'It's been a team effort' - Driving force behind town's floral success steps down
After six years at the helm of Bury St Edmunds' horticultural organisation Bury in Bloom, Melanie Lesser is stepping down from the role. She met up with MICHAEL STEWARD to discuss her highlights, favourite projects and plans for the future.
When Melanie Lesser took over as Bury in Bloom coordinator in December 2012, she set herself the target of reaching the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) prestigious Britain in Bloom competition.
That dream was realised in October this year when Bury St Edmunds picked up a gold award at a star-studded ceremony held in Belfast.
Qualification for the national RHS competition came through Bury’s victory in the large town category at the Anglia in Bloom awards in 2017.
The community has really backed the campaign for Bury’s floral success, something Melanie says has been vitally important.
“I set out to try to get Bury in Bloom back to where it had been before,” she said. “It hadn’t got to Britain in Bloom for sometime so I was keen to get us there.
“It’s been a team effort. Building the team has been part of my job since I first got involved. There are lots of different sponsors, lots of different people involved.
“People are very keen to say yes now because after building up that relationship, they can see how it improves the town.
“I must say the East Anglian and other local media have been fantastic as I’m able to say, ‘we can get our picture in the paper for this’ so that’s been a big bonus.”
With a dad in the RAF, Bury-born Melanie spent a lot of her younger life in places such as Hong Kong and Cyprus – wherever her father was stationed.
After returning to Suffolk for sixth form at Culford School, Melanie then headed out to York for university, which she describes as a “big Bury”.
From there a career with Marks and Spencer beckoned, and she rose the ranks to work as a regional sales manager at the company’s head office.
Melanie says her experience of travelling the country stood her in good stead for the Bury in Bloom role.
“I moved a lot with them. I would see town centres and see which ones looked good and what I liked about them,” she said.
“I’d think ‘why does this one look better than the other one?’ It was often in the way the streets were presented and I think that stayed in my mind.”
There have been many floral projects all over the town in her time as coordinator, but a few stand out.
“The sculptures have been a highlight,” she said. “My dad was a rugby club fan and taught me about the legend of the wolf and they now tie the scarf around the wolf, which is nice.
“Another lovely project was the ‘River of Flowers’ and that all came about when Adrian Bloom [of Bressingham Gardens] gave a presentation at Anglia in Bloom and he said he’d love to do a river of flowers on a roundabout.
“So I asked him and said, ‘we’d like one in Bury’ and he came and drove every single roundabout in the town. Where it is at Tollgate Triangle is perfect as it’s got a footpath. So it meant the public, ie our volunteers, could go on it and dig. He has just donated 4,000 bulbs for the area, because he knows it will get done.
“That’s one of the things I’ve always tried to do - if we take on a project then we finish it.
“Hosting Anglia in Bloom [awards] this year in Bury was also a real highlight. We hadn’t hosted in my time, but the Apex were brilliant and the delegates really enjoyed it and were very impressed with the venue.”
Steven Moody will be the man tasked with filling Melanie’s shoes, and the outgoing coordinator believes it is a great choice.
“I’ll definitely miss it but I think it’s a good time to hand over when it’s not quite as busy. I’m going to continue with the James Moore project [on the Mount Road roundabout] so I’ll see that through.
“I think Steven Moody is a good person to take over. He’s a town guide, born in Bury, like myself, knows the history, knows people who are involved in all the different areas.”
So what does the future hold post Bury in Bloom?
“I’m still chairman of Bury St Edmunds and Beyond,” Melanie said. “I want to play more golf. I have a stepson in Australia and my daughter’s getting married in 2020 so there is a lot of planning to do for that.
“My husband has recently retired so I’m just looking forward to spending more time with friends around the country. It’s been great fun.”