Black Country Allotment Society
Unlike any other books and pamphlets that have been in reviewed in these pages, this specially commissioned box of booklets celebrate the value of allotments to nature, but also to people – here eight residents of Sandwell in the West Midlands. The author Susie Parr has produced nine illustrated booklets with accompanying postcards, two very interesting maps, a pencil, plant markers, wildflower seeds, and a DVD of Bee Movies by film maker Chris Keenan about Black Country beekeepers.
Commissioned by Multistory – a Black Country community arts organisation – this boxed set is about Black Country life, and the allotments provide the author with the means to do that. After two years of regular visits and in different seasons, Parr portrays the resourceful plot-holders, focuses on the value of weeds to pre-industrial society, the array of allotment food, and clever recycling, with a calm and poetic feel. The Bee Roads booklet contains a fascinating map of the route that bees took around one allotment site and the subsequent analysis of the 200 different pollen grains found in one small sample of local honey. This emphasis on every-day and ordinary places that have not been formally designed, and in some cases hope to stay hidden in our towns and cities, is refreshing and an education about leaving places alone.
The excellent photography and film-making describe quiet yet vibrant communities, and help to convey great value to what might otherwise be scorned as commonplace or suburban pursuits. As the author says:
‘Walking through the allotment gate, you step away from the clamour and tensions of the street and enter a quiet place, a place of hope and order, where people connect with plants, the seasons and each other.’