Over 100 people packed into the Parish Hall in response to a call to support the Mill, in one of the strongest showings in recent years for a local community issue.
Reasons for meeting… and new Directors?
The meeting opened with local residents Lynn Parnell and Claire Isbester setting out the reasons for calling the meeting, which followed the Trustees announcement that silk weaving had ceased and that the Mill was at risk of closure.
They also presented, on behalf of Mill Trustee Keith Watts, details of the new Directors – Sue Washington and Geoff Hide – who had been agreed last Friday before the resignation of four of the five existing Directors. It was also explained that Keith was now acting as the interim Chairman but has no ambitions to remain in that role.
Later, the meeting was to hear a statement from Mill General Manager, Stephen Bryer, claiming that the process in appointing new Directors was “not legitimate”.
Before that, those present were asked to present their views on two questions posed:
- 1. What does the Silk Mill mean to you?
- 2. What would you like to see the Silk Mill doing in the future?
They were asked to place ‘post-it notes’ on the hall’s walls, and from this hundreds of ideas and comments came forward.
Many groups showed support
Ably ‘chaired’ by Kelvin Inglis the meeting also heard short statements from various interested parties.
- County Councillor Tom Thacker explained that with the requirements for cuts in expenditure, both Hampshire County Council and Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council wanted to see a business plan in place that met certain conditions.
- Borough Councillor Eric Dunlop recalled how the Mill had been rescued in 1986 with the help of Lord Denning and the Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust.
- Hampshire Mills Group were represented by their President John Silman who told the meeting that the Silk Mill was “one of the jewels in the crown” and that they “wish to see a bright future for the Mill”
- Bill Fergie from the Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust, the Mill’s ‘landlord’, said there had been “a shortage of communication” adding that the “decision to stop weaving came out of the blue”, although silk production was one of the main objectives in the Mill’s charitable status.
- Barry Thomas, representing one of the town’s businesses explained how important visitors to the Silk Mill were to the economy of the whole town centre.
- Angela Hurley, Acting Chair for the Friends of Whitchurch Silk Mill, asked all to help support the Mill – membership forms were available (see below).
Hard work and dedication
Sir David Mitchell, who was local MP from 1964-1997 and a previous Trustee, praised the hard work and dedication of the General Manager and of his wealth of expertise in running the historic building since his appointment. He asked all present to send their ideas and offers of support directly to the Manager at the Mill.
“It isn’t legitimate”
Stephen Bryer followed with a statement firstly claiming that the resignation of the existing Directors and the appointment of new ones was “not legitimate” and secondly that the election of new Directors would “have to be reviewed”.
Many present were surprised at this announcement which will require further clarification.
Stephen then went on to explain the hard economic situation the Mill was finding itself in as a result of the recession.
What were the answers?
The meeting closed with the walls being covered with even more ‘post-it notes’. A preliminary count shows that the Mill is seen as a historical heritage site of great tradition and part of the character of the town, that also attracts visitors. Those present would also like to see weaving taking place, improvements in management and communication and a better accessible tearoom. A promise was made that all notes will be collated and made public in due course.
Anyone with any further comments were asked to drop then through the Town Hall’s letterbox.
It is very clear that support for the Mill in the town is high and that there are many concerns both over its future as an important visitor attraction and in its current management.
Comments and views to the town website are also welcome.
Membership Forms for the Friends of Whitchurch Silk Mill can be downloaded from HERE.
Click pics to enlarge.