It’s a sunny Monday morning in April, and a dozen workers are tidying the Rose Garden in the middle of Market Harborough’s Welland Park.
It’s the sort of intensive outdoor labour that hasn’t been seen in Britain since Downton Abbey finished.
How can Harborough District Council afford such an impressive workforce?
Well the answer is that Harborough District Council can’t – no modern council could. These are all volunteers from Market Harborough In Bloom.
The sun shines invitingly as they hoe, weed and tidy round the little black and white spire in the centre of the garden – actually the old Bell Tower from the town’s former Symington Corset factory.
But chair Barbara Tallis has no doubt when she says: “This rose garden wouldn’t exist without the volunteers.
“It’s a year-round job, and the council wouldn’t have the manpower. It would have to be grassed over.”
Not that the council doesn’t contribute – the In Bloom team has an annual grant from them that pays for things like plants and compost.
Other grants come from groups like the generous Market Harborough and the Bowdens charity or from firms like the Co-op, who recently contributed £540, used to buy professional quality tools.
But as anyone who’s ever paid for a garden job knows, the most expensive part is the labour, and that – thanks to Market Harborough In Bloom – is absolutely free.
Their voluntary work can be seen all over the council’s picture-perfect park and indeed all over Market Harborough, from the planters at the canal basin to those little blue trolleys at the railway station.
“I moved to Market Harborough 30 years ago” said Barbara. “I thought this park was wonderful then, and it’s only got better.”
All the volunteers work towards “peak lovely” during the first two weeks in July, when the East Midlands in Bloom judges inspect.
But no one the Mail spoke to mentioned the competition; for them it’s about getting out, keeping fit, being sociable and doing their bit for the community.
“I just love being outside and making everything look so lovely” said Susan Clow, a retired project manager.
“And I’m much fitter than I ever was at my office desk.”
“I live just at the end of Welland Park, and I’ve always wanted to work here” said Helen Davenport, who was in accounts for 40 years. “But I was nervous about coming by myself.”
“So my wife volunteered me” joked her near neighbour Dave Andrews. “I love gardening. I’ve got my own big garden and an allotment!”
“When I moved to Harborough I didn’t know anyone, so this was one of my social activities” said Judith Clarke. “This evening it’s my singing group!”
“I saw an appeal for volunteers in the Harborough Mail” said Alec Scott. “I thought it was a very worthwhile community cause.”
Barbara walks us round to the park’s newly-planted arboretum - 13 trees and 16,000 bulbs apparently.
We sit on benches that look wooden but are actually re-cycled plastic.
“Often when we’re working, passers-by will stop and thank us for the work we do” she said. “But I wonder if people really understand the amount of effort and energy that goes in to making their town look pretty.”
* If you would like to help keep Market Harborough beautiful, contact the Market Harborough In Bloom Volunteers via their Facebook site or at firstname.lastname@example.org