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INTERVIEW: Melanie Lesser steps down as Bury in Bloom's co-ordinator

With her inclusive brand of community flower power, Melanie Lesser has made Bury St Edmunds a national contender.

In six years as the Bury Society’s Bury in Bloom co-ordinator, she has instigated a rainbow coalition of sculptures, school projects, hanging baskets, competitions and even a river of flowers.

After sowing the seeds for Bury’s Anglia in Bloom win last year and a recent gold in Britain in Bloom, she is stepping down but the roots of her legacy will endure.

Melanie Lesser is stepping down as Bury in Bloom's co-ordinator. Picture: Mark Westley.
Melanie Lesser is stepping down as Bury in Bloom's co-ordinator. Picture: Mark Westley.

Looking back on when she first started, Melanie said: “One of the things I was very keen to do was raise the profile of the In Bloom campaign because I wasn’t aware how much work went in to actually getting things ready for the Anglia in Bloom judges.

“Things existed such as the Young Green Fingers (school gardening competition) and I was keen to extend that to all ages.

“I was keen to get more people involved in our committee and in projects they wanted to do.

“The other thing I learnt was the majority of the income for Bury in Bloom comes from roundabout sponsorship and a number of roundabouts were looking fairly grey and dull.”

With a sculpture of St Edmund already on the Parkway/Risbygate Street roundabout, the stage was set to tell the town’s legend of St Edmund through other roundabout sculptures - a project close to Melanie’s heart.

“My father taught me the legend as he played rugby and was a fund-raiser for Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club,” she remembers.

“He reminded me of it because there’s a wolf on the rugby club logo.”

Indeed one of her proudest achievements is the wolf sculpture on Southgate Green roundabout near the rugby club, which ties a scarf around him for every home game.

Melanie was born in Bury and her father Arthur Veale, was an RAF pilot based at Honington.

They moved all around the world and when she returned to her home town in the holidays, her grandfather Roger Sayce, who worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, taught her about plants and flowers.

After joining Marks & Spencer on a management training scheme, she worked across the south east and at the company’s London head office.

“I was able to see an awful lot of places visiting town centres around the country and I could see what worked well with pedestrianised areas, floral displays, good sculpture and street furniture,” Melanie said.

She later enjoyed a career with the National Trust as visitor services manager at Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire and in the mid-90s joined Ickworth, in Horringer.

Melanie launched a tourism group Visit Bury St Edmunds to promote the town.

She has been chairman of the group, now rebranded as Bury St Edmunds and Beyond, for more than 20 years.

Through her experience, Melanie could see that community involvement was needed to nurture the various sapling schemes of Bury in Bloom.

“It was very important to me, “she said. “I think it was the Young Green Fingers that started it off.

“I went into the schools and saw how much the children loved the involvement and realised every school was different.

“The schools that did involve the parents you could see them really enjoying it and it made me think we could do more parent children projects.

“The more the community is involved, the more they really like what we’ve done.

“For instance, we were worried with the Abbey Gardens where we put in some floral displays that they might be trashed but they haven’t been at all.

“There’s respect there. It’s probably because a lot of people know who did them - they were done by the community.”

Melanie Lesser is stepping down as Bury in Bloom's co-ordinator. Picture: Mark Westley.
Melanie Lesser is stepping down as Bury in Bloom's co-ordinator. Picture: Mark Westley.

She has worked on a number of creative projects with Michelle Freeman, of Crafty Foxes, and has extended the Green Fingers scheme to include pre-schools and nursing homes.

Bury in Bloom has also broadened the reach of its annual certificates of merit, delivered by an army of volunteers to residents for their floral efforts.

“When I took over, there was probably only about 12 to 20 volunteers who tried to do as much as they could around the town,” Melanie said.

“Now we have 60 plus volunteers and we cover every street of the town handing out the certificates.

“People get so much delight from them. They put them in their windows and they want to know when the judges are coming to get their gardens looking good.”

Teamwork has been key to achieving her aims and finding the right person to help plough a path to make them happen.

“The background I had of working with the National Trust and Visit Bury St Edmunds, I could immediately ask people who is the person I needed to speak to,” Melanie explains.

“Also a lot of it is, can you help us here? We can help you there. I learnt very quickly to explain we’re a charity wanting to make Bury St Edmunds a great place and that’s what they want as well so together we’re better.

Among the many individuals and organisations she has worked with are Colin Roberts, manager of the arc shopping centre, and Mark Cordell, chief executive of Our Bury St Edmunds, as well as Woolpit Nurseries, which creates the town’s hanging baskets, Bury town and St Edmundsbury borough councils and the Abbey Gardens Friends.

“I’m very pleased Greene King sponsor us. They’re very supportive and host our parties for Anglia in Bloom,” she said.

“My sadness is I get approached by people from outside the town. It would be nice if we could go out into the town but we can’t. I tell them they can approach their councillor or whoever and I’ve had nice feedback.”

Her teamwork, ambition and dedication have blossomed with recognition from the Anglia in Bloom judges.

“We’ve got gold the last few years and last year we won overall,” she said. “It would be nice to win Britain in Bloom. I think it’s within our capacity.”

One of the nicest things has been meeting everybody. I’ve met so many interesting people who love the town - Melanie Lesser

Melanie will step down at the end of this month and is handing over to Stephen Moody, who is a town guide.

She will continue to oversee a project to honour Bury born cyclist James Moore, who won the 130 kilometre Paris to Rouen race in 1869 aged just 20.

A sculpture will be placed on the Orttewell/Mount Road roundabout and Moyses’s Hall Museum will host an exhibition.

On stepping down, Melanie said: “I’ve done six years and I wanted to get us to Britain in Bloom which I did. I’ve now got a retired husband and we want to do a bit more travelling.

“I’ve a step son in Australia and my daughter is getting married in 2020 so I thought it’s the perfect time really.”

Asked about her proudest moments, she said: “I do love the wolf partly because of the background with my father. He’s a great entry into the town.

“I’m also very proud of the hanging baskets. I do think it’s the cleanliness. I don’t like it when I see a lot of rubbish and we’re getting better.

“One of the nicest things has been meeting everybody. I’ve met so many interesting people who love the town.”