Harry Minns: Your Country Needs You

Monday 2 June 2014

War hero calls on the nation to help Britain bloom

Today, the start of Volunteers’ Week (1-6 June), Harry Minns, war hero and active member of RHS Britain in Bloom, is calling on Britons to pick up a trowel and make a difference to their community. Harry has been a dedicated Bloom volunteer since it started 50 years ago.

Harry, whose crew single-handedly destroyed two German U-boats during the Second World War, doesn’t let the fact he needs two walking sticks stop him from driving local Bloom activity in Caistor, the Lincolnshire town he calls home.

Harry, who turns 91 this week, is urging more people to follow his lead and invest time improving their local streets and neighbourhoods. Known locally as ‘the leading light of Caistor’ Harry has instigated a regular clean-up campaign, running litter-picking days and plants up community spaces.

In 1939 Harry was an able seaman and towards the end of the war was stationed aboard HMS Nyasaland where he and his team’s job was to spot and take out German U-boats. Much of his time was spent out in the North Atlantic. Harry was responsible for sinking two U-boats, receiving a bottle of rum as thanks for destroying one, which was chasing a ship carrying the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.

He says: “We were very much a community aboard that ship – we worked together to keep the place tidy which it had to be at all times, we ate together, we washed the ship together, we looked out for each other. If we stopped off on an island and one of us was bitten by a snake, we would tend to his wounds and kill the snake.

“The sense of togetherness was hugely important and I believe it made me the character I am now. I love being part of the community and think it’s important the environment in which we live is as well maintained as possible. I’m 91 and I have two walking sticks but I won’t let that stop me and I just want everybody in the UK to know – if I can do it, so can you! I’m not saying spend all your time outside sweeping roads or planting flowers, just do what you can – a little goes a long way. So Britain – your country needs you!” Harry added.

A new survey of 300 groups reveals that the army of Bloom volunteers invested more than 10 million hours into planting up and transforming our public spaces last year which equates to nearly £70 million at the national minimum wage.

The report also shows that nearly three quarters of the 3,900 Bloom groups in towns, villages and cities across the UK are led entirely by volunteers so rely on fundraising activities and donations. Last year they raised £17 million to fund local projects and a further £4 million was invested in donations in kind.

Groups planted more than 5 million plants, shrubs and bulbs and in April sowed half a million pollinator-friendly sunflower seeds to create a sea of gold across Britain to mark Bloom’s 50th anniversary. They are also responsible for regenerating 2000 football pitches-worth of neglected land into community growing spaces.

Harry said: “I do it because I care about Caistor, the people of the town and those who come and visit us. I don’t need money, recognition or any other incentive apart from making people feel good about the area.”

Nick Knowles, RHS Ambassador for community gardening, said: “Volunteers like Harry are inspirational. We all like living in nice areas but how many of us actually act on it and make a difference ourselves? Luckily there are hundreds of thousands of Bloom volunteers across the UK who are doing this every day and amazingly nearly a quarter are under the age of 30.

“This year, it’s the 50th anniversary of RHS Britain in Bloom and the 30th Volunteers’ Week so a great opportunity to recognize the contribution of these amazing people.”

Anybody can set-up or join a group for free: http://www.rhs.org.uk/communities  


Notes to editors

For more information, please contact Ed Horne in the RHS Press Office on 020 7821 3356 or email edhorne@rhs.org.uk

RHS Britain in Bloom:
History: The idea came from journalist Roy Hay MBE who went to France during the Fleurissement de France and was enthralled by seeing the country "filled to overflowing with flowers, shrubs and trees all in full bloom".

Bloom started as a way to attract visitors to the UK by the British Tourist Authority. In 1964 Bath was the first national winner. From 1964 to 1969 inclusive there was an overall national winner. From 1970, however, the competition was divided up into a range of categories, because of the difficulty of comparing settlements of different sizes fairly.

Tidy Britain ran Bloom from 1983 until 2001 when it was handed over to the RHS. Since then, Bloom has become a major campaign which brings communities together to enhance the look, feel and pride of a place. The RHS has increased the campaign’s focus on environmental and community-based activities.

RHS It’s Your Neighbourhood: In 2006, the RHS launched a new non-competitive programme for Bloom – ‘RHS It’s Your Neighbourhood’ (IYN) which has gone from strength to strength. Aimed at small, volunteer-led communities, such as youth groups, allotment groups or school gardening clubs, IYN is for any group just starting to green up and clean up their local area.

When IYN started there were 342 registrations. There are now 1,985. In fact, there has been a 20% increase since last year. The rapid growth of IYN is testament to how much British people care about the environment in which they live whether it be rural Surrey or inner-city Edinburgh.

Scale and impact: There are 3,900 RHS Britain in Bloom groups (including IYN groups) and we estimate there to be up to 300,000 volunteers that belong to these groups. Bloom is helping change both the socio-economic and physical landscape of the country. Recent research shows that on average, groups look after 110 acres of green space each (compared to just 10 acres in 2010). It is estimated that UK-wide, Bloom volunteers have transformed an area equivalent to 2,000 football pitches of neglected land, usually crime hotspots used by fly-tippers, into community growing spaces.

RHS Britain in Bloom Impact Report 2011: www.rhs.org.uk/communities/campaigns/britain-in-bloom/britain-in-bloom-results/britain-in-bloom-impact-report

About RHS Britain in Bloom
RHS Britain in Bloom is the UK’s largest community gardening campaign, involving up to 300,000 people. In 2014, the campaign celebrates its 50th anniversary as Britain’s favourite gardening campaign. As part of RHS Britain in Bloom – and its sister campaign, RHS It’s Your Neighbourhood – volunteers in cities, towns, villages, urban communities and neighbourhoods work together to improve their local environment, using gardening as a tool.
To find out more, visit: www.rhs.org.uk/communities

About the RHS
The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 by Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood for the encouragement and improvement of the science, art and practice of horticulture. We held our first flower shows in 1820, were granted a Royal Charter in 1861 and acquired RHS Garden Wisley, our flagship garden, in 1903. From our first meetings in a small room off London’s Piccadilly, we have grown to become the world’s largest gardening charity.

Today the RHS is committed to providing a voice for all gardeners. We are driven by a simple love of plants and a belief that gardeners make the world a better place. 210 years on we continue to safeguard and advance the science, art and practice of horticulture, creating displays that inspire people to garden. In all aspects of our work we help gardeners develop by sharing our knowledge of plants, gardens and the environment.

RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 0845 130 4646, or visit www.rhs.org.uk/join  

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262

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About the RHS

The RHS believes that gardening improves the quality of life and that everyone should have access to great garden experiences. As a charity we help to bring gardening into people's lives and support gardeners of all levels and abilities; whether they are expert horticulturists or children who are planting seeds for the very first time.

RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 0845 130 4646, or visit www.rhs.org.uk

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262