Best blooming town title great reward for 25 years of blood, sweat and shears
"IT is official – Belper is the best large town in the country."
Those were the words of John Nelson, chairman of the Belper in Bloom group, after the town won an honour it has spent a quarter of a century trying to capture.
Belper was crowned the winner of the large town category in the Britain In Bloom contest, run by the Royal Horticultural Society.
It beat Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire; Stone, Staffordshire; St Helier, Jersey; Dumfries, Scotland; Chichester, West Sussex; Truro, Cornwall; Rhyl, Wales and Knaresborough, North Yorkshire; to take the title.
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Mr Nelson said the accolade was the result of 25 years' hard work.
He was among six representatives from Belper who went to the awards ceremony, in St Peter Port, Guernsey, and received the honours from TV presenter Matt Baker.
Mr Nelson said: "It's a tremendous achievement. We simply didn't believe it at first."
The deputation first heard that Belper had won two coveted gold medals for achieving high points totals.
Mr Nelson said: "Because these were awarded alphabetically, we found out about that quite quickly.
"We then watched the rest of the competitors get theirs and we noticed everyone in our category get silver-gilt awards, so we got quite excited. Then Truro also got a gold award and we thought they might win the category.
"So we couldn't believe it when we were announced as the large town winners. People won't just pass through Belper now – they will stop and really look at it."
Trevor Griffin, chairman of the Friends of Belper River Gardens, said: "It's a terrific and amazing result – a significant breakthrough on how the town will see itself."
It was the first time the town had been in the national final for about 20 years.
More than 1,200 communities, cities, town and villages entered the competition earlier this year – which aims to "green-up and clean-up Britain".
Of these, judges crowned regional winners and then whittled the list down to 72 national finalists across a range of categories.
When they visited Belper in August, judges Jeff Bates and Brendan Mowforth said the town's heritage had been well exploited in the efforts to win the competition.
They also noted "nothing had been forgotten about" and said the town had done itself proud.
Mr Nelson previously said how preparing for the competition took "quite a lot of planning".
It included planting thousands of flowers in the River Gardens and ensuring the rest of the town was awash with colour.
The Scouts, the Strutt Centre, the Friends of Belper River Gardens, Friends of Belper Parks and Transition Belper were also among those involved.
Mr Nelson said: "We've been working towards this for about 25 years. Belper was once known as Beaurepaire, meaning 'beautiful retreat', and this has just proven that's exactly what it is."
Kathy Fairweather, trustee of eco-group Transition Belper, said: "It's absolutely amazing.
"I think there's going to be a lot more community involvement in the town now because people will be eager to share in the prestige and civic pride."
Roger Burnett, chairman of the Royal Horticultural Society Britain in Bloom judging panel, said: "It's a hugely comforting thought to know that there are more than 200,000 Britain in Bloom volunteers across the country."