Greatest show in district needs you

St Mary Magdalene Fleet flower festival.'Arrangers Sandra Carter and Isobel Hutchinson work on red and gold chancel arrangements.'Photo:  SG010513-122TW ENGANL00120130105174000
St Mary Magdalene Fleet flower festival.'Arrangers Sandra Carter and Isobel Hutchinson work on red and gold chancel arrangements.'Photo: SG010513-122TW ENGANL00120130105174000

It promises displays of millions of flowers and an army of church members are already on standby to serve thousands of cuppas and slices of cake.

The festival that until now has prospered quietly in the shadow of the Spalding Flower Parade is hoping this will be the year it blooms in its own right.

Twenty-one churches across South Lincolnshire are set to launch their annual flower festivals from the end of the week, which before the final parade last year attracted thousands of people as part of a 10-day celebration of the district’s floral heritage.

It is estimated they are worth more than £100,000 to the churches – vital funds needed to keep the historic buildings open.

But in spite of signs that loyal visitors are already booked in to visit some of the bigger festivals, others – hidden away from main roads – are concerned they will be overlooked.

Sandra Carter, of St Mary Magdalen Church, Fleet, said: “Our church raises about £500 from the refreshments we serve and we rely on it as our biggest fundraiser to keep going. But we are worried that because we are away from the main road people won’t see us and will forget about us.”

Co-ordinating the festivals as a major event for the area in itself could well be a job for the new Spalding town centre manager. But meanwhile, the Free Press is appealing to residents to get behind the biggest community event in the district and make it the best year ever.

In our sister newspaper, the Spalding Guardian, we will be publishing a map of the church flower festival trail across South Holland in Thursday’s edition, which also features a 20-page pull-out guide to the Springfields Festival and Tulipmania over the May Bank Holiday weekend, May 3 to 5, produced with the help of Tulip Radio.

MP John Hayes will not need any encouraging to visit the church flower festivals in his constituency.

He said: “It is no secret that I am one of the biggest fans of these festivals and I have visited them all without fail for the past 16 years.

“They are valuable in defining our area and its floral heritage, not only raising much-needed funds for churches but bringing people into these historic buildings who might not otherwise see them.

“The community spirit warms my heart I’m always getting into trouble from my wife for bring home books and plants – I just can’t help myself.”

Twelve coaches have already booked in for lunch at one of the biggest flower festivals in the area St Peter and Paul’s Church, Gosberton.

The Rev Ian Walters said: “For 10 days our hall is transformed into a restaurant and we already have people booked in so we are hoping it will be a success.

“Last year we made £10,000 profit for the church and it is vital funds that we need to keep running.

“It’s the biggest community event of the year and brings together four primary schools who have contributed with displays as well as guides, brownies and other groups.

“Hopefully, the people who visit our festivals will visit the others too.”

The invitation is being extended across all the churches. Vicar of St Mary and St Nicolas Church in Spalding, the Rev John Bennett, says there will be a warm welcome awaiting everyone who visits the festivals.

He said: “In the past it’s always seemed to be about the Spalding Flower Parade and last year, when the focus was on the final one, it was very frustrating.

“I’m disappointed South Holland District Council hasn’t got behind it more, but I realise they are strapped for cash.

“We have a loyal regular following and we hope they still come. But we are also hoping we get some new visitors this year.

“We’d like to reach out to people from across the region and say there’s still a warm welcome in Spalding. Come and enjoy the beautiful displays.”