Village bids to raise gold standard

Roy Freer inspects Dunnington’s Britain in Bloom route before the arrival of the judges today

Pat Newman helps out with the watering of hanging baskets in the village

Dunnington in bloom. Chairman Roy Freer inspects Dunnington's Britain in Bloom route Picture: Matt Clark (8575407)

Dunnington is representing North Yorkshire in the small town category of Britain in Bloom

Roy Freer admires Emma Stothard’s wicker ploughman

Dunnington in bloom. The judges like to see bee attracting plants

Dunnington in bloom. Pat Newman helps out with the watering. Picture: Matt Clark (8575428)

First published in Features
Last updated

National flower judges will be in North Yorkshire today. MATT CLARK went to see the final preparations ahead of their visit.

DUNNINGTON is looking blooming marvellous again, not that Roy Freer has time to stop and admire it all. He's on the lookout for stuff that shouldn't be here; thoughtlessly dropped sweet wrappers, wilting wallflowers, grass cuttings, that sort of thing.

Even dead leaves must be swept up because today Roy is hosting the Britain in Bloom judges. And he's looking for gold, this being the village's fourth time of asking.

Oddly enough it's representing North Yorkshire in the small town category against the likes of Cranbrook in Kent, which Roy says is a mixed blessing. On the one hand some in the large villages category offer stronger competition, on the other, many market towns benefit from having paid groundsmen.

It's catch 22.

"Fortunately we have 99 per cent community involvement and very good support from local businesses." says Roy. “Everyone on our committee gets stuck in and works really hard."

Not all the volunteers are green fingered. Some organise coffee mornings, concerts and hog roasts to make Dunnington's bid almost self supporting, others help out with donations.

"People often stop me in the street and offer money," says Roy. "The other day someone pulled up in their car and said 'the village is looking lovely, here's £20 for the fund'."

But top notch floral awards aren't won with goodwill and chance. Roy and his team are up before most and in bed after most, because their day starts and ends by watering hanging baskets. Then there are verges to trim, tubs to tend, weeds to cull and lawns to mow.

Thanks to a hard core of a dozen volunteers, armed with some serious bits of kit, Dunnington maintains the gold standard year round and Roy says he was once told his team operates more like a business. It has to, these judges don't miss a trick.

"There are good signs, like when they get their cameras out, but although they never stop talking to us, they never stop looking either."

Not that a little bit of gamesmanship does any harm. For all last night's clear up and this morning's watering, nothing will be left to chance. One of the team will be patrolling a few minutes ahead of the entourage looking for any missed weeds or rogue fag ends that could cost the village dear.

Another thing Roy has up his sleeve is being able to choose the streets he enters for the competition. Which is just as well, Dunnington is bigger than you might think and keeping every inch of it pristine would be well nigh impossible.

"Sometimes my wife says why don't you pack it all in," says Roy. "But I love doing it, we all do. We take a pride in where we live."

Their efforts pay other dividends. Dunnington has been named one of the best places to bring up a family and Roy says it has been proven that floral success is linked to increased property values.

Although blooms continue to play an important part in the contest, judges are increasingly assessing how communities manage their environment and pay homage to its heritage.

Dunnington is doing this with a restored cart, made in the village in the 1930s by Henry Hornshaw and Son, coupled to a life-sized horse in willow by Whitby sculptor, Emma Stothard. Local school children have christened it Wagon Jim.

The village also bought a wicker ploughman figure from Emma which can be seen on Church Street.

"He stands in a flowerbed but we don't touch it," says Roy. "One member of the in bloom team and his wife do everything, all we do is cut the grass."

It's the same story elsewhere in the village. Take Julia's garden, which is named after a benefactor's late wife and looked after by the committee secretary. Then there are the school's sunflowers planted by pupils, everyone's front gardens and the communal hanging baskets. Even the flower tubs lining the roads are sponsored.

When Roy took over as chairman of Dunnington in Bloom it was meant to be for one season. That was 14 years ago. Since then he has been awarded an MBE for his community work and says it was a lifetime highlight.

To go with it, he now wants a Britain in Bloom gold medal.

"We've been in the nationals three times and won silver gilt each time. But I've had enough of being runners up. I turned 80 last year and the lads bought me a bottle of whisky and a bottle of brandy. They're still in the cupboard, but if we get a gold award they will be cracked I can tell you."

- The Britain in Bloom results will be announced in October.

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