The day after winning first prize at the Sheffield Fayre for his allotment display, Jeff Walker arrived at his plot to find the shed burned to the ground.
Three weeks earlier, he had lost knives and other tools in a break-in at the allotments off Marsh Lane, Crosspool.
It had taken him time to be brave enough to go again through the gate of what he calls his “second home”.
“This was my retirement place, my escape,” said Jeff, aged 70, a former winner of Sheffield’s Bolton Cup, given for the city’s finest allotment.
The arson attack came days after the allotment hut run by Hagg Lane and District Gardeners’ Allotment Society, also in Crosspool, was set on fire.
After the latest incident, the council said it will see if there is anything it can do “to help those affected by the blaze”.
Jeff, a retired lorry driver, of St Thomas Road, Crookes, found charred timbers, twisted metal and ruined gardening equipment at his allotment on Monday morning. He called his shed ‘Tuksumduin’.
He has had a plot at Marsh Lane since 1985. “I had one at Hagg Hill and then I transferred to Marsh Lane. I’ve been really proud of it – but I could walk away now.”
The allotment became a meeting place. “We used to sit and have a cup of tea and a chat, and we’d get 10 people in there sometimes. It was a community thing - and now it’s gone.”
Firefighters from Rivelin were called to Marsh Lane at just after 3am. Flames spread to a greenhouse in which Jeff was growing tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, and a wooden trailer was damaged beyond use.
Allotment holders at the site say they have been targeted repeatedly by vandals and thieves. Stone memorials from neighbouring Crookes Cemetery have been stolen from graves and thrown into the allotments.
One of Jeff’s fellow growers, Craig Harrop, aged 51, of Den Bank Crescent, Crosspool, whose plot was judged to the best in Sheffield this year, said: “It really is the last straw. This is supposed to be an area where crime is lowest. At least £5,000 of damage has been caused this time.”
Jeff blamed ‘mindless youths’.
He added: “There must have been a big group of them. Every year this happens at about the same time. We store petrol for the lawn mowers and machinery, and I think that’s what they’ve used.”
He hopes the culprits have been captured on camera by a device he rigged up to take photographs of wild birds. It is triggered by stepping across a beam of light.