Judges hail gold standard of community spirit in villages
By Martin Paul - Senior Reporter
TEARS were flowing as West Auckland volunteers celebrated winning gold in the Northumbria in Bloom environmental competition at the first time of trying.
And there was also joy in Middleton-in-Teesdale after the village regained its gold status. Judges praised the community spirit in both villages with children, volunteer groups and businesses involved in the efforts.
West Auckland’s in bloom group started little more than three years ago and previously performed well in the Royal Horticultural Society’s It’s Your Neighbourhood category which forms part of the annual competition.
While hopeful after pulling out all the stops ahead of judging in July, volunteers were not expecting much for their first entry into the main large village category.
The results of the competition were announced last week when West Auckland was named as one of only three large villages in the North East to earn the top gold award.
Audrey Beck, of the West Auckland group, said: “It absolutely blew us away – we never expected to come away with gold.”
Fellow organiser Jean Pattison added that the judges had said it is very rare for gold to a be given to a debut entry, but they were so impressed with the visual impact when entering the village that they were left with no choice but to award the top accolade.
In their report the judges were particularly impressed with how the village’s heritage was reflected in the entry.
They said: “The excellent monument to the football team and their world cup win in combination with the miner sculpture provides interest and local heritage information.
“The leaflets telling visitors of the historic buildings, outline history of the village and rural walks are both useful and well presented.”
They added that the village’s benches and street furniture was in “pristine”
They also praised the bird boxes and insect hotels that the group had distributed among the many trees.
Of the groups planting efforts, the judges said: “The flower tubs and tiered planters are all sumptuously planted with an excellent mix of annuals and sustainable plants standing out colourfully on the extensive village green.
“The miners tub is a nice heritage feature, enhanced by the school children’s scarecrow.
“The high standard of this first-time entry to Northumbria in Bloom is commendable.”
Mrs Beck said everyone in the village had contributed to the win in different ways, from helping plant thousands of bulbs and watering tubs to simply stopping and offering cash donations to volunteers as the worked.
Group member and parish councillor Neil Simpson added that contribution to the award was also made from the village’s county councillors Rob Yorke and Mark Roberts, the county council’s Find It and Fix It team who had come out ahead of the judging to ensure the street furniture and pathways were at their best, and the Clean and Green team which completed a last minute mowing of the village green.
Meanwhile, volunteers in Middleton-in-Teesdale are celebrating after the village regained its gold status in the Northumbria in Bloom environmental competition last week.
This was despite the village being moved to the more competitive large village category.
Judges were particularly impressed with how many different groups worked together on the display, including the parish council, Rainbows, Women’s Institute and contributions by various businesses.
The village also saw the Teesdale Hotel earn gold in the best pub category and Rumours Coffee Shop earn silver in the small commercial enterprise section.
Wesley Terrace Play Area scored four out of a possible five in the It’s Your Neighbourhood, despite being a relatively new group. A ranking of four is described as “thriving”.
In their remarks the judges said: “There is excellent interaction between the numerous volunteer groups and the result is evident in the presentation of the village – there is also good communication with the parish council which aids its success.”
In recognising others’ contribution the judges added: “The WI long border is very well planted with appropriate perennials for the situation and well maintained.”
They praised the Rainbows for producing little “fairy doors” around the village as well as the knitting groups fantastic creations covering bollards and railings, which they described as an excellent example of community spirit.
While the judges were impressed with the frontal display of the Teesdale Hotel, it was the rear beer garden that bowled them over.
They said: “The area has been enhanced by wall baskets, hanging baskets, and an exceptionally tall lily plant. It is a pleasant and unexpected oasis away from the busy main street.”
Middleton-in-Bloom organiser Pam Phillips said the group were not confident of success after the judges’ visit in the summer and winning gold was a complete surprise.
She said: “The judges have to keep their thoughts to themselves but she was very stern and from her demeanour, we expected no more than silver.”
She thanked the community for their support throughout the year and in particular the knitting group which had added the splashes of colour.
Also recognised was Rumours Coffee Shop which provides the volunteers excellent hospitality and helps with fundraising, along with the Co-op store which has made Middleton-in-Bloom one of its annual charities.
She added that The Village Bookshop had offered the group £150 which would be used to replace some shrubs in the village centre.
Thanks was given to contractor Richard Toward for the grass cutting which “was exceptional this year”, as well as litter picker Andy Lyle for his effort throughout.
Ms Phillips singled out the parish council for praise for organising a village litter pick and clean up just before the summer judging and for paying the Northumbria in Bloom entrance fee.
Finally, the group thanked Durham County Council’s Find It and Fix It team which had “painted anything and everything” in the village.
She concluded: “What has been wonderful has been all the comments from the community. That is rewarding in itself and it is better than gold.”