Iconic Belper building ‘being left to rack and ruin’

The tower of the East Mill has moss browing on it.

The tower of the East Mill has moss browing on it.

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One of Belper’s cultural treasures is being left to ‘rack and ruin’ and the town is not taking advantage of its iconic industrial heritage.

That is the view of Peter Arnold, chair of trustees for the Strutt’s North Mill, who is one of the people responsible for safeguarding it.

Chair of trustees, Peter Arnold.

Chair of trustees, Peter Arnold.

He says the North Mill only survives because of periodic grants and believes the company which owns both mills, Carfrae Holdings, should be doing more to help secure their future.

He said: “I don’t care who runs or owns it as long as they take care of it better than is being done at the moment.

“It is such an important historical building, but a lot of it is going to rack and ruin - the refurbishment work is a sticking plaster.

“I am angry and frustrated - when you think what could be done with it.

The East Mill was built at the beginning of the 20th century and is showing its age.

The East Mill was built at the beginning of the 20th century and is showing its age.

“If there is anybody in Belper with a bit of money who could help us buy it back, let me know.”

The grants that allow the North Mill to be sustainable come from Amber Valley Borough Council, Belper Town Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council.

Around £40,000 comes from Amber Valley and another £10,000 from Belper, as part of the periodic ‘service level agreements’ that are negotiated with those bodies.

The current agreements will both end in April 2018.

Peter would like the East Mill to become a 'multi-use' building.

Peter would like the East Mill to become a 'multi-use' building.

However, Peter says he doesn’t just want the buildings to survive, but to continue being used and improved.

“I would like to see the East Mill be a multi-use building,” he says. “You could have office space, education, craft workshops and on the top floor you could have rented apartments to secure long-term funding.”

The building is currently run by First Investments for the Jersey-based owners, Carfrae Holdings.

Peter says he would prefer Amber Valley Borough Council to execute a compulsory purchase order and for the trust to enter into partnership with them to secure the site’s future.

A family of peregrine falcons has taken up residence in the East Mill.

A family of peregrine falcons has taken up residence in the East Mill.

Peter, 69, came to Belper in 1992 from Watford and has served on both Amber Valley borough and Belper town councils during his time here.

However, in 2012 he left to devote more of his time to the mill and has been chairman of the board of trustees for the last five years.

He said: “It took me a while to get my feet under the table and understand the scale of the proble0ms, but now things are starting to change.

“My first priority was to make sure that we didn’t lose any volunteers - we need to look after them.

“Then we needed to get the relationship between the volunteers and the trust a lot closer together - to start working towards the same end.

“We’ve now got a new manager in Mark Higginson, who is vastly experienced at running this type of museum and has worked with volunteers and voluntary organisations a lot.”

The North Mill was the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

The North Mill was the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

However, Peter says that despite all this hard work, the mill is held back by its current owners.

A spokesperson for FI Real Estate Management, who manage the building for the current owners, said: “These mills are historic buildings and as such are in need of constant repair and maintenance.

“This is carried out by the asset and property management company FI Real Estate Management, on behalf of the owner, on a continual basis to a scheduled maintenance plan.

“Immediate action is taken if the problem is unexpected such as the recent flooding of the basement at North Mill.

“FI Real Estate Management are advising the owner on the future way forward for these buildings and making appraisals of them, but also marketing them to attract office occupiers.”

A spokesperson for Amber Valley Borough Council said they had met with representatives of the owners earlier this month and were pleased that there appeared to be enthusiasm for development of the buildings. They are now awaiting further detail of the owners’ plans.

The building is an icon of the industrial revolution.

The building is an icon of the industrial revolution.