Disabled charity amongst Wanstead allotment holders threatened with eviction by gas company

A charity for disabled people is “still in limbo” half a year since a gas company first threatened to take over the Wanstead allotment it calls home.

Redbridge Lane West Allotment holders were told in March that Cadent would evict them for up to two years while upgrading security at its neighbouring gasworks.

Last week a petition with 4,200 signatures was presented to Redbridge Council, which owns the site, calling on them to refuse to let Cadent occupy it.

Deputy leader, Kam Rai, told petitioners Cadent had agreed to “minimise” how much land it used but that the company has legal backing “to make this go ahead”, even if the council objects.

However, he described Cadent’s initial contact with the 47 allotment holders as “poor” for giving the impression the take-over was a “done deal”.

The council heard from Russel Lerner, founder of the United Friends charity, which teaches people with learning disabilities and mental health issues to grow organic food on the site.

He said: “We’re still in limbo because Cadent hasn’t given us clear guidelines about what it plans to do.

“We just hope they don’t take away our precious resource. So many people are involved, it’s their life.”

Deborah Williams, the charity’s co-coordinator, previously said its members “will be devastated” if the takeover goes ahead.

She said: “People with learning disabilities are very marginalised in our society and this allotment has given them a really good space to feel part of an inclusive community.

“They can face a lot of discrimination but this is a safe, green breathing space, which is really important for their mental and physical wellbeing.

“They learn skills (such as cultivation and healthy eating) that they can take elsewhere and they can be themselves without fear of being victimised or ridiculed.”

The programme – Sprout There! – has more than 100 members from across north east London and Essex and also runs day events for children with special needs from local schools, such as Beal High School in Ilford.

Those who attended the full council meeting were told Cadent has reigned in its plans for the site since it first approached them in March.

However, it still plans to work on a valve pit in the centre of the allotment land and house “welfare facilities and some equipment” for its contractors on site.

In a letter published before the meeting, a Cadent spokesperson explained that the Government required them to upgrade their security measures and it is “unable to change or move away from this”.

Speaking for those opposed, 70-year-old Sally Parker said the group “welcome the council’s intervention” and Cadent’s commitment to use less land.

However, she added: “We remain concerned that the revised plans will not secure the outcome we are seeking.

“We do not believe that Cadent have clearly demonstrated that they need to ‘occupy’ any of the allotment site to carry out their statutory duties or any other work.”

Cadent has been contacted for comment.

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter