Belfast Telegraph

‘A blooming beauty’... Broughshane is crowned UK’s Village of the Year

By Allan Preston

Beautiful Broughshane has been crowned UK Village of the Year - thanks to an army of green-fingered volunteers.

Known as the Garden of Ulster, around 1,000 talented residents wowed Channel 4 judges by taking part in a parade showing off the Co Antrim village's floral displays, rich musical heritage and agricultural background.

Presenter Penelope Keith unveiled the winner in the grand final, which was broadcast on Saturday night.

Competition was fierce, with Devon coastal village Beer and Hampstead Norreys in Berkshire also within touching distance of the top prize.

Judges Alex Langlands, Juliet Sargeant and Patrick Grant described Broughshane as "probably one of the most talented villages we've seen throughout the competition".

They added that "the people of Broughshane have a unity and commitment that shines through", and praised the winner as "a village that really pulls together and works hard to make life brilliant".

The competition prize of £10,000 is to be spent on promoting tourism in Broughshane.

Introducing the village to a national audience, former The Good Life and To The Manor Born star Keith described it as "a blooming beauty sitting pretty at the foot of Slemish Mountain, the gateway to the gorgeous Glens of Antrim".

She noted its "secret weapon" was people power, with nearly two-thirds of Broughshane's 1,800 residents signed up as volunteers.

It's believed 8,000 flowers were planted in a year, and volunteers also transformed a derelict swamp into a waterfowl and wildlife centre.

A thriving cafe culture has also flourished in Raceview Mill, a 200-year-old flax and woollen mill that has been renovated for new businesses.

Manager of the premises Dawn McKeown said: "This is why Broughshane works so well - in a big town centre a lot of these businesses wouldn't be here. They need the community of a village and that's how they grow."

With average house prices of £160,000, residents benefit from on-your-doorstep shops, easy commuter access to Belfast and close proximity to the attractions of the Glens of Antrim and Giant's Causeway.

Lexi Scott, chairman of Broughshane's community association, entered the village into the competition. Sworn to secrecy until the final was broadcast, he was unable to tell any locals - even his wife - they had won.

"It's been absolutely terrific. We've had to keep it under wraps but my phone hasn't stopped ringing since Saturday night," he said.

"There's a real buzz of excitement around the village now. The feeling was that we put a tremendous effort in and we're glad it paid off."

Mr Scott credited the high numbers of enthusiastic volunteers for making Broughshane the UK's number one.

A parade to mark the village's entry in the competition included Irish dancers, accordion and fiddle players, alongside a colourful display of vintage tractors.

"We were challenged to put on a parade with a week's notice and we had 1,000 people parading up the Main Street on one of the wettest days of autumn," he explained.

"It was a tremendous feeling of everyone getting together and I think that's because so many of the volunteer organisations here have terrific leaders.

"One of them is Sandy Wilson, chair of the village improvement committee. It wasn't a particularly pleasant day on Saturday but he was still out with volunteers tending to the flower beds. I think that's reflective of all the organisations."

Mr Wilson in turn said he was "absolutely thrilled" for Broughshane.

"People from all generations got involved and it was great to show our work off on national television," he said.

"We feel we were representative not only of our village, but the community spirit you find in the Mid and East Antrim Borough."

Mayor Paul Reid said the victory was an "incredible achievement".

"This success is the culmination of years of hard work, commitment and inspirational community spirit," he said.

"I have no doubt the Village of the Year success will lead to even greater interest in the area from across the UK and further afield."

Available properties in Broughshane include everything from two-bedroom flats to newbuilds and country cottages.

Ryan Gregg, property sales manager at Rainey & Gregg estate agents, says much of the success of Broughshane is down to a tight-knit community that works tirelessly to maintain its "strong aesthetic appeal".

"Broughshane is a throwback to happier times and holds a nostalgic appeal, with a range of thriving locally-owned businesses all offering choice and value with a personal touch," he said.

"There is a charm in walking across the Buttermilk Bridge, along the river path and stepping onto the Main Street that is sadly missing in so many towns and villages in 21st century Britain."

Belfast Telegraph

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