare species. Apart from simply being pleasant to look at, a green space designated for allotments can act as a kind of ‘lung’ in the middle of a sea of concrete. Not only that, but people like Wally reckon they saves at least £10 – £15 on the weekly green grocery bill. And that can’t be bad can it!

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