Broughshane village wins top prize at RHS Britain in Bloom awards
A County Antrim village has won the top prize at the Britain in Bloom awards, while another won gold - after their community garden was put up for sale.
Broughshane was crowned Champion of Champions, a title given to communities who have done consistently well in the UK wide-contest over the years.
Ahoghill is also celebrating a gold medal in the Best Small Town category.
It follows controversy over a move to sell its recently opened community garden which was built on waste ground.
The awards, which are run by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), were presented at a ceremony in Guernsey on Saturday night.'Sense of pride'
It was the second time Broughshane was selected by the RHS judges as Champion of Champions, having previously won the title in 2007.
One judge said "the sense of pride in the community is refreshingly evident" and added that the award was given in recognition of "25 years of solid hard work and vision" by the villagers.
The chairman of Broughshane village improvement committee, Sandy Wilson, led a nine-strong delegation to the Channel Islands to collect the award.
He said: "We were absolutely thrilled, because we have won Britain in Bloom a number of times - I think 10 times since 1993 - but this is the top award and, because this is our 25th anniversary, it's a very special year.
"It's a tribute to all of those people in the village of Broughshane and the surrounding area who help us in all of our community work."Challenge
He added that the "very prestigious title" would help to raise the profile of the village, attract more visitors to Broughshane, thus supporting the jobs of the 300 people currently employed there.
Mr Wilson also extended his contratulations to the neighbouring County Antrim town of Ahoghill, who won their first ever gold medal in the small town category.
He said the double honour was a "tremendous achievement for the borough of Ballymena" but added that his colleagues in Ahoghill had faced "a little challenge or two".
Earlier this year, residents and traders spent about £7,500 transforming a government-owned plot of land in Main Street, Ahoghill, which had been derelict for years.
The Department of Regional Development's Roads Service, which owns the site, has plans to clear it and sell it off to a new owner.
The garden was officially opened in August, in the presence of RHS judges.Warned
However, at the time a DRD spokesperson confirmed that they still intended to proceed with the sale.
They said they had already warned the residents that the land was to be sold and had "never given any formal approval allowing people to build a community garden on DRD land".
Speaking on Sunday, James Perry, secretary of Ahoghill Traders Association, said locals were hopeful that the issue would soon been resolved.
He said Ballymena Borough Council was now negotiating with DRD on behalf of the community in the hope the garden could be saved.
Mr Perry also said that his community had worked very hard to improve their town over the years and were delighted at being crowned the UK's Best Small Town, after winning the same category in Northern Ireland for five years in a row.
He said that, between them, residents and traders spend about £15,000 a year in their attempts to improve their area, without any form of government or lotterty grant.
Mr Perry added that the improvement programme had "100% support" among traders, with every business in the Ahoghill sponsoring flower beds and boxes.