Thursday, 10 November 2016

Volunteering – review of 2016 visitor season

Volunteering – review of 2016 visitor season


Weekly opening from Wednesday to Saturday between 10.45 am and 4.00 pm commenced in June. I opened the mill on 18 days in June, 12 in July, 15 in August and 18 in September. There were 2,450 visitors; one quarter were children. I took £5,100 in admissions. Trustees and other volunteers dealt with other admissions, for which donations were made. There were free admissions for visits by working groups, National Park staff etc.


The donation points in reception and at the exit were really successful, raising £xxx. Visitors donated generously for old library books and stocks of post cards; only a few now remain.

Guided tours

I gave 384 guided tours, mostly to small groups of 2 to 4 people. The maximum group size was 27. Visitors’ responses to the mill were overwhelmingly positive. Retaining its character, the chance to see milling in action, and taking home a bit of Eskdale, were high priorities.


The achievement I am most proud of was the recruitment of volunteers in January and February. Volunteer numbers have never been great, but they have achieved a tremendous amount. The mill’s internal appearance has changed substantially and a logical story has been laid out for visitors to follow. Volunteers significantly enhance their experience and allow smoother running of tours.

At the start of the season volunteers returned the upper wheel to running order. A regular maintenance routine for the stones is in place. Finger-post signs now orientate visitors to the mill. The leaflet dispenser made by Rod Chilton was hugely popular.

The skills base and enthusiasm of the volunteers is immense; they have contributed on 24 days, with 4 to 6 volunteers present on average. They are a tremendous group of individuals, with wisdom, insight and a quiet but deep seated love of the place. The Trust organised a training event and an enjoyable visit to Acorn Bank and Little Salkeld Mills, when a lot was learned.

Partnership building

Several tour operators include the mill in their itineraries, and relationships for future visits have been created. I organised two working holiday task days, generously donated by the National Trust, when a great amount was achieved. The National Trust also provided drystone walling training for volunteers. Future volunteer-guided walks have been planned with the National Park.
I applied successfully on behalf of the Trust to NuGen (who hope to build the new nuclear power station near Sellafield) for a grant to buy garden tools for volunteer tasks in the grounds. I discussed a grounds management plan with Cumbria Wildlife Trust. The partnership with Heron Corn Mill at Beetham was invaluable, particularly when our millstone bearings needed rebuilding.

Karl Bartlett, Volunteer Development Officer

The Trust is deeply grateful to Karl and all the volunteers who helped at the mill this year : John Bromage, Cliff Carter, Rod Chilton, Leslie Coan, Richard Eastman, Peter Harnett, Karen Mason, Iain McNichol, Megan O’Gorman, Chris Reay, Rosie Robinson, Len Watson and Jude Wildwood.


The first use of water power to generate electricity at Eskdale corn mill was in the 1930’s. The winnowing machine, formerly part of the oat milling machinery, was replaced by a dynamo, which only supplied sufficient power for DC electric light in the cottage.

In 2008, after the Trust took over, it was thought that a turbine could be installed in the watercourse to generate renewable energy. However, in those early days of the Trust’s existence, the acceptability of hydro power in sensitive areas was not clear. In 2012, in view of government initiatives for encouraging alternative means of generation, the Trust returned to the possibility of producing electricity. Visitors would see that water can not only do mechanical work for milling corn, but also convert mechanical work into electricity, a far easier way to transfer energy to where it is needed.

Another attractive reason for generating was that the revenue earned would provide financial support for maintenance of the site. The Feed-in Tariff is a government incentive for supplying clean, renewable energy to the national grid. A waterwheel was eventually preferred over a modern concealed turbine, both for its historical continuity, and its visual attraction of visitors to the mill, even though the power it delivered would be much less than by a turbine.

The construction phase is essentially complete, and testing of the waterwheel’s generating capacity has shown that it is capable of producing at least 3kW. We have been given approval to operate by Ofgem, and have signed a contract with British Gas, who provide electricity to the cottage, as our Feed-in Tariff licensee.

David Moore, joiner of Gosforth, and his team have built a new launder to carry water from the mill race to the top of the wheel, assisted in all aspects of the project by exceptional efforts from volunteers. The control panel has been installed in the hayloft, above the stable. Final adjustments have been made to its electronics, to make start-up simpler, and to prevent the waterwheel turning too quickly if there is a local failure of the electricity supply.

Fencing has been erected around the area near the sides of the wheel, and covers have been made to protect the bearings, motor and gearbox from the weather. Additional soundproofing of the generator will be tested over the next few weeks. When that is judged to be satisfactory, the waterwheel will begin to supply renewable energy to the grid and earn 25.4 pence per kilowatt-hour generated.

All cabling is in place and CCTV cameras are working to check on safe operation. It should be possible to monitor the system via the internet, using a camera which shows the control panel.

Len Watson

Editor’s note This report refers in passing to the exceptional efforts of volunteers, but does not do justice to the hundreds of hours of skilled work put into the project by Len Watson and Rod Chilton, assisted by Richard Eastman and Cliff Carter.

Heritage Lottery Fund project update

  • the good news
We learned a year ago that our round-1 application to HLF was successful, but did not receive permission to start detailed planning and costing until April 2016. This frustrating period, when parts of our budget were substantially revised, meant that the November 2016 target for submission of our round-2 application was uncomfortably tight.
We appointed Shirley Muir Associates of Blennerhasset, who helped us with the round-1 bid, as project organisers, against competitive quotations. We invited tenders and appointed Peter Kempsey, architect, of Countryside Consultants in Alston to lead the design team, and Minerva Heritage of Lancaster to produce an activities and interpretation plan. Chris Healy of Minerva wrote our 2014 options appraisal , and is now working on our business plan. Lisa Keys is handling activity and interpretation, assisted by The Way Design.
Peter’s team is : Stuart Hobbs, millwright (Greenodd); Blackett Ord Conservation, structural engineers (Appleby); AE Robb & Associates, mechanical/electrical engineers (Newcastle); William Shaw, quantity surveyor (Newcastle); James Woolgrove Associates, health and safety (Carnforth); Wardell Armstrong, archaeology (Carlisle); Hesketh Ecology, (Silloth).
All worked hard over the summer, whipped in when necessary by Dave and Shirley Muir. The Trust is grateful to them all. We discussed their progress and invited comments at meetings, bringing trustees, advisers and volunteers together for the first time, and local residents, businesses and organisations to the mill, continuing discussions at the Boot Inn. We met the planning authority and Copeland BC’s disability adviser.
  • and the not so good news
By 30 September and our second HLF review meeting, we had, or were on target for, all the information needed to submit our round-2 application in November. But we knew from the quantity surveyor that building costs for restoration of the mill and cottage were significantly higher than expected, taking the project cost from £807,000 to £1,005,000. On a well-argued case, HLF may allow a 10% increase in the round-1 estimate, but ours is over 20%.  
Some major additional items could not have been foreseen last year, and removing them would damage the project’s sustainability.  Our architect is looking at cutting some non-essential items.
In October, the trustees decided to defer our round-2 application until March 2017, whilst we seek funds to close the gap.  After informal discussion, we hope that Copeland Community Fund and LEADER will increase match-funding, reducing the gap to £75,000.  Potential sources for raising that amount have been identified. 
An immediate problem is that consultants are close to their round-1 budgets, expected to end in November.  We need help to pay additional fees to during the extended development phase until March, particularly on new funding bids.  Applications to raise that money are being made now.
The result of a deferred HLF round-2 application will be known in June, too late to complete tendering and building work in 2017. A start in spring 2018 now seems likely, with another season of relying on the sterling efforts of volunteers next year.

What will it look like ?
Parts of the mill will be re-roofed and some timbers will be replaced. There will be some masonry repairs and re-instatement of lime mortar. Otherwise, the mill will not change much externally. Inside, the machinery driven by the lower wheel, which has not turned for many years, will be restored to working order. We expect to be able to produce flour for human consumption, but not to produce it on a large scale.
Internally, the stages of milling will once again become clear, explained by new interpretation signs. As during 2016, the main entrance will be through the double doors, into the room used in recent years as the custodian’s private office. There will be screens in this room, to provide a virtual tour for visitors who cannot access the mill itself. The garage, previously a workshop and store, will undergo major renovation (acceptable to the planners because it does not involve changing the main building) to provide a reception, shop and toilet with disabled access.
The double privy will be restored as part of the tour, and the ruined piggery behind it will become the new workshop. The hayloft over the stable, which already houses the hydro control panel, will be a volunteers’ rest room. Both the stable and the byre, previously a private store, will be accessible to visitors. Dilapidated fencing and external steps will be replaced. There will be improved signage from Dalegarth station.
The cottage, a sorry sight once emptied, will be tanked to deal with extensive damp, and completely refurbished. We would have liked to gain more space by erecting a large shed behind the cottage, but the planners will agree only to a small fuel store. There will be a wildlife management plan for the whole of the grounds, including the field, which has already been partly cleared of brambles by volunteers.
There will be a new website and presence on social media, and a new format for this Newsletter.

Can you help ?
We have to raise £75,000 in three months. If any member is able to help, either financially, in kind, or by volunteering for work on site or administrative assistance, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please contact any trustee. Eskdale mill needs you!

Paul Pharaoh