Jean’s ready to meet blooming challenge

IF you ve ever thought that in bloom and best kept garden competitions are just about having luscious borders and neatly manicured lawns, then it may be time to think again. For Jean Allinson, Stevenage Borough Council s In Bloom officer, such contest

IF you've ever thought that 'in bloom' and 'best kept garden' competitions are just about having luscious borders and neatly manicured lawns, then it may be time to think again.

For Jean Allinson, Stevenage Borough Council's In Bloom officer, such contests, and particularly in Stevenage, represent a whole lot more than who can grow the nicest roses.

"It's not just about flower displays, it's about cleanliness and how the town generally looks, to make it good for people to live in," she said.

"It encourages people to take pride in the way they live."

Jean, who is married to former Arsenal and Luton Town footballer Ian Allinson, is a passionate advocate of the competition, and with good reason, as Stevenage has had some notable successes of late.

The town has won the Best Small City category in Anglia In Bloom for two years running.

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Last year it represented the Eastern region in the Best Small City category in Britain In Bloom and was awarded a silver rating.

It has been invited to take part in the national competition again this year.

This is Jean's second year being involved in the In Bloom competitions.

She was originally a receptionist at the borough council's London Road offices until she saw the job advertised and after applying was seconded to the position.

"I've always wanted to progress within the council and I also love working with the community and I saw it as an opportunity to do that," she said.

Her role now includes many aspects of co-ordinating the three strands of In Bloom that Stevenage is involved with - the town's own competition, Stevenage In Bloom - plus Anglia In Bloom and Britain In Bloom.

She works with all sectors of the community including schools and local businesses, gives presentations, works with the media and helps with fundraising.

Her work is carried out in close conjunction with the In Bloom Forum members who are volunteers from the community and with whom she meets once a week.

Since taking over this busy role, Jean has not looked back.

"It's fantastic. I love it. It's ever such good fun. I love working with the community and the schools and businesses to fund-raise, and organising events."

All three strands of this year's competition are now up and running, and in addition to co-ordinating these she is busy organising a fundraising celebrity golf tournament for August.

Judging for all competitions takes place over the summer, including an unannounced visit from Britain in Bloom judges some time between the last week of this month and the start of May.

Jean, who has two children, Hayley, 19, and Lee, 22, believes that the competitions are particularly important in Stevenage and can help to overcome the negative image many people have of the town.

"We need to get away from the fact that we're called a 'concrete jungle' because we're not and I hope this competition shows this," she said.

"I know over the years the In Bloom Forum has worked really hard to encourage this.

"I also know the council works really hard on the open spaces, and the roundabouts look wonderful."

The Stevenage In Bloom competition has now been expanded and boasts 13 categories, including best wildlife garden, best community project, best pub, best young gardeners, and the most recent addition, water friendly garden.

Categories for the regional and national competitions include floral displays, sustainability, cleanliness and permanent planting.

Jean is adamant that everyone in the town - businesses, residents and schools - can play a part in the competitions, not just to improve Stevenage's chances of winning but also to make the town a better place to live.

"It doesn't take much time or effort to really make your garden or the grounds of your school or business look lovely," she said.

"I really hope everyone will join in and enter our Stevenage In Bloom competition. Be proud of your achievements."

# For details on how to enter this year's Stevenage In Bloom competition, see page 23.

For more information, ring 01438 242897 or email