Grow Skye Project: Grower Stories

20 years of a community polytunnel in Ardvasar

Mary, Ardvasar

The Polytunnel Project started in 2001 with a small grant to Sandra and myself for research from the then community fund ‘Awards for All’. Sandra was coming at it from a Permaculture angle and I from Health Promotion. We wanted to situate the tunnel in a community setting and at the back of the Ardvasar Hall seemed ideal.

We negotiated with the local crofter who had the croft surrounding the hall and in 2002 he agreed to rent the plot to us. The agreement included an annual £1 coin, a supply of veg and a bottle of whisky at New Year!

We got estimates for materials and work and with all this info we went back to ‘Awards for All’ and secured further funding of £4,060. In 2002 we got planning permission to fence the area and erect the tunnel.

Then we hit a wall actually getting someone to erect the tunnel, make the paths inside and fence the area; this all took a lot longer than anticipated. So it was 2004 before the work was completed.

2005 was the first real growing season. The original fee was £10 per year and the plots were allocated on a first come first served basis, as they still are. Happily, we have always had a good mix of people reflecting the local community. Over the years the membership has changed with people coming and going. Some have gone on to build their own tunnels which is a sign of the project’s success.

Once established the cost of running the project was minimal. We agreed to forego insurance as it proved too costly. We have permission to access the water supply at the community hall. In return we pay to have the car park maintained, grass cutting mainly.

In 2008 we secured a grant of £400 from the Co-Op Community Fund to buy a wheelbarrow, water butt and a few tools. In 2016 we were given another grant from ‘Awards for All’ to replace the damaged skin on the tunnel. Our funds were sufficient for running costs but not for such an expense.
We have raised the fee to £20 to allow for development of the outside area.

We have a constitution and a committee which is made up of all the plot holders, and we hold one formal meeting each year – the AGM – when we discuss what worked in the previous year and make plans for the future. In between we communicate by e-mail, or chance encounters face to face in the tunnel. It works really well because we keep it light and loose. There are no heavy-duty rules, and everyone knows what is expected of them.

The main tenets are:

  • Organic growing, no poison or pesticides.
  • Everyone do a little, there is no caretaker: if the bin is full then empty it.
  • Pay your fee and enjoy your gardening.