Volunteer Miller, Winchester City Mill
A Volunteer Miller at Winchester City Mill since 2001, Bob Goodwin has been hugely instrumental in helping the National Trust to restart milling here following a gap of 90 years. Bob’s still as excited about our project as he was on his first day at City Mill. He’s determined to make sure production continues.
I took early retirement after 33 years in the electronics industry and spotted an advert for a paid Mill Assistant here. From the start I realised my paid hours weren’t sufficient to develop the mill as I wanted, so I began volunteering. When I got my state pension I decided to concentrate solely on voluntary work.
My interest in milling was sparked when I delivered a course about industrial archaeology at the local college. Years later my wife and I began volunteering at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in Chichester. Milling on a Sunday quickly became the perfect antidote to work on a Monday. After 10 years the 100 mile round trip had become a bit of a grind. The opportunity to begin in Winchester was perfect timing.
It was the milling that initially attracted me to the role. I’ve always had great respect for the National Trust though, particularly the work they do in their outdoor places. I’ve recently finished walking the South West Coast Path and realised the extent to which they look after those outdoor and coastal areas of South West England.
The milling process
When I first arrived in 2001, I was responsible for developing the process we use today. My day begins with a long list of tasks, from checking the safety alarm to inserting the slip cogs so that the millstones will turn. Following a detailed start-up procedure we wind up the sluice gate to start the mill. Once everything is running much of our day is spent monitoring the machinery and hoisting the 25kg sacks of grain to maintain a constant feed.
We’re always engaged in the practical process, but our interaction with visitors is fundamental to our day. We try to greet everyone as they come in, explain the layout of the mill and what they can see. We’re able to explain the purpose of each piece of machinery and how it works; we get asked all sorts of questions.
We mill to inform and entertain our visitors; we’re not a flour business. All of our output is sold though, in our shop and other National Trust shops, and to local bakers.
Building our team
I’ve helped recruit and train new millers to the team. It’s a very sociable activity, the really intensive work is done at the beginning and end of the day, so there’s always time to chat to colleagues.
Over the years our team has become my circle of friends, we have some great social evenings and pub get-togethers. There’s also a wider community of millers throughout the country; we’re all kindred spirits. Summer holidays to Lyme Regis quite often see me filling a gap in the local mill’s rota, much to the amusement of my wife.
We work closely with our volunteer bakers too. Working here when there’s a baking demonstration on is a pleasure. Wonderful smells fill the place and any plates of samples that are put out don’t last very long. It’s fair to say that the millers are well fed.
Help save our mill
When the mill flooded in 2014 the clean-up process revealed a lot of damage to the supporting beams. Everything has now been carefully propped up but it’s essential that permanent repairs are made to secure the building. We’ve done a lot of work to restore the machinery thanks to Ian Clarke our excellent millwright. Now we’re doing everything possible to guarantee the life of the building that houses it.
We need to raise £125,000 to begin the repair work and to support this our volunteer milling team will be doing more milling and more stewarding than ever. We’ll be taking people on guided tours of the basement areas, normally off limits to the public. I’m also going to be out giving presentations about the Mill to raise both money and awareness. We’ll even have special evening milling sessions for supporter groups who are helping us with our fundraising.
A rewarding role
It’s mesmerising watching a mill work and as an engineer I find the machinery impressive. It provides all the technical challenges of working a traditional machine combined with the unpredictable power of the river. It’s a little like driving a steam engine, you’re in control but it feels like it’s trying to catch you out. Unlike with modern machinery the challenges it poses are based in traditional engineering, so you never have to phone an IT helpdesk.
" Our message is humble but important: City Mill is a valuable piece of our social history, and that’s why it must be saved."
Above all it’s the pleasure of human interaction that keeps me coming back. I get to work with a friendly team of skilled volunteers and talk to visitors of all ages and nationalities. I particularly enjoy the school visits, the kids really respond to being shown an entire process - grain, to flour, to baked goods. Knowing where food comes from, and how their ancestors had to work for it, is an essential part of their education.
Our message is humble but important: City Mill is a valuable piece of our social history, and that’s why it must be saved. There are very few preserved mills that are accessible to so many people, and we’re determined this one will remain open.