Council workers and community volunteers in Mid and East Antrim have been working hard to ensure Ballymena is blooming beautiful as part of the Britain in Bloom campaign.
The nationwide Britain in Bloom competition pits rural villages, urban corners and city centres against each other in a range of criteria, including horticultural excellence, community engagement, and efforts to bolster biodiversity and climate change adaptation.
For the second consecutive year, Ballymena is competing alongside 75 other entrants from across the UK.
The RHS judges toured Ballymena taking in highlights including Ecos Nature Park, The People’s Park, Broadway and Harmony Hub, and Church Street 3 Carpark. The winners of each category, ranging from gold to bronze, will be announced at an awards ceremony in Belfast on 19 October.
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Lindsay Millar, said: “I am delighted that Ballymena has made it this far in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Britain in Bloom competition and is competing with the best of the best across the UK, for the second year in a row.
“Here in Mid and East Antrim we have established a reputation as an award-winning borough, thanks to our Mid and East Antrim In Bloom campaign, which encourages everyone who lives in the area to think about their local environment and how flowers, plants and gardens can enhance it for people and wildlife.
“By actively supporting our ‘In Bloom’ campaign and community competitions residents not only brighten our borough but have enabled our towns and villages to go on to achieve great success in the Translink Ulster in Bloom awards and the RHS Britain in Bloom awards.
“Ballymena in Bloom is a prime example of this, with volunteers and local businesses giving up so much of their time to plant floral displays, improve areas for biodiversity, keep the town clean and tidy and ‘green the grey’ by brightening up forgotten corners.
“Sincere thanks to the businesses who supported our In Bloom campaign this year, including Wilsons of Rathkenny and Wrightbus, who supplied transport for the judges on the day, and Camerons and The Smithfield Arms, who created town center displays.
“Special thanks must also go to the Ballymena Business Improvement District for supplementing and supporting the work of Council, and to our wonderful network of volunteers, including Berries and Blooms Allotment, the Friends of Ecos Nature Park and our CES bird ringers.
“Thanks also to our staff who are wholeheartedly committed to ensuring our borough is the best it can be for the local community, visitors, and wildlife, all year round. The town is really blooming and it is a real credit to everyone involved.”
PJ McAvoy, former Mayor of Ballymena, spoke on behalf of the current first citizen at the judge’s lunch in The People’s Park.
Mr McAvoy said: “I would like to begin with a small extract from Sir Shafto Adair’s speech from the opening of The People’s Park back in August 1870, which I feel is very fitting.
“Sir Adair said the establishment of a free park must be regarded as a question of very great importance… for the preservation of health; the restoration of energy; regular, recreative exercise in the open air; the satisfaction of ourselves; and the wellbeing of the community. This park, as I have said, is not to be a mere walk and retirement from the public streets, but it is the starting point from which may proceed many fruitful currents of knowledge to the young… a botanical society giving life and grace to the daily existence of Ballymena. It is not for ourselves alone that these walls have been fenced, but that when a stranger comes to the town – even the passing stranger – that he shall have an opportunity of seeing Ballymena in relaxation as well as in its hours of labour.’
“Council’s vision for our parks and open spaces remains the same today.”
Speaking at the lunch, RHS judge Rae Beckwith thanked Council for the hospitality, adding: “Myself and my fellow judge James Cordingley have thoroughly enjoyed our tour of Ballymena.
“We have been humbled by some of the volunteers we have met and we have enjoyed many laughs along the way. We are leaving Ballymena with many fond memories. Everyone, keep up the great work.”