Stand by for hectic days ahead as tidy towns judges return

This weekend is one of the most significant ones of the year for thousands of volunteers in community groups around the country as the flag effectively goes up for the last-minute preparations and adjudication of entries in the 2022 National Tidy Towns awards.

A hectic ten weeks or so now lies ahead for the hard-working committee members on the ground – as readers will no doubt soon see as they drive around the country and spot the lawnmowers and the men and women in the yellow fluorescent jackets going into absolute overdrive in anticipation of the arrival of the judges.

The closing date for entry applications from hundreds of towns and villages is this Friday, May 20th. That in itself has been a mammoth task for the voluntary workers as many of these entries are now more akin to heavy volumes of books and encyclopedias instead of just entry forms anymore – such is the level of content that is now expected to be submitted in advance of the big day of judgement. After the scourge of Covid-19, the return of the actual judges to each village and town is another big plus this year – and a very welcome one too. It’s safe to say that thousands of Tidy Towns volunteers across the country are thrilled to see the competition back in full swing.

Mind you, it’s not as if the Tidy Towns groups have been slouching or dossing during the pandemic. Far from it. Most have shown great strength and resilience in recent times and have continued to put their shoulder to the wheel in keeping their towns and villages looking their best, when needed most. But the absence of that special visitor (the judge) in the early part of the summer to put the hard work and improvements under the microscope with his or her red biro has been sorely felt.

Adrenaline rush

As a former Tidy Towns volunteer and committee member myself, I know the sort of adrenaline rush that comes with the first sighting of the elusive Tidy Towns judge in the village – something akin to the sighting of the first swallow in many parts! The judges are not allowed to reveal their identity or even consult face to face with the locals, but there’s always a frenzy of activity when the first local resident thinks he or she has spotted the man or woman with the TT checkerboard and the yellow bib getting out of their car in early June and starting to open up maps and photos on the bonnet as they search for their first location to adjudicate upon. The text messages, whatsApps and phone calls soon circulate in the parish and a ‘spy’ from the local committee is often sent out to observe the movements of the suspected judge – albeit from a safe distance! The week starting June 6th or thereabouts is usually the real kick-off for this, so keep an eye out!

The Tidy Towns competition itself has changed drastically down through the years. The competition commenced in 1958 when there was a clear focus on the tidying up of ‘eyesores’, the development of flower beds and hanging flower baskets, and a huge emphasis on the cross-community cooperation level. Nowadays, the gig has become one of Ireland’s best-known sustainable and environmental initiatives – with more points going for things like recycling or using renewables than having your poor lonely old potted buzy lizzie plant on display, or presenting a delightfully painted parish pump in the centre of the village.

Tidiness and litter control is of course still a big point-getter, but anyone who has analysed the scoring process and how the competition is now evaluated will tell you that there are far more points to be won in categories that have a focus on things like nature, biodiversity, sustainability, and doing more with less. The points are hard won in these categories but often hold the key to gaining a big boost in the annual report.


The competition is open to all areas, big or small, urban or rural, and each are entered under their respective population categories. This is where the great rivalry comes into it with some of the smaller villages sticking out their chest and showing up their near neighbours with a bigger population by proving they can bring the whole community together far better than anyone else and win either a category, or even a medal.

All towns and villages are encouraged to prepare what’s called a multi-annual strategic plan into their application to try and guide their activities. The simple reason for this is to encourage a step by step coordinated approach to new developments and projects in the area over a number of years. This is to ensure that we don’t just see one mad burst every five years by the local volunteers doing new projects, but a certain consistency to the work that is being done over a 5-10 year period.

Getting a few extra points every year from the judge is obviously the central target but in recent times there have been a number of interesting new categories added, with prizes offering the opportunity to win anything from 500 euro to ten thousand euro in special cash prizes. The aim of the Irish Water Value Water Award is to raise awareness of the importance of mindful water consumption in communities so you can enter by using water butts instead of hosepipes to garden common areas – and even by coming up with car washing schemes that use less water, as they have done in some areas.

Special awards

The ‘Our Community Climate Action Award’ is another new one that aims to raise awareness and promote positive behaviour change in local communities. This is part of the clear moving away from things like just picking up litter or re-thatching the local house to making an actual difference instead to things like greenhouse gas emissions and saving the beloved ozone layer.

Of course recognising the absolutely powerful role of the humble bumble bee and other pollinators is now centre stage in the modern competition. As one volunteer said to me recently, there were times when we could have called that a field of weeds on the way into the town, but thankfully nowadays you can stick up your Tidy Towns pollinator signs along the roadside outside the field and count yourself in for at least another one or two extra tidy towns points from the judges!

Finally, let me take this opportunity to wish every tidy towns committee well in the weeks ahead. The lawnmowers and strimmers are now well oiled and rearing to go, the paint brushes are being ‘warmed up’ in the turpentine jars, the sweeping brushes standing to attention in the halls and garages. Let the fun begin – and may the best town or village win!