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: www.rhs.org.uk/communities