Gayle Mill on course to reopen within a year, say owners

Gayle Mill. Photo: John Illingworth.

By Betsy Everett

Gayle Mill, the historic industrial site at the centre of a bitter dispute between owners and tenants, is on course to reopen within a year.

Breaking his silence after months of speculation about the future of the 18th century mill, Graham Bell, director of its Newcastle-based owners, the North of England Civic Trust, has dismissed rumours that it will be abandoned or turned into housing.

He is calling on volunteers who left when the building closed in March, to return to help during the current phase of repairs, and says fundraising is underway to ensure the future of the heritage site near Hawes.
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He says: “Gayle Mill has been part of my life for over 20 years and the reason volunteers are part of its story is because that’s how we wanted it right from the start – a tribute to the late Alec Dinsdale who at the time was chair of the parish council, who I worked so closely with in the formative stages. I personally, genuinely, want volunteers to know that they are valued and welcome, and there is an opportunity for them to be involved now, not having to wait and see.”

He vigorously denies “local rumours” that the mill would be sold for housing and says that would be “inconceivable”. 

“It would run totally counter to everything NECT stood for, and what the public funding was provided for. The Heritage Lottery Fund has a charge on the property as security for the grant they provided which means we cannot sell or take out a mortgage without their consent, so they certainly are not going to approve a sale for housing. NECT’s aim is that the mill will reopen around Easter next year doing those things for which the mill received funding and support,” says Mr Bell.

He met representatives of the Friends of Gayle Mill last week, prior to their annual meeting on Friday, inviting their continuing support during Phase 4 of the restoration: the first three phases started in 1996 and ended in 2007. 

He explained that for legal reasons the NECT had been advised to make no comment on the situation until vacant possession of the mill had been achieved.

“I know that is difficult to appreciate, but that was the position, which anyone who has been subject to a legal process will recognise. Neither the legal process nor the silence are what I would have wished, and we all know it was not helpful locally, but my hands were tied,” he said.

He asked Friends to continue their support for the mill during the period of works on site through specially arranged site visits and opportunities for volunteering.

He calls on volunteers who worked there under the Gayle Mill Trust, and others who are interested, to contact NECT directly.

“Opportunities will arise in which it is hoped volunteers will play their part, keeping their hand in for when the mill reopens,” says Mr Bell.

“NECT extends the same invitation to all volunteers and supporters, who should contact us directly so that they can be kept informed of opportunities,” he says.

The NECT and the Gayle Mill Trust have been locked in a bitter dispute since a notice to quit was served on the GMT in January, three months after an extended licence to occupy the site had expired. 

Amid claims of bullying and intimidation, the NECT was referred to the Charity Commission – who refused to intervene – by Hawes and High Abbotside parish council in February.

The referral followed a statement by William Lambert, chair of the Gayle Mill Trust, that when the £1.2 million restoration of the 18th century mill was completed in 2007, GMT were expected to sign a full repairing and renewing lease. However, there were so many outstanding problems at that time because the work had been “botched” they refused to do so. Eventually, in March 2011, they signed a five-year “licence to occupy.” 

This was extended by the NECT to the end of September, 2017.

“Contrary to press accounts and therefore the misunderstanding locally, NECT did not drop this on Gayle Mill Trust in November 2017 with no notice,” says Mr Bell.

Gayle Mill had proved a popular visitor attraction since it opened 10 years ago, and Mr Lambert told the parish council in May that a group of visitors had come from New Zealand to visit and were disappointed to see it had closed.

However, Graham Bell says preparation for Phase 4 included work that could not be done while the site was operational.

“It is not compatible in practical or insurance terms to try to operate and have the public on site under those circumstances,” he says.

Mr Bell claims that “not knowing if GMT would comply with the legal process” meant NECT could not make progress with funding bids or planning works on site.

“The process of preparing for and implementing Phase 4 was therefore delayed by almost five months from when the licence to occupy ended and when GMT actually vacated the mill. This could only commence properly from April, and so fundraising is now in hand.

“The delay could have other implications on when works can be undertaken; some works in watercourses can only be done in seasons and at times that limit ecological risks, especially to habitats of protected species. Nevertheless, NECT is still anticipating all works will be completed for re-opening at Easter 2019.”

NECT can be contacted at 0191 232 9279 or admin@nect.org.uk or 12 Trinity Chare, Quayside, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 3DF. The formal statement issued by NECT Trust can be read here http://www.nect.org.uk/news