By Betsy Everett
Some of the volunteers who helped make the 18th century Gayle Mill near Hawes a major tourist attraction, gathered for a final photo call yesterday before it closes for essential repairs and upgrading.
Forty volunteers have welcomed guests from all over the world since it opened to the public 10 years ago following a £1.2 million restoration, demonstrating the water-powered Victorian machinery and running workshops on everything from blacksmithing to button-making.
The Christmas craft fair has been a major draw over the years, raising thousands of pounds for the charitable trust, and education has also been a major part of its remit.
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“It is an entirely volunteer-led organisation and without their contribution the mill could not have kept going. It’s as simple as that,” said William Lambert chairman of the Gayle Mill Trust which runs the attraction.
The Trust fear the mill will be mothballed by its owners, the North of England Civic Trust, who oversaw the initial restoration and who now say the mill needs to be cleared for further extensive work to be carried out.
However, the NECT say it will reopen the mill in Easter 2019 once the engineering works are completed.
Meanwhile, Graham Bell, director of the NECT, has turned down an invitation from Councillor John Blackie for representatives of the Trust to “engage with the local community” at the next meeting of Hawes and High Abbotside parish council on Monday, February 19.
“Appropriate procedures” during the legal process prevent the NECT from commenting, says Mr Bell in his letter.
“That process continues until GMT vacates the mill, which GMT’s solicitor has confirmed will take place by 31 March 2018. For that reason, NECT must continue to abstain from any comment or discussion on the matter, which means NECT cannot agree to attending any public or other meetings,” he writes, adding that Gayle Mill has been “part of my life” since 1996.
Mr Bell says the licence to occupy the mill held by Gayle Mill Trust was due to end on 31 March 2016, but NECT had agreed an extension until the end of September, 2017. During that time NECT had consulted widely on the long-term future of the mill, including with Mr Blackie.