Imagine my surprise when attending the November 2019 Otley in Bloom AGM to discover that I was now temporary chairman. Note to self: do not nod off in any meeting again. To say the least, the last year has been “interesting”, but it has been made especially pleasant by the friendly people of Otley and particularly OiB members who have done their best to keep Otley blooming during this difficult year.
1) During 2019/20 we worked more than ever with other organisations. At the start of the year we produced a large piece of work with Wildlife Friendly Otley (WFO), Otley 2030 and Leeds Parks Department to show what Otley would look like as Leeds City Council starts planting 25 hectares of trees every year and brings changes to its land in Otley to combat climate change and improve biodiversity.
Ideas included increasing community orchards, more tree planting and allowing wildflowers on verges throughout the town. Unfortunately, Leeds Parks were not able to obtain political approval for these ideas because:
• within other parts of Leeds they had more low-hanging fruit to work with;
• to make the changes they would be required to ask their contractor to use mow-and-collect equipment which would entail capital expenditure; and
• the collection of clippings would require some sort of composting arrangements to be created within Otley.
2) But by October Leeds City Council had decided to raise its target to 50 hectares of trees per year and is again interested in our plans for Otley’s green spaces.
3) 2020 marked the 20th year of the existence of Otley in Bloom and we were just discussing our plans for celebration when Covid struck and we entered a long period of lockdown. Soon after that the national and county systems of “in Bloom” decided to cancel the competition for 2020. Working together outside even in small teams was, on occasions, not allowed.
4) Within Otley in Bloom we moved over to having our monthly meetings on Zoom and more regular use of Facebook. We will end the year by transferring our website to a more suitable portal. Perhaps only a small a retreat to the potting shed.
5) Early summer saw the arrival of a lot of graffiti in the underpass. OiB often works to remove graffiti but on this occasion the lack of access to the correct chemicals defeated us. Later Leeds Council’s graffiti team removed some of this and is still removing the last vestiges this autumn.
6) Collaborating with the BID, we saw that shops were about to reopen and that Leeds Parks had emptied out the 32 barrier planters. We knew that the people of Otley wanted to “do something” to fight Covid and we introduced the concept of “Otley is Blooming Back”. Over two weekends we replanted all 32. Once installed we paid for half the planters to be watered from our own funds but also worked with local shops, all of whom, when asked, stepped up to water them through the summer months for free. A truly emotional and life-reaffirming experience.
7) Having completed the wildflower design project with Leeds Parks, and building on our 2013 experience of planting wildflower meadows at The Whartons primary school, we looked around with WFO for a commercial site on which to carry out a further wildflower project. BT generously offered us the land surrounding their telephone exchange and, once the dry summer months were over and 6 people were allowed to congregate, we sowed wildflower seeds over half of their grassed area. Hopefully, spring 2021 will show the benefits.
8) OiB looks after some 60 individual planted areas in Otley, ranging from less than a square metre up to 80 square metres. Each of these have OiB members watching over them to keep them nature-friendly and looking spick and span. All this work has continued throughout the pandemic, sometimes as small teams and sometimes as a lone volunteer.
9) On top of this, OiB continues to step in where others have run out of puff or if they need knowledge, contacts etc. We have also begun to help Otley 2030 with their projects on locally grown food.
10) 2021 should be an even more exciting year.
Chairman, Otley in Bloom