‘Seeing the hanging baskets going up is a massive relief this year’

PUBLISHED: 16:30 05 June 2020 | UPDATED: 17:46 05 June 2020

There are hundreds of completed hanging baskets and planters in Bury St Edmunds town centre Picture: JO SWEETMAN

There are hundreds of completed hanging baskets and planters in Bury St Edmunds town centre Picture: JO SWEETMAN

Jo Sweetman 2015

Hundreds of beautiful hanging baskets will greet visitors returning to Bury St Edmunds.

The historic market town is known for its abundant floral displays in the summer months, but there had been a chance this year due to coronavirus its hanging baskets wouldn’t happen.

But, while the numbers have been scaled back, there are still some 500 colourful baskets and planters to greet visitors, coinciding with the reopening of shops and businesses.

MORE: How shopping in Bury St Edmunds will be different after lockdown

Achieving the floral displays is a community effort involving Bury in Bloom, West Suffolk Council, Bury St Edmunds Town Council and the BID (Business Improvement District) Ourburystedmunds, as well as individuals and businesses.

Bury in Bloom co-ordinator David Irvine said: “Seeing all the hanging baskets going up is a massive relief this year, and more so as it coincides with the shops and businesses beginning to open.

A team from West Suffolk Council have been busy putting up some 400 baskets and filling the dozens of planters all over town Picture: JO SWEETMANA team from West Suffolk Council have been busy putting up some 400 baskets and filling the dozens of planters all over town Picture: JO SWEETMAN

“We really wanted the town to look its best after the shutdown and send out a message to residents and visitors: ‘Come and visit the Jewel in the Crown, we’re open for business and ‘dressed to impress’.”

He said with the help of their backers and sponsors, the Bury in Bloom organisation “can at least get through this year and dress the town the way we hoped”.

Mr Irvine added: “Of course, we have had no choice but to cut down on basket numbers this year, however with some careful repositioning, we hope the impact will be hardly noticeable and we have instigated some new projects so there will be plenty to see.

“The Abbey Gardens will look spectacular as always and we are installing a new sculpture of recycled material called ‘Crowning Glory’ and this will be on display from the 6th July. The sculpture inspired by the St Edmunds crown will be two metres high and will have 500 jewels made by children and adults of Bury St Edmunds under lockdown and co-ordinated by Crafty Foxes.

The return of the floral displays around the town centre coincides with the opening of shops and businesses Picture: JO SWEETMANThe return of the floral displays around the town centre coincides with the opening of shops and businesses Picture: JO SWEETMAN

“The ‘Great Big Thank You’ to West Suffolk Hospital called the Fountain of Flowers will be completed next week by the walk-in entrance to the hospital and will be unveiled in late June.”

On Facebook one person said it’s “lovely to see we are getting our lovely hanging baskets back in the town centre” to brighten things up again”.

Another said: “Bury looks so sad without its beautiful hanging baskets. I am so glad to see they are back.”

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Through his business, he aims to build a conservation-based economy connecting visitors with Suffolk’s stunning countryside both digitally and physically through safaris and lectures. “I spend most of my time on safari in farmland habitat on the Shotley and Deben peninsulas,” he says. “This guiding season for Spirit of Suffolk started early March and I had several safari bookings as well as two photography workshops planned throughout March and April.” Philip was just one safari into the season – with one urban fox tour under his belt – with the business really taking off when lockdown measures were introduced on March 23, which meant he had to ditch his planned events. Lockdown hit him hard on a personal level too, he admits. “I always thought I would be able to head out to the countryside still, alone, and with caution. But as lockdown measures were introduced I realised this was not to be the case. “On a personal level this was deeply troubling as time spent in nature forms who I am as a person in both actions and spirit. “From a business perspective initially it felt shattering as I could not operate any of the core elements of the business, and to have started the season so spectacularly well with an amazing first safari and superb urban fox tour I really felt bad for the guests that had trips booked and were now not able to take them. “As a wildlife photographer but living in central Ipswich I also felt limited in what I could do photography-wise.” But he picked himself up and started working on his website and social media strategies. It was a “joy” to provide a vital connection with nature to people stuck at home, he said. “Early on in the lockdown I started a project called ‘On the Doorstep’ in which I would spend a little time each day stood on my doorstep and photograph the comings and goings of people.” The project now forms part of a cultural snapshot of Ipswich in 2020 collated by Suffolk Archives. He also used the downtime to create short books. The two titles – Suffolk Wildlife - A Photo Journey, and Spirit Bear - A True Story of Isolation and Survival – have been “very popular”, selling both in the UK and abroad. They even received an accolade from veteran environmentalist and wildlife broadcaster Sir David Attenborough who described them as “delightful”. He has two more planned – the first of which is Bears and Hares, which is set to be followed by a collection of photo stories from the doorstep project. As lockdown eased in early August he was able to resume his safaris, initially on a two-week trial basis. The pilot proved very successful and as a result he was able to begin booking events again. “Although we are nearing the quieter season I continue to take people out who are keen on enjoying the beauty of Suffolk and its wonderful wildlife and I am personally excited for the beauty and joys of autumn,” he says. “People often purchase the safaris as a gift for someone else and this continues to be popular, as a birthday present or Christmas present that can be redeemed at any point in the future.” From October, he is also planning to resume his one-day photography workshops. “I have always loved showing people the wonders of nature, whether that be a grizzly, a barn owl, killer whales or an urban fox. I think the lockdown period offered a different appreciation for the things around us and I am ever so excited to be with people again and to be showing them all the wonderful wildlife of my favourite spots in Suffolk.” He has had to adapt the tours to ensure safety, but the changes are subtle and don’t detract from the main goal - which is seeing nature, he says. “I now encourage the guest to bring along their own drink and snacks and to also bring their own pair of binoculars. We do wear face coverings while in the vehicle and with the windows open to ensure ventilation. Such changes have been well received by the safari guests and we continue to have some great wildlife viewing.” He’ll be “forever grateful” to his customers and guests for their support and understanding during the pandemic. “Recovery all depends on the current status of local restrictions and the virus itself. I am hoping that a vaccine can be in place as soon as possible. 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