Volunteers Improving First Impressions Of Shaftesbury

A team of Shaftesbury in Bloom volunteers has started their 2019 programme by tidying the Royal Chase roundabout. It’s a big job.

ThisIsAlfred went along and heard how the group is planning to enhance the entry point to Shaftesbury for many visitors arriving from the south or east.

Shaftsbury looks wonderful when the town centre’s baskets, troughs and beds are overflowing with colourful flowers. Most of these displays are funded, arranged and maintained thanks to Shaftesbury in Bloom’s volunteers. But in recent years, their numbers have fallen.

The age and health of helpers is one reason. “I can’t deny, there have been some difficulties in keeping it going because of lack of labour,” said Ray Humphries, one of the handful of committed members who have kept Shaftesbury in Bloom going.

Shaftesbury in Bloom volunteers tidying the Royal Chase Roundabout

On Sunday, half a dozen civic-minded residents donned lime, orange or pink hi-viz jackets to trim, dig and weed part of the Royal Chase roundabout. It’s been tough finding people to look after this land. Just getting on the roundabout with water, plants or tools can be tricky. “You are recording this at about 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning and there is continual traffic going around the roundabout,” said Ray. “I have found the safest way is to drive onto it with a van containing all the tools in the back. It’s safer than crossing the road.”

Last summer, some locals moaned about the appearance of the roundabout on social media. “Well, we’re waiting for them to turn up, just to give a hand,” Ray laughed, adding, “All joking aside though, that probably won’t ever happen.”

Volunteer James Thrift broke off from energetically stabbing the solid ground with his spade. “I think everybody appreciates Shaftesbury in Bloom and all the flowers, when they come out, but I think we assume it’s something that everybody else does. We all love it when the town looks good. Most of us like gardening so when the call came out to help it seemed logical to give it a go,” said James.

Ray’s keen to collect the names of locals who will join future working parties and he promises that you don’t have to go anywhere near a committee meeting if you don’t want to. “It’s always open to anybody who wants to come along and join in. It can be quite good fun. We have plenty of banter,” Ray said.

There is an assumption that gardening is for older people but Ray says all locals are welcome. James’ daughter, Ella Thrift, was busily pulling up weeds. She seemed surprised that she was having fun. I asked why she decided to help out. “I was brought here,” she laughed. Difficult as it is getting off the roundabout, I don’t think her parents were holding Ella hostage!

She went on to explain that the work was important. “We’re making Shaftesbury look more welcoming, making it look nice and neat and tidy. It’s also great volunteering for your town and being there for the community,” said Ella.

The group has an action plan for the roundabout. The higher maintenance roses will be replaced. “They are lacking in colour,” said Ray. “Were going to do one bed at the Ivy Cross roundabout and a bed here at the Royal Chase roundabout and then we will do some experiments with grasses. If it works well, then we will reproduce that all the way round the roundabout.”

“The idea is to choose plants which look good but don’t require so much watering because of the difficulty in getting onto the roundabout,” he continued. “It needs to be long-lasting. It’s got to be sustainable but it’s also important to have something highly visible to create a good impression when people come into the town.”

Just along from the Royal Chase Roundabout, the Town Council and Shaftesbury Tree Group have planted lime trees on opposite sides of the road to form a welcome to the town. Shaftesbury in Bloom are looking for other ideas to replace the letters on the grassy bank that spell ‘Shaftesbury’.

“We still have letters on the far side but maintenance of the slope is very difficult. Lots of people have had ideas but when they realise how hard it is to stand on that and maintain it, they don’t hang around too long,” said Ray. “We’ve taken the metal surrounding letters out. We are going to come up with something to go on the other side, on the flat, so we can offer a warm welcome.”

A stone Hovis loaf has been suggested. “Melbury stone are interested in carving one. It is one of the ideas we’re looking at but it’s still in its early stages. We’re going to have a look and see what may or may not be practical,” Ray said.

You’ll notice that the roundabout appearance has been improved next time you pass it. Now the volunteers want extra hands to make sure the entrance to town and the centre looks attractive throughout the summer season. You need enthusiasm and commitment – you don’t need tools or gardening knowledge. If you can help, contact Ray or call in and see Derek Beer in the John Peel Café.