LIKE MANY residents and visitors I’ve been amazed and delighted by the sight of the ‘WOW’ bed in Oldham town centre in recent years.
This is the floral centrepiece of our annual Bloom and Grow campaign which sits outside the shopping centre on High Street and always grabs attention.
Its’ installation usually heralds the height of summer (or at least it does when sun comes out!) and it creates a real sense of community as people stop to enjoy the display and use the chance to chat with friends and strangers alike.
It was a political priority to continue supporting this campaign and that’s because we believe the prizes won to date at Britain in Bloom and North West in Bloom, whilst great, are only part of the lasting legacy it creates.
What’s really important about this project is how it encourages people to take pride in our town and the places that we all share.
It’s also a terrific way of bringing residents and businesses together who are all doing their bit in creating beautiful community gardens, growing schemes, allotments and private gardens.
Their whistle-stop tour took in a wide range of fantastic activities by a whole range of contributors across the borough. This included, for example, visits to growing hubs at Waterhead Park and Stoneleigh Park, a nearby ‘Secret Garden’ residential and community group gardening scheme, our ‘Best Blooming Business’ at the Black Horse on Ripponden Road, and viewings of planting and environmental work by pupils from Holy Cross primary and Mayfield schools.
The tour closed in the town centre at this year’s latest WOW bed creation where, it may surprise you to learn, my own efforts were to be put under the judges’ expert scrutiny…
Inspired by others’ creativity I had decided last summer that really wanted to get involved this time and do something more rather than just support the campaign from afar – so I decided to get my hands dirty and ‘do my bit’.
After considering what I could offer, and what I love most about Bloom and Grow, I decided to do something that is a bit different because, for me, it’s the quirkiness of the displays which always raises a smile from passers-by.
I also wanted to do something which meant my two sons, Harry and Jack, could help and we could use it as quality time together.
First of all, we came up with the idea of using an old black cab and finding a way to use it to show how we are driving change in Oldham. I also liked the ‘Best of British’ feel that this and a red telephone box gives.
The work began with a quick browse and hopeful bid on an auction website where I was later delighted to find that I’d won the bidding for an old cab – there was no going back now…
I then set about collecting it from a breakers yard near Derker before we could really start to think about the task that lay ahead.
I should say from the outset that I had plenty of help with this project; not least of all from the council mechanics at Moorhey Street depot who removed the cab’s engine and gearbox – it’s not your typical automotive issue, but these get in the way of the planting tub(!).
Having stripped out a full skip’s worth of the taxi’s interior it was then time to get out the metal grinder and cut out holes in the roof and bonnet to create the shell.
Next I removed the glass after taking a template with old wallpaper cut to size.
Then it was off to see the good folks at Plastics Direct in Derker who provided me with plastic inserts to replace the windows.
With the car now stripped back and the holes cut out it was time to finally cover it with something….
Originally I’d wanted to decorate the cab in vinyl graphics of the old Mumps Bridge (and that may yet happen one day if this ends up being the first of many?!?), but for this one the bodywork was pretty rough, so it was time for a rethink.
In the end I chose grass. Well, almost – it was artificial grass from a local company in Lees.
After a few attempts at trying to stick it, glue it and hold the ‘turf’ in place, I ended up using a combination of carpet tape to hold the edges and glue with self-tapping screws to get each piece secured.
One of my favourite features of the finished cab that you can now see on display – apart from the inspired graphics our in-house design team created – is the mock licensing plate, which symbolically claims it is licensed to carry 227,000 people (the population of our borough when the project started) on its future journey.
The traditional British phone box that stands by it in the WOW bed was another bargain buy – from eBay – and complements to the display theme.
I am grateful to others for sharing my passion to get this done. I’ve done far less in reality than many of our parks team and volunteers, but I like to think I’ve done my bit.
At Oldham Council, I’d like to thank people in the Parks, Licensing and the design team in our Communications unit for letting me loose and giving me a helping hand when I really needed it.
I’d also like to thank Plastics Direct for providing the plastic window inserts and the Stoller Charitable Trust who reimbursed the £2,700 spent on the taxi and phone box as a contribution to the community project.
I certainly achieved the latter and only hope I’ve also managed to produce something that lives up to the fantastic standard of the Bloom and Grow displays over recent years.
Whatever the case, it always feels good to put something back into your community.
When winter comes and the bed is packed away I’d like to see the taxi reused, perhaps in the grounds of a local school or community facility.
Thanks for listening,