Historic Norfolk windmill could close

Ben KendallIt is a reminder of a bygone age when the sight of gently turning windmill blades dominated many Norfolk skylines - but now one of Norfolk's last working windmills is facing closure.Ben Kendall

It is a reminder of a bygone age when the sight of gently turning windmill blades dominated many Norfolk skylines - but now one of Norfolk's last working windmills is facing closure.

Denver Mill has towered over the Fens south of Downham Market for almost two centuries. In recent years the ravages of time have taken their toll and now, if a dispute over maintenance is not resolved, its doors may be opened to the public for the last time.

Mark and Lindsay Abel, who rent the iconic landmark from the Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust (NHBT), claim they are making a loss because their landlord has not carried out essential repairs.

NHBT chairman John Birkbeck said the trust had earmarked �100,000 for the work but had found it difficult to find specialist contractors.

But Mr and Mrs Abel, who took on the mill 18 months ago, say they can only continue until the end of January and 13 staff face redundancy.

'The main issue is a complete inability for the two sets to communicate in a way that we both understand,' said Mrs Abel.

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'We're running the project for the county and they're collecting rent and making money. They don't understand passion, I don't think.

'We turned round a failing business. We feel, and our customers feel, that we've done a good job.

'We push and push and push and push, but all we are getting is that we are complaining all the time.'

The windmill was built in 1835, gifted to the county in 1969 and sold to the NHBT by Norfolk County Council. NHBT membership is made up of nominated representatives from the council and Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Norfolk.

The Abels took over the mill complex in 2008 to promote and preserve traditional country life and this year they installed a new mill to make bread a stone's throw from where the grain was grown.

They recently met with the NHBT for a 'mediation meeting' and Mr Birkbeck said a report was being drawn up about maintenance issues.

'We're doing what we can, we do not wish to see the Abels go broke, it is our desire to have that place working,' said Mr Birkbeck.

'The work on the mill is progressing and the cottage windows have been repaired and I understand the work on the cottage floor is about to be done.

'We are very disappointed that things have turned out the way they have. It is no ambition of ours that Mr Abel should be anything but successful there and we are doing all we believe we can to help him.'

Mr Birkbeck said they had 'various options' if the Abels did leave the project.

'I suppose either trying to find a new tenant or put in a manager and manage it ourselves, or sell it,' he said.

County councillor Richard Rockcliffe said that there was a 'personality clash' between Mr and Mrs Abel and the NHBT, who are funded by the council.

'It's an iconic building for the area and I believe that the tenants there have done a cracking job to develop the facility,' said Mr Rockcliffe, a nominated council representative on the trust.

'It's most unfortunate the way that things have gone. I can't see that the NHBT have got a plan B if the tenants do pack up there and it's not just a crying shame that it will close, it's a catastrophe for the area.

'It puts a big question mark over the funding going to the NHBT.'

The Abels have already collected hundreds of signatures from customers pledging their support to keep the project open.

Customers were shocked when a sign was put up at the mill explaining that it was due to close.

Julie and Andrew Davy, from Downham Market, have been visiting the mill since moving to the county eight years ago. They have signed the petition to support the Abels.

'Mark and Lindsay put their heart and soul into this place,' said Mrs Davy, 54. 'There's a hard working crew here.

'The whole thing is part of our heritage. It would be horrendous if it was left to go to rack and ruin.'

Mr and Mrs Abel said that issues affecting the site included severe damp in the holiday cottages, water ingress in numerous areas of the site and compliance notices from Health and Safety officers and the Fire Service.