Linlithgow is going for gold this year in the RHS Britain in Bloom 2018 competition.
Burgh Beautiful members are keeping their fingers crossed that it will be a case of third time lucky when the town winner is announced on October 19.
But the Royal Burgh is up against stiff competiton for the top prize from eight English towns – Wimborne, Amersham, City of London, Tewkesbury, Thornbury, Immingham, Ulverston and Morpeth.
Judges toured Linlithgow to inspect Burgh Beautiful’s work on Thursday, August 9 and appeared suitably impressed by what they discovered.
Ron Smith, convener of Burgh Beautiful, said: “The judges’ tour over-ran by about half an hour, reflecting the number of questions they asked.
“One of the judges said he honestly thought, from his own experience and involvement as a judge, that Audrey Simpson’s community garden would be a top prize winner if exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show.
“That’s pretty high praise which I would have been bowled over to receive – Audrey certainly was, I can tell you!
“I don’t want to build up false hopes but I felt the judging was more positive than in previous years.
“We can only keep our fingers crossed now that we will get more than a silver gilt award this time round.”
In 2012 and 2014, the town received a Britain in Bloom silver gilt award.
But Ron and the Burgh Beautiful team are hopeful additional work undertaken this year will pay off.
He explained: “If we get gold this time round it would be a really good reward for the thousands of hours people have spent, not only on the town’s floral displays but clearing the streets of litter and weeds.
“We had teams of people out scraping the pavements and not just Burgh Beautiful members.
“Members of the public, businesses and local groups all mucked in too. It truly has been a community effort.”
That would surely have been music to the judges’ ears.
For as well as scoring out of 100 for horticulture, they also award up to 50 points for environment – conservation, recycling and public realm works, like pavements – and a further 50 points for commnuity participation.
The latter category has never been a problem for Burgh Beautiful but environment is often the hardest when it comes to scoring points.
Ron said: “It covers everything from nature to public art and the condition of street furniture so it is sometimes the hardest to score points in.
“But with all the work that has gone into cleaning the streets and painting the street furniture this year, we’re hopeful we’ll do a bit better than in previous years.
“Many, many groups, businesses and individuals worked tirelessly to ensure the town was ready for the Britain in Bloom judges.
“It has been a huge community effort with everyone from the Girl Guides, Scouts and schools to groups like the community council, the canal society and LYPP playing their part.
“We also receive a lot of sponsorship from other organisations in the town.
“There are too many to name here but I would like to say thank you to everyone in the town who has helped – the individuals, businesses, groups and organisations who have lent their support.
“I’ve lost count of the number of people who have come up to me in the street to ask about the judging and tell me they’ve got their fingers crossed for us.”
So it would be fair to say everyone in the town has their hopes pinned on a golden result on October 19.
Sadly, all anyone can do now is wait for the result.
But one thing is for sure, the judges left Linlithgow with some memorable moments to treasure.
Ron said: “A small group of us had an evening meal with the judges on the Wednesday night, prior to judging.
“This was followed by a visit to Linlithgow Palace where the last Scotch Hop of the summer was in full swing. There was a fantastic atmosphere which the judges very much enjoyed.
“The visit was enhanced by views over the town and loch from the top of the palace at sunset – an overall experience the judges said they would never forget!”
Let’s hope those memories help swing the vote in Linlithgow’s favour and we’ll have golden news to report next month!
Ron added: “Three Burgh Beautiful members are going to the award ceremony in Belfast – the phones will be busy that night, I think!”
16,000 man hours in one year
Burgh Beautiful was founded in 2004, with a committee of 11 members but meetings are open to all volunteers who want to attend.
Since 2011, it has operated from a base in the grounds of Clarendon House, leased from West Lothian Council.
Reporting to the committee are eight working groups dealing with businesses, the Clarendon base, competitions, environmental responsibility, planting, publicity/fundraising and youth.
With the support of West Lothian Council and other community organisations, the town participated in Beautiful Scotland and Britain in Bloom from 2009 to 2014, the highlight of which was winning the coveted Rose Bowl in 2011.
West Lothian Council ceased involvement in floral displays and grass cutting from 2015-16. But Burgh Beautiful rose to the challenge with its Bye Bye campaign, which led to a doubling of both sponsorship money and the number of volunteers, allowing the continuation of almost all of the council’s displays.
In 2017, the Burgh Beautiful committee was delighted to receive a gold award from Beautiful Scotland, winning the medium town category and, in relation to the success of the Bye Bye campaign, a special RHS Scotland Award for overcoming adversity.
Burgh Beautiful is currently supported by 102 registered volunteers, helpers from 16 other groups and more than 90 financial sponsors.
Since March 2017, Burgh Beautiful has also formed part of Linlithgow Burgh Trust, a Scottish charitable incorporated organisation with 189 members.
In 2017-18, it is estimated that volunteers laboured for 16,000 hours. Even at minimum wage, this can be valued at £125,000.