RHS Awards: Ahoghill flies flag for Northern Ireland

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They’ve planted over 5,000 flowers, arranged 250 hanging baskets and clocked up over 200 gardening hours per week, now all Ahoghill can do is await the visit of Britain in Bloom’s mystery judges.

The village is Northern Ireland’s only finalist in the Champion of Champions category of the prestigious 2014 Royal Horticulture Society’s (RHS) awards.

With just weeks left until the final judging is complete, a small team of local green-fingered volunteers have left no stone unturned in their bid to bring another ‘in bloom’ accolade to the Co Antrim village.

From the publican to the funeral director, the enthusiastic group of volunteers are made up of an eclectic bunch of local people who do everything from planting and landscaping, cutting and maintaining the lawns to watering the thousands of flowers throughout the village.

Wallace Elder, Ahoghill’s planting and landscaping team leader and Britain in Bloom’s 2012 Champion of Champion, said:

“We are absolutely delighted to be shortlisted as Champion of Champions in the 2014 Britain in Bloom awards. The entire team has been hard at work to keep Ahoghill thriving this year.”

Since the Ahoghill in Bloom programme began in 2007, the village has been named Best Small Town in Ulster in Bloom six years in a row – a success rate which the villagers are determined to build upon.

Judges’ comments on those occasions recognised ‘floral impact wherever you turn’ and recognised it as ‘a great example of residents, business and public bodies working together’.

On top of improving the quality of the lives of residents, participating in Britain in Bloom can have a hugely positive environmental impact. A recent ‘In Bloom’ Survey revealed 86 per cent of respondents listed cleaner and greener surroundings as a benefit of participation.

In Ahoghill, this can be clearly seen in the construction of the community garden in the village centre and Mr Elder says that many locals comment on how the competition has fostered a renewed sense of community cohesion and given an uplifting finish to the area.

He added: “Continuous fundraising events not only raise much needed finances, but also increase a sense of community and village belonging.”

Funding also comes from Ballymena Borough Council, who provides £1,000 per year for environmental works and projects. The Council also donates 50 hanging baskets and 50 dozen bedding plants each year, additional plants on request and gives access to potential funding opportunities through its Community Grant Scheme.

Congratulating the villagers, Mayor of Ballymena Cllr Audrey Wales said the village enhancements, both physically and socially, serve as an inspiration to other villages throughout Northern Ireland.

“I believe the villagers’ achievements have positively encouraged and motivated other community groups to establish environmental improvement groups within their areas,” she said.

“Ballymena Borough Council is proud to be associated with Ahoghill and wholly supports the diligent voluntary work carried out by the villagers.  The Council is particularly proud that they are Northern Ireland’s sole entry in the prestigious Champion of Champion’s category in the 2014 Britain in Bloom Competition, and we wish them all the best as they go up against competition from Shrewsbury, Woolton (Liverpool), Glenrothes (Scotland) and the City of London.”

Key objectives of Ballymena Borough Council are to increase environmental sustainability and attractiveness and to improve citizen health, well-being and quality of life. By working closely with the community and business sectors of Ahoghill over the years, the Council and the village have formed a partnership which has enabled and strengthened the local community.

Cllr Wales added: “The Ahoghill community has taken responsibility for environmental maintenance and improvements in and around their village.  Over a comparatively short period of time these enhancements have transformed the village and its surrounds with stunning floral arrangements and high impact permanent features.  Pride of place and community spirit is immediately evident as you walk or drive through the village. “