Although I’ve lived in Beeston since 1940, it wasn’t until 2000 that I became involved in local affairs. There was an event about “How You Want Your Neighbourhood to Develop”, where various interest groups had information stalls, and that’s where I came across Beeston in Bloom.
They’d existed about three years then, starting out with only three members who planted up some hanging baskets and gave them to residents in one particularly drab street. The following year more people joined, made more baskets and bestowed them on a longer street. By the time I came along we’d realised that people were not looking after their freebies, so we stopped giving them away and, instead, raised money to buy baskets from the Council and paid Parks Department to put them on lamp posts on main roads, water and feed them and take them down, in both Spring and Summer. We leafleted the area seeking sponsorship from businesses and residents, schools and churches, and we still do that every year. Nowadays we need to raise £7k a year, just for hanging baskets.
In 60 years I’d seen Beeston change from a place where salt-of-the-earth people lived into a run-down area with houses owned by uncaring landlords and occupied by transients, no-goods and dead-beats – or so I thought. When I joined Beeston in Bloom I was heartened to realise that the majority of people are still sane, sensible and decent. I found that if you are in one group you get drawn into others, and it was an eye-opener to discover how very many people are trying to improve life in one way or another, according to their particular interests.
Just as my 70th birthday was looming the then Secretary resigned. Although I thought I might soon be too decrepit, I volunteered to take her place and did the job for 8 years, being Treasurer as well for 3 of them.
A wonderful man in the Parks & Countryside Department called Richard Gill took the group under his wing, helped us to apply for funding, shared his horticultural knowledge with us and introduced us to the Council’s Nursery at Redhall. Part of Richard’s job is to co-ordinate In Bloom groups. There were only 4 in Leeds back in 2000; at last count there were 50-something.
In 2001 Richard encouraged us to enter the Yorkshire in Bloom competition. “What?” we said, “It’s all about pretty villages!” But no, there are loads of categories, including Urban Community, which describes Beeston exactly. We are judged in Spring and Summer. We pick the judging route and obviously include our best projects, but there are several criteria to fulfil, like Horticultural Practice, Environmental Responsibility, Community Participation, Wildlife Areas and so on. It’s not just about flowers. Well, we entered for a few years and did pretty well, but in 2006 we were Best in Category and were invited to represent Yorkshire in BRITAIN in Bloom in 2007. Sharp intake of breath, but we had to go for it.
What a year that was! As Secretary I made a conscious decision to dedicate myself completely to Beeston in Bloom, and hardly a day passed without some Blooming activity. Apart from our equally dedicated members, who were a superb team, I contacted schools, churches, other volunteer groups, businesses, residents, allotment societies and exhorted them to back the campaign – with gratifying results in most cases.
The Community Channel commissioned a TV film about two entries to Britain in Bloom – one Urban Community (Beeston) and one small town (Rugby). The finished product couldn’t help but highlight the marked economic and demographic differences between the two, but there was no difference in effort and community spirit.
The day before judging found us painting street furniture, collecting dead sofas etc from gardens on the route (into my poor ol’ motor) to go to the tip, litter-picking like crazies, on hands and knees weeding the streets. Then came the day of judgment. The sun shone, our collaborators turned out in force, and Beeston looked its best. The judges were fed and watered. Home-made scones were commented upon several times (thank you M&S!), and eventually we waved the two charming gentlemen good-bye and heaved a sigh of relief.
We had to wait 7 weeks to hear the results, which were announced at a glittering Awards Ceremony in Coventry Cathedral. Urban Community was the last category to be announced; out of 7 entries 4 got silver and 3, including Beeston, Silver-Gilt. When we attended the judges’ surgery the next day, it transpired that we’d missed top spot by only 2 marks. Shame, but we were satisfied that we’d acquitted ourselves honourably.
I retired as Secretary in 2010, but still kept a grip on the purse strings until 2013.
I’ve absolutely loved the actual gardening, which we do in all weathers, even starting at 7am on Sunday sometimes when we work in the middle of a major busy road. I love our plant sales, especially the one included in Beeston Festival which is really popular, because you meet such nice people. And it’s such a sociable way to get fresh air and exercise.