WE’VE ONLY gone and done it again!
In case you missed it, Oldham was crowned ‘Best City’ at the national RHS Britain in Bloom 2014 competition this week – and we are absolutely delighted.
During the summer visitors to our borough couldn’t help but go green with envy at how the area looked when they saw the fruits of the amazing work being done by hardworking staff alongside community groups, residents and partners as part of our Bloom and Grow campaign.
I had several meetings with visitors from ‘outside’ who commented very positively about how impressed they were by about the amount of building work, new public realm improvements and road maintenance underway – and the magnificence of the Britain in Bloom display.
Some councils opt to trek to Tatton Park to show off their floral displays every year and that’s a decision for them.
But for me it makes far more sense to put your work in the heart of your own town, so the people footing the bill – Oldham’s taxpayers – get to enjoy it.
The Bloom and Grow scheme has really developed in recent years and encompasses so many different partners and elements having now expanded into community-led schemes that revolve around and benefit different parts of the borough each year.
This time we beat Westminster, Aberdeen and Norwich to win the Best City accolade which shows that community involvement is just as important to the judges as how vibrant and colourful your flowers might look.
The creativity and imagination that lies behind these displays is always outstanding – and perhaps, sometimes, even slightly bonkers(!). But it is that spirit and personal commitment which I think really makes our entry stand out from the crowd.
I will admit to being a “non-horticulturalist type”(!) who gets a bit confused about how these awards work, but I’ve now done my homework so I’d like to share some insight with you…
In 2012 we won the ‘Best City’ accolade at our very first attempt, which was a fantastic achievement. But if you win you’re then not allowed to enter the following year, which explains the one-year gap between our successes.
This second Britain in Bloom triumph feels all the sweeter too because Oldham’s team also won another award that actually didn’t get much recognition at all, but I know means so much to staff.
Alongside the ‘Best City’ and Gold gongs they also won the RHS Horticulture award, which is very special.
This is given to just one entry in recognition that it has delivered the best standards of horticultural practice throughout every aspect.
Glenn Dale and his team say they prize this above all other awards because – unlike Best City, where Oldham competed with three other regional entrants – this one judges your standard against that of every other single hamlet, town, coastal town, village and city that entered any Britain in Bloom category.
This means, for example, that Oldham was actually judged to be better than Shrewsbury in this area – even though they were crowned ‘Champion of Champions’ this year.
This special award is all about the quality of your work – planting techniques and maintenance standards, for example – and winning it is no mean feat when you consider our judging route (stretching more than ten miles across Lydgate, Uppermill, Dobcross, Delph, Bishops Park, Sholver, Heyside, Turf Lane, Rochdale Road and Oldham town centre) was one of the longest in the competition.
Our team also learned we’d been subjected to two ‘mystery shopper’ visits after Judging Day. These are done to check what we show them isn’t some kind of ‘façade’ that is there one day, but gone the next. They obviously found our entry was high-quality and – crucially – sustainable because following one mystery shop excursion to revisit the ‘Wow Bed’ in Oldham town centre, the judge said it looked “even better” the second time round.
Given that by 2017 we’ll have made budget cuts totalling £201m you might think it’d be reasonable to allow a scheme like this to be one of the first things that is cut.
Well, we have reduced the budget – and that’s only right because we must review everything that we do – but I suspect people haven’t noticed as many actually said the displays were better this year than ever before.
I was also keen and determined this summer to see a new play area installed in Oldham town centre and its location next to the ‘Wow Bed’ display has really changed that part of town. It is now a meeting place, a social space and a safe place for families.
Looking ahead, it’s vital we continue investing in our parks team and giving them opportunities like this to develop real horticulture skills. Their skillset is already outstanding, clearly, and each year they also train a new generation through our apprenticeship programme.
Each year when the judges arrive here I’m always nervous for the borough and for staff who have worked so hard.
Once again though the verdict was clear – and in the judges’ own words:
On behalf of the council I’d like to thank the countless staff, volunteers, residents and partners who did their bit to make this success possible. You’re all blooming wonderful!
Thanks for listening,