Museum ready to open at Willsbridge Mill
A MUSEUM showing the history of Willsbridge Mill and nature reserve is set to open later this month.
The visitor attraction in Longwell Green will include a working replica water mill turbine which can be activated by pressing a button.
In addition, a timeline will show the history of the site from Saxon times until the modern day. The project to replace the old museum – just a few dated display boards – was funded by £10k from the government Culture Recovery Fund.
The mill itself was built in 1712 as an iron mill, then a grain mill, but the building hasn’t been used as a mill since the 1960s following the great flood in the local area.
Willsbridge Mill Community Refresh (WMCR), a group of volunteers, has been working for the past seven years to regenerate the main mill buildings and barn.
Also within the new museum, colouring and activity tables will be set up for children once restrictions allow. It is hoped that the mill’s onsite forest school, that opened last autumn but was forced to stop when Covid restrictions were ramped up, will reopen again soon.
While the mill has been forced to close, the volunteers have put the time to good use.
Visitors to the site will see a new, deeper pond that won’t suffer from drying out in the summer months like its predecessor did.
There has also been planting around the area and new trees have been added to replace those removed last year due to ash dieback.
A gift shop has been created alongside the museum.
Later this year a classroom is planned for the site so that groups of school children can be welcomed, particularly those from inner-city schools who have less access to the countryside.
WMCR spokesperson Tom Baker said: “We have done a lot of the hard work over lockdown so hopefully everyone can spend the summer enjoying the area.
“Families can come here and go to forest school, do some pond dipping, eat at the café, visit the museum and gift shop and make a real day of it.”
Initially the museum and gift shop will be open whenever the café is open, expected to be at weekends initially once lockdown restrictions permit.
Future plans include potentially moving the car park to be closer to the mill to make it more accessible to people with disabilities or pushing buggies. The current car park is 500m away along a muddy trail.
The café has also been fitted with a projector and has applied for an alcohol licence, which gives potential for running cinema evenings.
The site usually runs numerous family events throughout the year, most of which had to be cancelled last year. They did still manage to install a fairy trail through the woods, ending at a decorated grotto, as well as a Halloween pumpkin hunt.
But many of the events that generate revenue for the site were unable to go ahead, including Mothers’ Day teas, a duck race and Santa’s grotto.
Mr Baker said: “It’s been a long year but we’ve had time to finish a lot of projects and done everything we can to make it a nice place to be.
“We’ll definitely be running events once we’re allowed to and have lots of ideas. Hopefully now everyone can relax and enjoy it.”
WMCR is appealing for volunteers who enjoy gardening to help out, regularly or once in a while.
Mr Baker said: “We don’t need trained gardeners necessarily, just people who enjoy doing a bit of gardening and spending some time in nature. I’ve been banned from helping with the gardening here since I dug up something I shouldn’t!”
Anyone interested in helping out can email firstname.lastname@example.org