HENLEY has been labelled “a blaze of colour” and “memorable” by European judges who visited last
HENLEY has been labelled “a blaze of colour” and “memorable” by European judges who visited last week.
A group of 10 judges spent Sunday being shown the best bits of greenery, architecture and community work as part of Entente Florale.
The competition pits Henley against 10 towns from across the Continent with populations of 5,000 to 30,000 people.
éamonn De Stafort, a tourism expert from Ireland who was part of the panel, told the
Henley Standard he felt there was a great level of community activity across the town.
He said: “For me the boat trip and explanation of its importance was my highlight and gave me a great appreciation of how important the river is to the general economy and indeed to the quality of life in and around the town.
“Henley is a friendly town and at every stop we were made so welcome. The town council have a nice vision for the future of Henley. The town was a blaze of colour on adjudication day and I detected a great degree of activity in all parts of our tour.
“While the river is the town’s ‘honey pot’ traders have risen to the challenge of presenting their premises to an appealing standard and this is beneficial for trade.
“Thanks to the Aer Lingus flight delay I was able to read Jim Donahue’s book on Henley which was presented to us by Mayor Lorraine Hillier.”
Henley was put forward for the competition by Peter Holman, a member of the judging jury and a Britain in Bloom lead judge.
Town councillor Kellie Hinton led the judges on their six—hour tour which started with a presentation on the history of Henley at the town hall.
Cllr Hinton said: “It was a really enjoyable day, obviously very busy and tiring as well. I was a bit nervous but we showed Henley as best we could plus the weather was fantastic.
“We have some feedback already about places they enjoyed and parts of the tour they didn’t think were so good. Obviously it would be lovely to get a gold or silver gilt but it’s great just to be recognised and take part. It’s all been really rewarding.
“The judges did ask a lot more questions and they do put you on the spot and expect answers — that was the hardest part. They found the three tiers of local government a bit confusing but we showed even when we can’t directly do something, we always try to do something about it.”
Some of the aspects the Entente Florale experts look at include architecture, planning policy, what the town does for the quality of life of its residents, education and training and communication policies as well as horticulture, trees, plants and green spaces.
The judging panel, led by Rudi Geeradyn, a landscape architect and town planner from Belgium, then quizzed town and district councillor Stefan Gawrysiak on the neighbourhood plan and the district council’s core strategy.
He said:“The judges were very thorough with the process and because their judging lots of towns across Europe.
“It’s the second time I have met the judges as I met them when I was in Bled meeting Prince Edward.
“I’m sure it was be a really good positive experience for Henley and they will tell us ways we could improve the town in the feedback.”
Henley Mayor Lorraine Hillier led the judges through Market Place whilst answering questions on conservation policies and heritage as well as how the council looks after the town centre.
She said: “It was a good day. I welcomed them to the town on Saturday when they arrived.
“Cllr Kellie Hinton and Becky Walker from the town hall worked particularly hard. I felt we did the best we could have to show off the town.
“They asked about A—boards and cleaning the town centre and I told them about how we only control certain things at the town council level.”
Cllr Hillier also thanked all the park services and council staff for their help in organising and running the tour.
The judges, who have expertise in architecture, agriculture, tourism and open spaces, then boarded Midsomer Maiden at Red Lion Lawn.
They were given a tour of the Thames and Gillian Nahum, of Henley Sales and Charter who provided the boat and the Henley Business Partnership.
She discussed river based business, tourism, leisure and it’s importance to the town.
Mrs Nahum said: “It went really well. I sat with a German judge at the dinner in the evening she was very impressed.
“They asked lots of questions and were interested if there were lots of second homes that were empty.
“I explained Henley is a vibrant community where people live and work with very few second homes.
“When we were on the river we talked about moorings, using the river and disabled access.”
The group departed the vessel at Mill Meadows moorings. They were then taken to the River and Rowing Museum for refreshments.
A talk by Chris Baldwin, who is part of the Park Services team, took place in Marsh Meadows.
He discussed education programmes that are done between the council, the museum and students from local schools.
Tuc Ahmed, a governor at Badgemore Primary School, spoke to the judges about environmental awareness in primary schools.
Gareth Bartle, parks manager at the town council, then led the judges around Mill Meadows.
They were shown the “green wall” on Leichlingen pavillion, the Magna Carta celebration beds, the twinning beds, sensory garden and both playgrounds.
Former Henley Mayor Elizabeth Hodgkin spoke to the judges about the volunteer gardening group, the Gardening Buddies, and their work in the town.
The group stopped for a one hour break for lunch at the 400—year—old Kings Arms Barn with food supplied by the Henley branch of Waitrose.
A minibus, driven by town councillor David Eggleton, took the group past the Reading Road roundabout, with it’s healthy lifestyle inspired design, and Jubilee Park, to show an open green space.
Malcolm Dodds, from Henley in Transition, then met the group at the Gainsborough Estate where he and Cllr Eggleton explained the work they had done as part of the residents association and transition group.
Cllr Eggleton said: “I was quite tired after it all but it was very rewarding.
“As part of Henley in Bloom I want to thank everyone who has been involved and took part in making Entente Florale a success.
“Everyone has their expertise and they showed those on the tour.
“Some of the questioning was very tough but we gave them answers to everything and they seemed happy with our answers.”
On their way to the Fairmile Vineyard the judges were shown the silver birch trees on Kings Road, Freemans Meadow and were told about the wide verges on the Fairmile and their historical importance in Henley.
At the vineyard they were met by owner Jan Mirkowski who spoke to them about his plans for his vines.
He also provided a tractor ride to the top of the hills on his site to show the judges views of the Chiltern Hills.
Mr Mirkowski said: “They asked some knowledgeable questions but they were the same as anyone who visits the vineyard.
“They really thought the location, looking out of the Chilterns, was stunning. It’s lovely we have that type of countryside within Henley’s boundaries.
“The competition is all about Henley and growing things, and that’s what I do for a living.
“I want to be well regarded around the town so I am happy to do my bit.”
Before the end of their tour the judges were taken along New Street to show them the Kenton Theatre, the fourth oldest working theatre in the UK, which is currently having it’s foyer refurbished.
The penultimate stop was at Greencroft Allotments where Andrew Hawkins, chairman of Henley Allotment Association, spoke about workshops they run to help new plotholders learn the required skills.
St Mary’s Church on Hart Street was the final stop of the tour.
The results will be announced on September 18 in Bristol.
Town councillor Simon Smith, the chairman of the Henley in Bloom committee, followed the whole tour on Sunday.
As well as helping pick the judges up from Heathrow on Saturday and taking them to their accommodation at Greenlands House at Henley Management College.
Cllr Smith said: “The judges asked a lot of very difficult questions and they didn’t understand how some things work in the UK.
“They live in countries where the local government is different.
“Everyone who was involved did a marvellous job putting it together and doing their bit.
“Generally very happy with how the tour went, I really think Kellie pulled it out of the bag on the tour.”
Mr Holman, who was part of the deliberations between the group of judges at Henley town hall on Monday, said the tour was very thorough.
He added: “Overall the jury enjoyed a good and positive visit and will go away with fond and pleasant memories of the visit to Henley, however Henley will have to wait until September to hear which award they will receive, here’s hoping.”
The judges were guests of a honour at a dinner at the Thames Traditional Boat Festival on Sunday evening.
Attendees included town councillors Will Hamilton and Julian Brookes as well as Cllrs Smith, Gawryisak, Hinton, Eggleton and Hillier.
During the dinner the Mayor was presented with a ceremonial medal by the lead Entente judge — Mr Geeradyn.
Other attendees at the dinner included Henley in Bloom committee member Marisa Francini, Higgs Group managing director Neil Ratcliffe and Sir William and Lady McAlpine.
The dinner was cooked by Stephen Luscombe from Luscombes at The Golden Ball in Lower Assendon.
• Last Thursday Henley was also judged as part of the regional competition Thames and Chiltern in Bloom.
For three consecutive years Henley has won gold gilts in the town category of the competition.
Peter Thompson, from Peppard, and Anne Kempson, from Odney were the judging pair for the town along with Paul Almond — who is training to be a judge.
They were taken on a two hour tour of the town which included many of the stops that were on the Entente Florale tour.
Mr Thompson said: “The judges always enjoy coming to Henley who look after us very well.
“They have done what we expected them to do and the town has been kept very tidy.
“The town has a very clear commitment to community involvement, which the competition is about as much as flowers and horticulture.”