Scottish Allotments Scheme for the Unemployed

Scope and Content

  • Constitutional Records, 1940-1996;
  • Minutes, 1932-1999;
  • Annual Reports, 1932-1999;
  • Financial Records, 1941-1996;
  • Correspondence, 1934-1954;
  • Bequests, 1936-1954;
  • Society of Friends Allotments Committee, 1931-1955;
  • Ephemera, 1964-1954;
  • Photographs, 1932-1952.

Administrative / Biographical History

Before we were urged as a nation to "Dig for Victory" during WWII, the great depression of the 1930s had raised the spectre of food poverty throughout the UK. In 1931 the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Act and the Scottish Allotment Scheme for the Unemployed (SASU) was set up to enable unemployed or seriously impoverished Scottish men and woman to obtain and cultivate allotments. The scheme was run jointly by the Society of Friends and the Scottish National Union of Allotment Holders to encourage those in need to grow food to feed their families. Seeds and fertiliser were provided at low cost, as well as tools, and help for fencing and equipment.

Not only were allotments seen as a solution to hunger and keeping the unemployed occupied, they also offered a form of security to the UK government by helping to maintain the status quo. Sir Christopher Addison, the Minister of Agriculture, thought the provision of allotments was such a good idea that he encouraged the government to take over the work of the Friends in providing allotments. Allotments were seen as "a strong counteracting influence" to the "Red and Communistic agitators" to which unemployed men might fall prey. The government's involvement with the scheme was short-lived and after only a year it withdrew its support, shut up its office, and dismissed its staff. The Friends had little alternative other than to assume responsibility for the scheme, with sporadic help from the Development Commission.

Grants were available for seeds, fertiliser and potatoes to old age pensioners, 'blind persons', women and the unemployed. For two shillings the scheme supplied enough vegetable seed for a "ten rod plot". SASU operated for many years, later working in conjunction with the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society (SAGS). The Scheme was modified and expanded to suit the prevailing social and economic conditions of the times so that old age pensioners, and post-WWII, ex-service men and their wives, were also eligible for assistance.

Initially there were three schemes running: Scheme A provided seeds, tools, fertiliser, lime, and gardening and cookery booklets, at "greatly reduced prices". Grants were given to allow local purchase of seeds, potatoes and manure, etc., and fertiliser and tools were issued through the Joint Committee's office; Scheme B allowed for the same materials, but in larger quantities; Scheme C encouraged the introduction of livestock to the allotments; and Scheme E ran during WWII (there is only a very brief reference within the collection to Scheme D, see UGC 222/1/4/3/2). By 1947 only Scheme A continued.

Victor Webb, a member of the Society of Friends, who sat on the Joint Committee of SASU from 1948, was known as the movement's "archivist". He collated the papers of SASU from various sources, including a number from the former chairman, Harold G Sharp, and the Honorary Secretary and Treasurer, Alastair McWatt Green. SASU ran until 1999, by that time Victor Webb had resigned from any official duty, but continued to work in an advisory capacity. In 2005 the Society of Friends closed the scheme, as the grants no longer seemed relevant. However the Friends gave SAGS, who had been administering SASU, 10,000 pounds to support projects with similar aims.