A Story of Local Food & Heritage
Cogglesford Watermill is the last working Sheriff’s watermill, rescued from dereliction around 30 years ago by North Kesteven council, and is maintained as a heritage site, open to the public. During lockdown, while the usual visitors have been kept away, the mill team has been re-thinking the importance of food and the mill’s original purpose of grinding flour.
The food response to lockdown
When the first lockdown kicked in, flour was suddenly in high demand. As the supermarket shelves emptied of flour – and big flour producers were not set up for supplying flour in domestic-scale bags – the team responded by creating a pop up shop for Cogglesford flour, out of the home of one of the team.
They were also able to support their local foodbank with flour, and other refreshments that were normally offered at the mill, including coffee and biscuits.
Although the mill has been closed to the public for the duration of lockdown, it has, at times, been possible for the miller to continue milling flour. It’s not a task the miller does alone for health and safety reasons, but she was able to enlist the help of her husband when colleagues were not able to mix in a small space.
A Twenty-first Century Miller
I spoke to the miller, Dawn Oakley, about her skilled and unusual job at the watermill.
Dawn’s background was in tourist information, and her interest in history and heritage means that she fully appreciates the mill as a very special workplace!
“It’s physical work, and includes running up and down a lot of steep steps,” she tells me, “it keeps me fit!
“And there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, such as the bagging of flour. There’s no reason that needs to be behind the scenes though – it’s part of the process.”
There’s a little oven on site, which is used for baking scones when school children visit. The smell is amazing!
A Food Future
Looking to the future, the team are looking to foreground the flour production. “It turns out it’s not good for a waterwheel to sit in water for long periods of time,” Dawn tells me. It’s actually beneficial on every level for the wheel to be in use, driving the grindstones to mill the grain.
Previously, the mill was put into action one day a week as a demonstration for visitors, but as the mill is undergoing some substantial repair work, the team are realising the importance of the milling process, and the production of flour as the fundamental purpose of the mill.
While the tourists have been absent, the team has also realised the importance of the local community – and how much the community values the mill.
Most visitors arrive by car, but the journey from Sleaford town centre to the mill is a lovely riverside walk, much used by local dog-walkers. The land around the mill is owned by NKDC, and is kept as a wildflower meadow, supporting biodiversity and local wildlife, as well as looking beautiful.
Learning to Mill
There are opportunities to learn the art of milling through volunteering at the mill, as well as welcoming guests, and getting involved in events and training. The team at Cogglesford are very welcoming of volunteers, and are keen to find a role for everyone interested in helping out, from youngsters interested in exploring a career in tourism and heritage, or retired adults who enjoy the mill environment.
The mill is undergoing repair work, and is not yet open to the public, but there’s lots you can do to connect with them in the meantime:
- take a virtual tour, or attend a virtual milling day
- Follow developments on their Twitter feed
- Buy their flour at the local farmers market, on the first Saturday of the month (while stocks last – milling will stop while the water wheel is being repaired!)
- Pre-order flour to collect from the shop, by phoning 01529 308102
- Find out about volunteering at the mill, by contacting Dawn: firstname.lastname@example.org
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