A revolutionary UK-first digital platform described as ‘Airbnb for gardens’ has been launched to help tackle a chronic shortage of available outdoor space to grow fruit and vegetables in London and other major cities.
AllotMe pairs anybody with available outdoor space with people seeking somewhere to grow their own – known on the platform as ‘Greenfingers’ – allowing them to rent plots in just a few clicks.
The web-based platform was created by Glasgow School of Art trained architect turned entrepreneur Conor Gallagher in response to rising demand for space in the face of diminishing availability in urban environments – particularly in London – where some areas have waiting lists of up to 40 years for allotments.
More than 80 per cent of the UK population currently lives in cities, with one in eight homes without any garden space at all, a figure rising to one in five in London.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the population in the capital is estimated to be rising by almost 80,000 people every year, and projected to reach 9.5 million within five years (an increase of almost 10 per cent between 2016 and 2026).
Demand for allotments surged during lockdown, with the National Allotment Society (NAS) reporting an uplift of more than more than 300 per cent in some areas as environmentally conscious consumers turn towards more healthy and ethical lifestyles amid raised awareness of the impact of food choices on the planet.
More than half of the food consumed in the UK is imported, with the figure rising to 75 per cent for organic produce.
Conor’s passion for providing people with an opportunity to live more sustainable lives in urban environments inspired him to give up a promising architectural career and devote himself to AllotMe full-time.
As lockdown hit last year and delayed plans for AllotMe, he turned his attention to inventing the Growpod, the world’s most sustainable hydroponic planter which featured in the Evening Standard’s list of best new home tech of 2021.
Conor, 30, who is originally from Belfast but now lives in London, said: “Within 30 years, more than 70 per cent of the world’s population will be living in cities – this is an issue that will affect a huge proportion of people, but it’s already a major issue for millions.
“After I moved to London, I saw how people wanted to eat more healthily, ethically, and sustainably but it was increasingly difficult for the majority due to barriers such as a lack of space or excessive cost.
“I was aware of so many people with no garden or access to outdoor space, and of the difficulty verging on the impossibility of obtaining an allotment through traditional routes. It became apparent there is a huge desire for sustainable living but no way of satisfying it.
“As an architect, I’m trained to spot opportunities in space, and it dawned on me when passing an overgrown and unloved garden that there is an untapped reservoir of outdoor space in London that is going unused, so why not bring the two together.
“Transporting food in and around the UK produces 19 million tonnes of CO2 annually – that’s the equivalent of 5.5million cars. It’s statistics like this that are driving people towards more sustainable living, and AllotMe gives those in urban environments the option to play their part.
“Passive sustainability is a big part of it too. Hosts, for a wide variety of reasons may not be able to use their outdoor space, but by letting somebody rent it and use it to grow food, they are enabling a contribution to a greener society and playing a part too.
“We hope that every time somebody rents or lists through AllotMe, comes a reflection on the impact that can be made by every individual through their day-to-day choices.”
Conor has shown his belief in AllotMe by becoming the platform’s first host, echoing Airbnb founders Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk, who were the first to post their own home for rent on the platform which has revolutionised short term letting of indoor space in the same way Conor hopes to achieve outdoors.
It has been rented by Corrie Rounding, of south London, is the first ‘Greenfinger’ to use the platform, renting Conor’s garden, and she has already begun transforming the space.
She said: “I’ve wanted to find a space to grow my own for so long, but it’s so hard to come by in London. When I found out about AllotMe I jumped at the chance to use it.
“The chance to grow my own is brilliant, but it’s also so therapeutic. I love how calming it is to work in outdoor space.
“I can definitely see how this could become something really big. It feels strange to be the first, but I like it!”
AllotMe has also gained support from the traditional allotment community, who see it as a means of making more of available green spaces.
Janie Bickersteth, chairperson at the Lambeth branch of Incredible Edible, a CIC which aims to galvanize communities by growing and celebrating local food, said: “We think people are waking up to the fact that growing their own food, however small an amount, can make a big difference to the nutritional value of their plate but can also improve our mental health – simply by getting our hands in the soil. I believe the appetite and demand to grow food is increasing, especially amongst millennials.
“AllotMe has the potential to make a big difference if it can collaborate with local authorities, with organisations such as Incredible Edible Lambeth and with housing associations – we all need to be working on this together, for better, healthier, more biodiverse communities.”
There are already more than 1,000 people on the AllotMe waiting list in London, with others joining throughout the UK every day.
Hosts from across the UK have already listed their spaces – from urban gardens in Manchester to freshly dug allotment plots in Edinburgh.