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Sam Firman
Written by Sam Firman
Published on 27th March 2022
6 min read

Rooted in Bristol, co-directed by Annie Menter and Manu Maunganidze, tells the story of the Afro-Caribbean community’s under-appreciated contributions to Bristol’s allotment culture.

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A British allotment in summer. Wildflowers in full bloom, bumblebees buzzing, gardeners pushing wheelbarrows to and fro in dungarees. When you picture the scene, who do you see? Chances are it’s a group of white folks - mostly older, mostly middle class. Perhaps one of them is Jeremy Corbyn.

This image isn’t necessarily inaccurate, but it isn’t the whole picture. Rooted in Bristol, co-directed by Annie Menter and Manu Maunganidze, tells the story of the Afro-Caribbean community’s under-appreciated contributions to Bristol’s allotment culture. Annie and Manu told me about how this culture has evolved over the years as the politics of land access have shifted.

Sheds on the Bristol allotments - images courtesy of Annie Menter

In one sense the story begins in October 1939, when the British Ministry of Agriculture launched its Dig for Victory campaign. Three months before the imposition of rationing, the campaign encouraged people to grow their own food to help weather wartime supply shortages. Allotment numbers soared to around 1.75 million.

But after the war allotments dwindled. As supermarkets proliferated and urban populations grew, they increasingly became threatened with development. People from the Afro Caribbean community, many of whom had recently arrived as part of the Windrush Generation, were integral to the fight to save them - including Thingwall Park and Ashley Vale, both featured in the film. 

That generation, Manu says, needed the allotments. They provided “a safe space where they could enjoy the outdoors without harassment and in safety, grow food from their own countries and celebrate their own culture without feeling looked at and judged about it.” Working land had been a central part of many of their lives; it was something they knew and needed. “It’s part of you,” says grower Phyllis Sealey in the film. “I can’t imagine life without gardening. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself to be honest!”

This need energised their activism, which in turn symbolised a commitment to allotments that has, Annie and Manu argue, gone under-appreciated. This is why, through the film, they highlight local characters like grower and activist Sam Brown, to whom Rooted in Bristol is dedicated. He owned eleven allotments until his death in August 2021, and until his final days was sharing seeds he had imported from Jamaica in the 50s. “People who knew him loved him,” Annie says. “He was really important.” Many others with Afro-Caribbean heritage have likewise been sharing seeds, growing crops, producing Caribbean recipes and living in community on the allotments for decades.

'They provided a safe space where they could enjoy the outdoors without harassment and in safety, grow food from their own countries and celebrate their own culture without feeling looked at and judged about it.'

Manu Maunganidze

The UK has lost 65% of its allotments since its postwar peak, with the areas with the highest risk of food insecurity experiencing disproportionate levels of allotment closures. Urban communities in particular (including 96% of people with African and Asian heritage in the UK) are often highly disconnected from natural spaces - something Covid shone a harsh light on.

This growing disconnection, and a new set of socio-economic challenges, mean that the younger growers in the film connect to their allotments differently to the Windrush generation. Rather than fighting to retain an access to land they have always known, many now see allotments as a way to reconnect with something lost amidst today’s social and political inequalities, whether affordable organic food, better mental health or simply time in green spaces.

Some of the younger growers in the film see themselves as part of a wider movement questioning who has access to land, and working to correct those inequalities. Flower grower Elsie Harp received a flower-growing scholarship as part of a diversity initiative to get more people of colour involved in farming. “These spaces are kind of taken up by white faces,” she says in the film. “There is something about representation being really important - about seeing people who look similar to you doing similar things that you enjoy.”

Image courtesy of Annie Menter

Anything that makes green spaces feel more accessible and relevant to people currently excluded is important, whether scholarships, media coverage, outreach programmes or other work to decolonise outdoor spaces - something Many spends much of his time on. And this isn’t just a racial issue, even though that’s the story Rooted in Bristol tells. “I've worked with white working-class communities down in Cornwall who also feel disengaged from access to the land,” Manu says, “and have histories of exploitation and oppression in relation to the land that also need to be aired.”

But providing better access to existing green spaces in urban environments isn’t enough; new spaces are also needed. Guerrilla gardener Judith Davids has been helping cultivate an unused patch of land on Winkworth Estate. “We’ve got all this space that’s here not being utilised, and I think Covid and a few other things made you realise: this land is ours,” she says in the film. “Who tells us we can’t sit on it? Put in a few bulbs? Help the council do their job? They should be jumping up and down!” Instead of sitting for years on an allotment waiting list, people like Judith taking the initiative to create opportunities for urban communities to engage in green spaces is an important part of the battle to redress unequal land access. After all, Annie says, “allotments here are now gated communities - you need a password to get in.”

'We’ve got all this space that’s here not being utilised, and I think Covid and a few other things made you realise: this land is ours.'

Judith Davids

Whether growing food in allotments or guerrilla gardening, reconnecting with the land is a political act - especially for communities who remain mostly excluded from such spaces. “We don't need to be aware of the politics of what we are doing for it to be political,” Manu says. Even more passive acts are important, not least because it’s harder to engage politically with land in a place like the UK, which has been “marked out and fielded out and given the codes for every single square inch of land.” In some small part, Manu continues, growing means “you're not engaging with capitalism as it’s put to you.”

'We don't need to be aware of the politics of what we are doing for it to be political.'

Manu Maunganidze

Growers Ashley Burrows (left) and Kingsley Young (right) - images courtesy of Annie Menter

We need these political acts if we are to have any hope of meaningfully reducing inequalities in land access and, ultimately, averting climate catastrophe. But the barriers can feel insurmountable: widening inequalities, a largely complacent political class and, Many emphasises, a broken approach to valuing green spaces according to their economic value rather than their social and environmental value. “I don't know there is a lot of hope actually,” says Annie, referring partly to the battle to improve allotment access and partly to the wider environmental movement.


We can only keep agitating. As Rooted in Bristol shows, the cultural meaning of land is not fixed. We must keep telling new stories about who land is for, keep decolonising outdoor spaces, keep campaigning for better nature access and keep creating and supporting new ways for people to connect with nature.