Allotments, once the preserve of older men with beards and flat caps, are producing a new generation of organic gardeners across Sussex.

A healthy food ethic combined with a thriving social scene has attracted younger, environmentally conscious allotment holders, who see their little patch of land as a relaxing weekend activity or something to focus on in times of trouble. There are more than 3,000 tenants in Brighton and Hove alone, and there are huge waiting lists.

Plot-holding in Sussex is thriving and with the BBC’s Grow, Make, Eat: The Great Allotment Challenge set to hit our screens soon, it seems the popularity of allotments will continue to grow.

Gladys Goodridge is one person who understands the allure of the allotment. She has been visiting hers at Roedale Valley in Brighton for more than 30 years, and while the 89-year-old may grow a little less now than she used to, she is there every Saturday to nurture her vegetables and flowers.

“There were very few people here when I first started,” she says. “They weren’t unfriendly but would only say good morning, perhaps. Now it is very social and quite nice.”

Mark Carroll belongs to the Brighton and Hove Allotment Federation (BHAF) and, for him, running an allotment brings him closer to the natural world.

“I was living in a flat with no garden,” he explains. “It was very important to have a little piece of land that I could get connected to and where I could get back to nature.”

Discussions over the allotment fence with fellow gardeners can bring global environmental issues down to a very local level, he says.

“Many people I’ve spoken to are very concerned about how the food they buy is produced and the air miles it takes to get it to them. It is this concern that has prompted many people to start growing their own healthy food.”

And then there’s the satisfaction of watching the seeds you have planted grow into fruit and vegetables you can harvest and eat.

Roy Nightingale, who works for the South East Coast Ambulance Service, grows potatoes, leeks, carrots and more on his plot in Hassocks, where he enjoys the peace and quiet.

“There is a constant thought in my mind that I could just go to Tesco and buy this stuff,” he says. “When I’m not working, I love spending time here making things grow.”

The old stereotypes of allotment holders as retired, middle-aged and older men was shattered by a recent study which found that 64% of allotment holders in Brighton and Hove are now women.

Toys and play areas can be seen across many allotments, and children are encouraged to join in.

Allan Brown, the BHAF’s secretary, says, “I bring my younger children here and they love it. It’s a chance to do outdoor things such as building fires, making cups of tea and whittling – it’s great in this day and age to have that space.”

For some people, an allotment can prove vitally important for their mental health and wellbeing – indeed, a recent survey across Brighton and Hove found 92% of plot-holders agreed or strongly agreed that allotments improved their mental health or acted as a stress relief.

One respondent said, “Having an allotment has helped me immensely with depression and has brought purpose and much pleasure to my life.”

Andrew Amos, Roedale Valley’s site representative, has seen it first hand. He says, “It makes people feel good. It’s so satisfying to do a few hours’ work and see the results at the end of the day.”

Or, as Mark Carroll puts it, “It is good for the soul.”