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How To Make Your Local Area Stand Out!

Ahoghill in Bloom 1With just over a week left to enter the ‘Best Kept’ Town, Village and Housing Area category, we thought it would be helpful if we gave everyone an insight into how to impress the judges and make your local area stand out.

Although the official closing date for Town, Village and Housing Area entries is next Friday 24th April, judging is not due to commence until later this summer. Meaning any eager volunteers have plenty of time to demonstrate their civic pride and to spruce up the local area.

Each year the judges travel to every town, village and housing area entered into the competition and assess the following areas;

  • The cleanliness of the streets including the absence of litter, fly posting, graffiti, vandalism and dog fouling;Loughgall 2011
  • The condition of buildings in the area including any derelict premises;
  • Is there advertising present? If yes, where it is situated and how is it maintained?
  • Presentation of the natural environment and any open spaces in the area;
  • The overall appearance of approach roads and public facilities, such as, public restrooms, litter bins, seating areas and car parks;
  • Is there strong evidence of community and business participation, if so, how have local residents and employees demonstrated their civic pride?

In 2014, we received some outstanding entries and we’d like to see even more this year! We’ve listed some quotes from our judges, explaining how last year’s winners really stood out!

‘Best Kept’ Large Village – Ahoghill

“The best way to describe this village is a “show piece” where well-presented villages are concerned!

“Community participation seems to be very much a factor in presenting the village so beautifully.  All properties in the village are very well kept and maintained and have not been allowed to become dilapidated. Open spaces are delightful to visit, there are lots of floral displays sponsored by local people which are carefully positioned throughout the village.”

‘Best Kept’ Small Village – Loughgall

“A clean village with no sign of litter, fly posting, graffiti, vandalism, dog fouling or inappropriate advertising.  All the ingredients needed for a winning village!  Community participation is of a very high level, and residents clearly take pride in their surroundings.  Open spaces, including in the park, are attractively maintained with an abundance of floral displays and tubs throughout the village.”

‘Best Kept’ Large Town – Antrim

“It is evident that huge efforts have been made to improve the appearance of this historic town.  There is ample evidence of civic and community partnership towards enhancing the town’s appearance.  Municipal planting on roundabouts, road junctions and along the main shopping area is superb and hanging baskets are in abundance enhancing the environment for residents and visitors alike.”

‘Best Kept’ Medium Town – Cookstown

“The approach roads into the town are all well maintained with tidy grass verges well interspersed with shrubs and floral display.  All the residential areas were very neat with their owners clearly taking pride in their appearance. Floral displays in the town are most colourful. Business people and residents both clearly take pride in the town and this is enhanced by the civic lead that the district council takes through its floral displays, trees and how it deals with vacant sites.”

‘Best Kept’ Small Town – Randalstown

“This is a very busy, attractive and welcoming town. There is ample evidence of community participation in maintaining a colourful and tidy environment with the provision of several new large planters and litter bins.  All open spaces were well attended and an excellent display of hanging baskets.”

If you think your local town, villages or housing area could do with a tidy up and want to get involved please call us on 02890 403681 or email

You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter @BestKeptAwards

The Importance of Eco-Friendly Dog Walking

Last weekend saw the clocks jump forward an hour, officially marking the start of British Summer Time. TheAlfie prospect of brighter nights and hopefully some dryer weather will, no doubt, encourage people to get outdoors for longer, more enjoyable walks with their four-legged friends. With this in mind, we felt it would be beneficial to remind everyone of the importance of being an eco-friendly dog walker and how volunteers can get involved to help keep our local areas free from dog fouling.

Dog fouling is a serious issue in our communities with primary school children and footballers being the most at risk. Dog fouling which has been on the ground for two weeks or more starts to develop worms which can cause toxacara canis, roundworm, salmonella and E-coli which can result in pneumonia, asthma and blindness.

In the UK, 52% of households have a pet with around 7 million being dog owners.  Northern Ireland has a great dog licencing system, meaning each dog can be traced back to their owner through a microchip. But the area we are still struggling to overcome is dog fouling, it is a bug bearer toFrank many community groups and can be found everywhere from our pavements to local parks and greenways.

To overcome this problem, we are encouraging community groups to get involved and help promote eco-friendly dog walking in our local areas. By simply making sure parks and greenways display dog fouling signage and contain an adequate number of bins for dog owners to dispose of the poo. Volunteers, who are also dog owners, may also wish to carry additional doggie bags to distribute to other dog walkers if requested and make sure, as a community, our beloved pets are leaving only paw prints!

How to Get Rid of Graffiti

Belfast GraffitiOne of the most common problems community volunteers face is ‘Graffiti.’ In some areas ‘street art’ can be a colourful addition to the culture of an area and Northern Ireland has a strong tradition of mural painting.  However, in many areas graffiti simply irritates residents and makes the place look untidy. With only a month until the deadline for entries to the Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ awards for towns, villages and residential area categories, we thought it would be a good idea to share our knowledge on how to remove graffiti.

Graffiti cleaningWith this in mind it is essential that you identify the surface type before attempting to remove the graffiti. Brick, stone, concrete, metal, wood, glass and plexi-glass are just some of the materials that you may find defaced in your local area. Each of these surface areas have a different texture and require different forms of treatment for removing graffiti. We have outlined a few essential tips to help you on your quest of tidying up your community of unwanted graffiti.


  1.  It’s easier to apply graffiti than to remove it! This will become all too familiar once you start working on it. The more recent the graffiti the easier it will be to remove. Don’t be afraid to put some elbow grease into it.
  2. For metal surfaces such as steel doors, mailboxes and lampposts, a liquid graffiti removal solvent, like De-Solv-it Graffiti Cleaner, works best. You will also require some light duty steel wool and a small spray bottle of solvent to allow you to scrub away the paint. We would also recommend a liquid cleaning product to wash down the area after the graffiti has been removed.
  3. When removing graffiti from a brick surface, we would recommend using a biodegradable emulsifier which should minimise the impact on the surface. This will still most likely leave a mark but should fade over time.
  4. Some areas covered in graffiti can be easily improved by simply painting over the affected and surrounding area. This treatment is ideal on surfaces such as wood, garage doors and some wall surfaces.
  5. Graffiti on glass can be removed using paint thinner and a cloth. Please dispose of the cloth responsibly after use.

Graffiti Removal Equipment Checklist

  • Liquid graffiti removal solvent
  • Clean cotton painters rags
  • Dust mask
  • Kitchen cleaner
  • Water spray bottle
  • Safety glasses
  • Bin bags
  • Paint, paintbrushes, rollers etc.
  • Pressure washer if applicable
  • Light duty steel wool

Essential Equipment for Volunteering

Litter Picking Flickr Nic Dafis

Last week marked the start of the search for Northern Ireland’s ‘Best Kept’ towns, villages, housing areas, schools and health care facilities. Each year we are always enthused by the level of support the awards receive from individuals giving up their personal time to volunteer in their local area.

With this in mind, and the hopes of increasing the number of volunteers in each area to drive competitiveness and keep our country looking its best, we decided to help everyone out with an initial essential tools checklist.

Make sure to tweet us if we’ve left anything out! @BestKeptAwards

Health & Safety Equipment

Nitrile Gloves (Variety of sizes)
High Visibility Vests
Overalls/ Coveralls

Litter Pick Equipment

Litter Pickers (Adult & Child)
High Visibility Vests (Adult & Child)
Bag Hoops
Bin Bags
Nitrile Gloves (Hygiene purposes)

Gardening Equipment

Gardening Gloves
Handheld Fork