Havering and district allotment society’s chairman steps down after 30 years
14:50 24 March 2014
An allotment chairman who was inspired by Britain’s wartime Dig for Victory mantra has stepped down after 30 years to let “new blood” take over. Hayley Anderson talks to the man who’s hanging up his spade for some well-earned R and R.
Maurice Sparkes, 77, has been at the helm of the Havering and District Allotment Society since 1984.
He took on his first plot in 1959.
The Warren Drive, Elm Park, resident said he grew up surrounded by gardening but it was his memories of the grow-your-own era of the Second World War which sparked a life-long interest in the soil.
“All the way through the war, gardening was vital and a way of life.
“We grew up with allotments as they gave us all of our food so they were obviously very important,” he said.
“I will miss the role as it was a big part of my life but it is now time for someone else’s turn to begin.”
On leaving school, Maurice went to work for an electrical company as a mechanical and maintenance engineer, and his love of gardening took a back seat until his early 20s.
A keen dancer, Maurice went to a ballroom dancing school in Elm Park where he met his future wife, Pat Gartley.
They married in 1959 at St Nicholas Church, St Nicholas Avenue, Elm Park, and soon afterwards Maurice bought an allotment in Park Hill Close, Hornchurch, and gradually climbed his way through the ranks from steward, to secretary and then to chairman.
As part of his role, Maurice met with members of the council for weekly meetings to discuss plot space, what allotment holders could do with their produce and any other future plans, creating a strong tie between the council and the society.
Cabinet member and lover of gardening, Cllr Andrew Curtin, said: “I’ve certainly learned a lot from the way Maurice does things, which I will use in the future.”
But during his time as chairman, Maurice was keen to help raise money for Saint Francis Hospice by setting up a stall and selling some of the produce at the annual Havering Show, raising about £17,000 over the years.
Maurice said: “I know a few good friends that unfortunately had to spend the last of their days there and they made it as nice for them as they could.
“As they rely on donations, they need as much help as they can get.”
Vice-chairman, Len Faram, said: “Maurice has always done this role in a very quiet way, never really making any fuss.
“Twenty years ago, the idea of allotments was that it was for older people but Maurice has helped to knock down those barriers, convincing the older generation to take on younger blood, which I think is fantastic.”
Treasurer for six years, Bob Rand, said: “Maurice is extremely experienced in running our allotments and with his guidance we have had a happy site for 30 years.”
Tom Keeper, of Purbeck Road, Hornchurch, will now be taking over the role as chairman and hopes to do his best “to live up to the high standards that Maurice has set”.
Maurice added: “It’s been so much hassle! But the kind of hassle you enjoy.”