Town will be back on parade
In its heyday, Spalding Flower Parade was the jewel in the town’s crown. At its peak the world-famous event attracted 100,000 visitors to the area. Now after a ten-year break one man is determined to bring it back, as Kate Chapman reports.
Stephen Timewell has always been a keen supporter of the parade, which ran from 1959 to 2013, and says he has long felt the time was right for a revival. Now he and a team of volunteers are making plans for its return on Saturday 13th May 2023, when they promise a fresh new look, while incorporating many elements of nostalgia.
So far plans include a parade of decorated floats through the town centre alongside dance and school groups, marching bands and vintage and classic vehicles to help create a carnival atmosphere plus a large craft fair, family entertainment, food and charity stalls.
“I’ve always thought the parade should be revived, but it’s such a massive task, nobody seemed interested,” said Stephen, a journalist and director of aerial imaging service Lincolnshire Drones.
“When we had the Jubilee celebrations earlier this year, Spalding didn’t have a great deal going on, there were a lot of complaints, but there was also a lot of community spirit there.
“I thought, maybe this is an ideal opportunity, so I put one simple post on social media and within ten minutes it had gone viral! That Sunday I had 200 messages and emails from people all over wanting the parade back and encouragement to get things going.”
Since then Stephen, who lives in Pinchbeck, has met with South Holland District Council, Lincolnshire County Council and Lincolnshire Police to discuss the logistics of staging a parade, including road closures, policing and health and safety.
“The response to this is beyond anything I could have imagined,” he said.
“I’m getting a couple of hundred messages about it each day. And out of every person I have contacted, asking for help, not one has said no.
“We’ve got some major sponsors on board, including South Lincs Security, which is donating thousands of pounds worth of free support with training for marshals, security, comms and more.
“We’re getting a lot of interest from big companies about having floats and also smaller companies too. We’re not trying to turn back the clock to how it used to be. As I see it, it would be nice to have a couple of big floats, like there used to be, and then more smaller ones from smaller companies, which they’ve decorated themselves.
“We’re trying to create more of a carnival atmosphere with dance bands, schools and other groups.”
Weather permitting, the floats will be decorated with real tulips after a grower in Terrington St Clement, Norfolk, offered to grow them for the occasion – although Stephen has a back-up plan to use artificial ones if necessary. He adds that everyone involved in the event is volunteering, so to ensure the event’s success he has created a crowdfunding campaign, to cover any costs incurred.
“When I spoke to South Holland District Council I didn’t ask for money, I didn’t expect it, as there’s none there, and I understand people don’t want to pay more in their council tax bill,” adds Stephen.
“Everyone involved in this is volunteering. The most expensive thing for us will be the public liability insurance – we’ve got to raise money for that. We won’t know how much that’s going to be until everything is in place, but we’re aiming to raise £50,000, which I think is in reason.
Within a matter of weeks, the campaign has rasied over £7,000. Stephen adds: “We’re applying to get charity status too, which should help to make things a bit easier.”
The 2023 parade will cover a 2.94-mile route, starting and finishing at the Castle Sports Complex. As in previous years it will be led by a Flower Queen, although this time around, to make things inclusive, two Spalding Ambassadors will be chosen to ride in the procession. The contest will take a similar format to previous years when people can apply, with the winners chosen at a live final taking place as part of a cabaret-style show at the South Holland Centre, which will be another parade fundraiser.
“If I was to sum it all up in one sentence it would be that this really has brought out the best in Spalding people. It’s brought out the community spirit in everybody, all pulling together and it’s going to be a massive benefit to the town,” Stephen said.
“There’s a whole generation of Spaldonians – children up to the age of 10 – who’ve never seen the parade and of course, our new foreign residents who have no idea of what kind of event we’re capable of putting on.
“There’s still a lot to do, but I want to involve as many people as I can. This is not my parade, I’ve just lit the fire, other people need to help fan it now and build from there.”
Stephen says anyone can volunteer in any capacity. There are opportunities to help with publicity, fundraising, marshalling on the day as well as manning stalls.
He added: “I would like it to be an annual event – but we won’t know if that’s possible until the day after this one. It would be nice to have it back every year but whether Spalding can afford it and cope with it, I have no idea.
“But the response so far has been unbelievable. I’ve been contacted by a former Spalding resident, who now lives in Belgium, who’s already booked his ticket back for 6th May! Other people have been in touch to say they’ll help pick the flowers for us – they’ve not even been planted yet!
“There’s definitely a want for it and a need for it – everything that’s happened so far is already beyond my expectations. There’s a lot of work ahead but we’re getting together a group of about nine people so I can delegate and we’re really looking forward to it.”
The origins of Spalding Flower Parade stem back to the 1920s and 30s. The Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary, in 1935, coincided with when the tulips were in flower and attracted a lot of attention and visitors to the area. In 1948 the Growers’ Association became involved in organising Tulip Week – a 25-mile tour of the area showing off the best fields which attracted visitors by the coachload. By 1950 Tulip Week had been developed to become Tulip Time, with events over three designated weekends.
To ensure there would always be tulips on display – even if not in the fields – millions of tulip heads were removed, and some kept for decorative purposes. The first parade was held in 1959 and this event soon became more popular than the tours of the fields.
The annual parade ran until 2013, when due to rising costs, a number of sponsors withdrew their support and two local authorities said they would no longer pay for it.
To find out more about the 2023 event and how to get involved visit spaldingflowerparade.org.uk or to make a donation visit justgiving.com/crowdfunding/flowerparade
Credit: 2013 Parade photographs copyright Nicky Rogers