Volunteers Keep Shaftesbury In Bloom During Heatwave

If you’ve walked around Shaftesbury during the last month you will have noticed the beautiful floral displays. And you can help to maintain the array of baskets, troughs and borders filling public spaces like Angel Square, The Bell Street car park and The Commons with colourful flowers. Shaftesbury In Bloom organisers would like you to donate your cash or time.

The long spell of hot and dry weather has been wonderful for sun worshippers but it’s added to the workload of the display-tending volunteers like Ray Humphries and Rob Neeley. The pair have spent nearly every evening maintaining these beautiful bursts of pink, red, lilac and purple.

“The planters in the High Street have got reservoirs underneath,” explained Ray. “They need filling up once a week in normal conditions. But we’re watering them every other night now. It’s to make sure the flowers do survive. It is quite time-consuming.”

Ray Humphries (right) and Rob Neeley

Just filling the water bowser itself is a lengthy process. “We fill it on an allotment near the school,” Rob said. “We have to wait for whoever is gardening there first. We can be waiting around there for twenty minutes or often up to an hour before we can go around town, doing all of the watering.”

All the work is undertaken by unpaid volunteers. “We have a small, dedicated band of workers. I suppose the nucleus is half a dozen,” said Ray. “People come and go,” added Rob. And that’s why they’d like some new recruits.

This project isn’t county or district council funded. Shaftesbury In Bloom raise the cash they need themselves. “We work in partnership with Shaftesbury Town Council, the Chamber of Commerce and Thorngrove [the garden centre in Gillingham run by Employ My Ability]. They [Thorngrove] are very,very good. They produce the planters and tubs for us at a very reasonable price. Our annual cost is about £3,000. That pays for all of the plants that we use. Some of it is met by donations,” Ray said.

“We do charge a small amount, which is cost only, for the window boxes,” Rob offered. “We don’t make a profit. It’s just to keep the town looking good.” It certainly does look stunning and there are so many floral displays around the town. “We have eighty troughs and another ten or fifteen barrels. We have our fixed features too, like the roundabout beds. There are five in each roundabout,” said Ray. “I spend my life on roundabouts,” Rob joked.

“Where we are standing now, at the top of New Road, there’s the old water trough that was used to water the horses coming up the hill,” said Ray. “We’ve converted that into a flowerbed. We have over a hundred flower features.”

Ray and Rob at the New Rd floral trough

The group is looking for more sites and the funding to develop them. They are offering sponsorship opportunities. “We have two sites available – in Bell Street car park and one on the Royal Chase roundabout – for sponsorship,” said Ray.

“We will make a sign promoting the sponsoring business which says that they have sponsored the flowers,” explained Rob. “We normally place the sign at the back of the bed. Many vehicles travel around the roundabouts, especially the Royal Chase. You get one customer and you’ve paid for the sponsorship. If you are interested in any of the sponsorship opportunities, get in touch with me,” said Rob.

The group is hoping to add new feature to the Royal Chase roundabout. They’re investigating the potential for a special sculpture, a stone model of the iconic Hovis loaf, which featured on Ridley Scott’s 1973 advert filmed on Gold Hill. The group feels it would create an additional point of interest at the spot where many visitors first enter the town.

“It’s embryonic at the moment. We have to look at the money, where we would place it and whether it is feasible,” said Rob. He thinks that it would be roughly the same size as the fibreglass model, which will soon be returned to a space at the top of Gold Hill near the Town Hall.

Shaftesbury In Bloom is keen to hear from donors and Ray says they’d welcome any volunteers who are as passionate about their project and who love Shaftesbury. “We have a pride of our town. We like to make the town look nice for visitors and the people that live here,” Ray said.