Features: February 13th, 2015

Britain in Bloom’s strength is the impact it has on communities says Patience Atkinson-Gregory of horticultural manufacturer Amberol.

The Britain in Bloom and It’s Your Neighbourhood campaigns have quite literally changed the British landscape – they are about so much more than flowers and plants or winning prizes. At the heart of these initiatives is a strong desire to improve the communities where people live and work, aesthetically, culturally and socially.

The annual Britain in Bloom competition has brought people from a whole range of backgrounds together, helping to develop a real sense of community spirt during its 50 year history. Many In Bloom groups testify to the value of taking part, citing increased civic pride, economic advantages and reductions in crime and anti-social behaviour as some of the benefits.

Approximately 2,100 communities across the UK take part in BiB or IYN each year, from small street-level groups to villages, towns and cities, involving up to 200,000 volunteers as well as councils, businesses, schools and other organisations. In a recent RHS survey of 230 BiB groups, 90% of respondents said that the most significant impact of their campaign was on community development, with a variety of activities from meetings to communal planting events creating a social hub to bring people together.

Recognising the benefits

Keith Jackson, Parks and Community Events Officer at Fife Council explains the impact of campaigns such as Beautiful Fife. “The floral enhancement of the communities in Fife help to engender a strong sense of civic pride and belonging which makes these communities a pleasant place to live, work or visit,” he comments. “Whilst it is always difficult to find concrete evidence, we believe that anti-social behaviour appears to reduce and that the local economy also benefits from increased visitor numbers. In fact, many people comment favourably on the participants of Beautiful Fife and our county has become widely known throughout Scotland and the UK for the attractive communities that residents and the authority work hard to maintain.”

Suzi Wilkinson, Marketing & Promotions Officer at Shrewsbury Town Council concurs. Shrewsbury’s residents are justifiably proud of being named Champion of Champions in last year’s competition and value the importance maintaining an attractive environment very highly. Suzi comments “Shrewsbury is known as a Town of Flowers, our award-winning displays enhance visitor experience, boost the tourism and retail sectors and complement the architecture of the town.”

Drawing on a wide resource

Every community is composed of a wide ranging demographic with different voluntary organisations as well as a variety of businesses and local government departments. Each has something to offer. Any Britain in Bloom entry should involve as many elements of the community as possible, including organisations such as Rotary Clubs, The Women’s Institute, local charities, schools, colleges, networking groups, retailers, Young Farmers’ Clubs, local faith groups, businesses – the list is almost endless. The activities they can be involved in are just as numerous, ranging from fundraising to generating publicity to carrying out the physical planting of containers, hanging baskets and flower beds.

Meeting the judging criteria

The importance of community participation is reflected in the judging criteria which accounts for a quarter of the total marks. This means that displays may look stunning, but if there has been little or no attempt made to involve local people and businesses, entrants are highly unlikely to receive any of the highest accolades.

When assessing entries, judges will be looking for evidence of involvement from as many areas of the community as possible. This could include working with local schools, going in to talk to pupils about what you are doing and how they can be involved in a whole range of activities from litter picking to landscaping. Young people tend to be passionate about their environment and can be extremely imaginative, so create a forum for them to share their ideas – through a Facebook page perhaps, or by running a competition. You may be able to send in volunteers to work with the children to create or enhance school gardens. And don’t forget to introduce young people to the judges when they are making their tour. For example, one city who won gold in the 2014 competition was commended for their community involvement, but criticised for not giving the judges any opportunity to speak with the young people who had been involved in the entry.

Sources of funding

Of course money is always an issue. As suppliers of self-watering containers, many people choose our products because they are low maintenance and therefore save time and money. Local businesses are often happy to sponsor containers, which is how many of our clients fund the purchase of their self-watering planters.

However, groups should do more than simply ask businesses for money. Involve them in what you are trying to achieve – explain your plan and the benefits it could have for them and the area. They may have expertise or equipment that they can offer. Try and get them involved in the entry by nominating a representative to be part of the task force. You could also appoint a community champion whose specific role is to create links with different areas of the community.

One of our customers, Philip Doherty of Belfast City Council’s Parks & Leisure Department explains the positive economic impact of their displays. “Quite a few of our businesses have said that they really like to see the planters being put in place and that they see real benefits in dressing the streets,” he comments. As a means of offsetting the cost, the city runs a sponsorship scheme, with a number of businesses opting to sponsor baskets and towers.

“Communal landscaping is an important part of attracting both businesses and visitors to the city,” he adds. “Our local residents also take great pride in their streets. Their only complaint is that they would like to see more!”

Shrewsbury in Bloom fund their work with contributions from the In Bloom committee, through business sponsorship and also from allocated town council funds. In 2014, they had 300 hanging baskets produced for, and sponsored by, commercial businesses in the town and currently have around 26 sponsors who contribute to the Shrewsbury in Bloom entry.

Co-operation in action

We work closely with a range of Britain in Bloom entrants, from large urban councils to small voluntary groups and the sense of dedication and co-operation that we encounter is quite frankly inspiring. The most successful organisations that we work with are those whom value the contribution that different parts of the community can offer – from fundraising to getting their hands dirty – literally.

For example, one of our clients, community gardening group Blooming Milford in Derbyshire were awarded silver on their very first BiB entry, with judges commending them for initiatives such as their community herb garden. This was set up and maintained by volunteers for use by anyone in the village.

Planted in large self-watering containers to minimise maintenance, the herb garden was a real community effort and was a hit with both judges and villagers. Since then, the group has also planted up a community orchard on a neglected area of land in the centre of the village. It is initiatives such as these which really encapsulate the spirit of Britain in Bloom – people working together for the good of their whole community.

In a world where people can sometimes isolate themselves with technology such as smartphones and tablets, it’s easy to think that community spirit is a thing of the past. However, the enduring popularity of Britain in Bloom proves otherwise.
For more information about Amberol’s self-watering containers and litter bins, go to www.amberol.co.uk.