Villagers reap their rewards

IT was six of the best yesterday for a village bursting with blooms.

IT was six of the best yesterday for a village bursting with blooms.

Earsdon, Northumbria in Bloom 07

Earsdon, on the edge of Whitley Bay in North Tyneside, won the Northumbria in Bloom best village title for the sixth successive year.

And at yesterday’s awards ceremony in South Shields, gold medal-winning Earsdon took the accolade of overall winner of the competition.

Later this month, Earsdon will go up against six other villages in the national finals of Britain in Bloom on the back of being Northumbria’s best entry last year.

There has been a village at Earsdon since medieval times and its St Alban’s Church was founded in 1250.

But it is the efforts of today’s villagers which have put Earsdon on the map.

The Friends of Earsdon cover the community in flowers, with floral displays even extending to an agricultural turnip shredder and a plough at the entry points to the village, which once had three farms.

The Friends also produce their own brochure, and secretary Verna MacNaughton said: “Each year we aim to keep up the same high standards, and also to improve. As well as the flower beds, we put plants in every available space, from around trees to the bus shelter.

“It’s a community effort, making the village a pleasant place to live. We have two village pubs and we get quite a lot of visitors, who often like to have a walk around to see the blooms before having a meal.” This year the Friends were helped by an Awards For All lottery grant which paid for a bowser to help with watering – so cue a drenched summer.

“The bad weather this summer has been a nightmare, with plants either not developing or dying off because of all the rain,” said Verna.

The best large city award went to Sunderland, with Newcastle not entering for the second year running.

Newcastle City Council city centre services manager Mark Lamb said: “We have entered the competition for a long time and have generally done very well.

“But in the last two years there has been a complete revision of the way we provide environmental services and that has taken a lot of effort.

“We have got a lot out of the competition and we wondered if it had run its course, but we are considering our approach to entries next year.”

Morpeth was a quadruple winner, with best town title, best commercial external premises through Heighley Gate garden centre, best rail station and Carlisle Park picking up the best park in a town award.

Warkworth scored a hat-trick with best large village and most attractive front garden. There was also a boost for its Church of St Lawrence, which is in need of urgent help as its Norman north wall of the 1130s is leaning outwards and in danger of collapse. Repairs will cost £500,000 and the church has launched an appeal.

But yesterday it came away with the prize for best church grounds. There was a double for Durham, with best small city and the Prince Bishops shopping centre winning the retail award.

In South Tyneside, Marsden Old Quarry nature reserve in South Shields – a plant-rich magnesian limestone area – scooped best conservation project award and the Red Lion pub in Boldon took the pub/hotel/restaurant prize.

Northumbria in Bloom chairman Eileen Burn said: “The rewards for participating in the competition reach far beyond the awards themselves. Out of all that hard work, communities benefit from improving the local environment, strengthening community spirit, developing local pride, encouraging tourism and business and have a lot of fun in the process.”

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Come in, number one

A FIVE-YEAR fight to restore what were once Oriental gardens and a boating lake bore fruit yesterday.

The project to rescue Whickham Hermitage garden in Gateshead has been led by local man Dave Peacock.

The Hermitage was built in the 1790s by Swalwell Brewery owner Matthew Taylor and stayed in his family until 1910.

Led by Mr Peacock, the project has seen the garden transformed from dereliction into a site featuring vegetable plots, a greenhouse, a wildlife pond and a summerhouse.

Yesterday it clinched the award for best voluntary project, with Whickham also winning best large town.

Other awards: Urban community, Rowlands Gill; small village, Callerton, Newcastle; small town, Haltwhistle; city, Stockton; coastal resort, Saltburn; business park, Wansbeck Business Park, Ashington; best efforts of residents in a community, Gaprigg Court, Hexham; grounds of old people’s home, Whitby Rise, Houghton le Spring; hospice/medical centre, St Benedict’s Hospice garden, Sunderland; prison/sports/college grounds Mainsforth sports complex, Ferryhill; innovation in parks and open spaces, The Park, Alnwick; biodiversity, Stockton; best contribution by a salaried person, John Thirwell, Hexham; outstanding volunteer, Barry Pickering, Hexham.

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