With local authorities facing a budget balancing act, a lack of finances could have cut short Sunderland’s horticultural title hopes.
But Sunderland won the best large city award in this year’s Britain in Bloom competition - a title it also took in 2010.
Despite tightening purse strings, city council staff, businesses, volunteers and communities rallied round to ensure that Sunderland came out on top.
“It took a lot of hard work and planning, but people have a pride in the place,” said council portfolio holder for city services Michael Mordey.
Commenting on Sunderland’s efforts, Britain in Bloom judges said: “Although local authorities are undergoing financial restrictions, Sunderland is looking for ways to still provide quality parks and open spaces and should be congratulated on a well-deserved result.”
The council is responsible for grass-cutting on 3,478 hectares of open space and also caters for 42 parks and 94 allotment sites. Although budget adjustments had to be made, the council still used 106,000 bedding plants and 22,000 dot plants across the city, plus 32,000 basket and container plants. In Mowbray Park in the city centre, a bed was planted in a poppy arrangement to mark the First World War centenary. There are 15 ‘Friends of’ parks groups who also weighed in.
Six parks have Green Flag awards - Roker, Mowbray, Barnes - which recently reopened after a £3.6m Heritage Lottery Fund restoration, Usworth and Herrington and Hetton Lyons country parks.
In the Royal Horticultural Society Your Neighbourhood Awards, seven Sunderland locations were judged to be outstanding.
With 281,700 residents, Sunderland provides more than a quarter of Tyne and Wear’s population.
But 57% of the Sunderland area is classed as urban green space, including the green belt.
In the last 15 years former industrial land which has been greened includes Herrington Colliery, which closed in 1985 and is now a country park, the former opencast site of Rainton Meadows - now the base for Durham Wildlife Trust, and Elba Park, formerly Lambton Coke Works.The council’s plant-producing horticultural nursery is at Barley Mow Park.
But the Bishopwearmouth horticultural nursery is the base for a day service provided by Sunderland Care and Support which offers learning and vocational training opportunities to people with learning disabilities.
The nursery provides landscaping and maintenance services as well as floral displays for city events.
A council spokesperson said: “We take the responsibility for planting and maintenance of Sunderland’s public spaces very seriously, acknowledging and appreciating the benefits that providing these gives.
“This is a year-round task for the Responsive Local Services team. However, they alone can’t take all of the credit for what makes Sunderland bloom.
“Local pride mixed with enthusiasm means that there are colourful gardens, containerised displays, hanging basket and community gardens in every corner of the city.
“Many of these are run by volunteer groups who really want to make a difference to their neighbourhood.”
Ian Richardson, the council’s assistant head of street scene, said: “The bloom competition encourages community cohesion and helps people take pride in places. We have some amazing green spaces.”
Newcastle does not enter the Northumbria in Bloom contest, from which the best entries go forward to represent the region in the national competition.
Newcastle City Council cabinet member for communities Hazel Stephenson, said: “Congratulations to Sunderland City Council for their success in Britain in Bloom.
“We no longer take part in this competition but instead support communities on a range of different horticultural initiatives, helping them to take pride in their own gardens and their neighbourhoods.
“Examples of these initiatives include Greening Wingrove, the annual Newcastle Allotment and Garden Show and Edible Elswick, which helps women and girls grow and prepare their own food.
“Some of our ward committees, such as Byker and South Heaton, have also part funded their own ‘in bloom’ competitions which encourage communities to work together. Although Government cuts and cost pressures have reduced what the council spends on horticulture we are planning awards of our own next year for communities, schools and businesses which will encourage them to take an interest in the environment.”