How Joan’s making Sunderland vibrant

Joan SCP IMGA5092 Ret V3 (Large)

Washington in Bloom began brightening people’s days 20 years ago. Since then, it’s blossomed into 22 keen volunteers aged 10 to 86.

When Joan Atkinson, chair of Washington in Bloom, and her team won Best in Show at last year’s Northumbria in Bloom competition, it was one of their proudest moments. “Winning this fabulous accolade has brought our wonderful village to the attention of the Royal Horticultural Society”, says Joan, “and they’ve now asked us to compete in the national Britain in Bloom competition in August this year.”


Lifting spirits through lockdown

Their hard work has made such a difference to both residents and visitors to the village. Two years ago, during the initial Covid lockdown, it was impossible to buy new plants as the garden centres were closed. Yet, even while following government restrictions, it didn't stop them. Many members used their hour of permitted daily exercise for weeding, splitting plants, and replanting them elsewhere. “People were so appreciative of the work we continued to do”, remembers Joan, “lots of them have told us that their daily walk through the village lifted their spirits.”

The work has also lifted the spirits of the volunteers. Getting involved in any community activity has lots of personal benefits including making new friends, promoting an active mind and body, learning new skills, improving health, and creating a feeling of community spirit and belonging.


“We want to encourage children to appreciate the beauty of nature.”


Nurturing the next generation

For Joan, getting the younger generation involved is vitally important from a community perspective. “We want to encourage children to appreciate the beauty of nature, and the pleasure that flowers, shrubs and trees can give. So we take every opportunity for our local schools, Scout and Guide groups to join in and help.” During lockdown, for example, book clubs were held on the village green so that schoolchildren could keep in touch with their friends as much as possible. And there are many other ways people can enjoy nature in Sunderland. We’re lucky to have acres of green spaces on our doorstep, including award-winning parks and nature reserves.


A thriving village

Washington village now has three thriving coffee shops, two great restaurants and three popular pubs. Businesses have started popping up in the village because so many people want to visit this special place. As Joan says, “I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved over the years. Every time I walk around the village, I see the improvements we’ve made and this is reinforced by the positive feedback we regularly receive.”

Joan’s hope is that others in Sunderland will be encouraged by their successes and feel inspired to copy their approach. “Start small, identify a few achievable projects, and engage with the wider community”, is Joan’s advice. “We’re always willing to chat and help if we can.” Visit to get involved.


Feeling inspired?

Take it further with these related pages and websites:


Find out more about the Washington in Bloom society.

Discover other volunteering opportunities in Sunderland.

Explore Sunderland’s beautiful outdoor spaces.