Westcountry flourishes in Britain in Bloom contest
As autumn descends, the Westcountry is celebrating a ray of sunshine after taking the South West in Bloom competition by storm.
Truro scooped the top prize of the sponsors' award, for the "most meritorious" entry in a contest which spans an area from the Isles of Scilly up to Gloucestershire.
Meanwhile, villages, towns and cities in Devon and Cornwall dominated the leader board in the awards run by the Royal Horticultural Society, which celebrate the achievements of volunteers in improving their environments through skilfully tended splashes of colour in the community
John Noble, treasurer of Truro in Bloom, said it was a "major honour and a major surprise" to be named as sponsors' choice, the most coveted overall award.
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He highlighted two community-run schemes which impressed judges. One was at formerly run-down Furniss Island, where volunteers grouped together and worked with police to reduce anti-social behaviour by creating a garden including flower beds and a vegetable patch.
The other is in rarely used parking spaces behind the city's main library, which were transformed into an urban oasis using railway sleepers. "It has been a huge success," Mr Noble said. "Now anybody who wants to take a bit of time out can go and spend some time in these gardens."
Jon Wheatley, chairman of South West in Bloom, said the region's standard was "perhaps the best in the country".
But he said: "It was obvious that Truro had really gone to a lot of effort this year. It was a clear community approach. It incorporated schools and people from the town and surrounding area, all pulling together to do a fantastic job."
He also highlighted Plymouth, which drew with Bristol as winners of the South West Tourism category, and was a "close contender" for the top prize. He said: "There it's led very much by the local authority, and they should be really proud of their efforts. They did a lovely job."
But Mr Wheatley said the emphasis of the competition, which will celebrate 50 years in 2014, was on volunteers. "It used to be about flowers and hanging baskets, but now it's about community involvement," he said. "At the moment, everybody's complaining about local authorities having no money. These awards encompass the wonderful volunteering spirit we have seen in the Olympics and the Jubilee.
"It makes such a difference to community pride. It's about empowering communities to look after their own areas."
Councillor Brian Vincent, Plymouth City Council's Cabinet Member for Environment said the city also won 31 "it's your neighbourhood" awards led by small community groups. He said: "I'm over the moon that we've picked up gold and that so many of our community groups have been recognised for their efforts."
Dartmouth and Kingsbridge were both named gold cup overall winners in their categories. John Tucker, Leader of South Hams District Council, said: "To achieve such success in the face of fierce competition from across the South West is testament to the hard work of all those involved. "
Torbay scooped a total of 33 awards, including a prestigious silver gilt for Torquay, and another for Marychurch and Babbacombe. Jeanette Richards, Torbay's executive lead for tourism and environment, said: "It is a huge reflection of the hard work and effort that goes in."