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Renovation Of The Willow Works

Phase One

In recent years the Willow works has been used as a cattle barn. The lean-to shed at the west end, which had been used as an open-air storage and drying area for willow, collapsed some years ago. The main building was now in a dangerous condition and fencing had been erected to prevent access. Some roof tiles were missing and this allowed rainwater in, damaging the brickwork, roof timbers and flooring. Broken guttering had caused further deterioration where water has flowed down the walls rather than the drainpipes. Left on its own, the building may have collapsed at any time.

Heavy snow, a single very bad storm or a wet and windy winter could have been the final blow. The building is owned by The Environment Agency and stands in a flood plane where the RSPB’s largest bird reserve in England is being planned. There were only two possible futures for the building. One was for it to be restored and used for some purposes related to its history, the village or bird reserve. The alternative was demolition.

The first option to restore the Old Willow Works was chosen by The Parish Council after many meetings with The Environment Agency and a sub committee was set up to progress the project. Funding was secured from Gainsborough Alchemy for a feasibility study, Nottinghamshire County Council and Building Better Communities for repair work. The first stage feasibility study was completed in October 2005. A main consideration for work to be carried out was, wherever possible, to use local tradesmen and materials.

Scaffolding was erected at the end of December for contractors to commence works from early January 2006 to meet deadlines imposed by the end of March 2006. Throughout January and February brickwork and badly rotted roof timbers were renewed or replaced.

Grateful donations of timber received from John Brash & Co Ltd. Parts of the flooring to the upper level were covered to enable work to be carried out safely.

Although the Bat Survey in September 2005 concluded no bat population in recent times, bat roosts have been installed in the hope of attracting a future colony.

Owls, however, had nested in the building for several years and these have been catered for via nesting boxes located either end with access via vertical slits under the eaves. Funding was secured from The Environment Agency, allowing these inclusions.

Throughout the period of renovation volunteers have been helping to remove the many years’ build-up of cow manure from the interior ground floor of the building. By early March 2006 the roof vents had been replaced and new windows and doors were treated and fitted on the north side of the building. The final work was completed in March when the roof was fully tiled, new guttering replaced meeting all the funders’ deadlines.

In May 2006 an Open Day was held at the Willow Works to exhibit the completion of Phase One of the restoration project, to which over 70 people were invited all of whom had been involved in some way. Further funding was sought and efforts were made to secure the next phase.

Open Day

It was with great pride that the Willow Works Steering Group held an Open Day on 16th May 2006, at the Old Willow Works, to exhibit the completion of the first phase of the restoration of the building. Over 70 people were invited, including Environment Agency Regional Estates Manager Paul Freeborough, Notts. County Council Countryside Projects Manager/BBC Andy Wickham, and Notts County Councillor Ken Bullivant.

Along with representatives from RSPB. Local Heritage Initiative, C. Rennison & Son Ltd., Difuria Contractors, Misterton Roofing, J. Wharton Joiner, J. Brash & Co., Gainsborough Standard, Retford Times, Beckingham cum Saundby Parish Council, Willow Works/History Steering Group members, and many others who have funded, repaired, advised, generally helped and shown interest in the project.

It was the first time many had seen the inside of the building and an opportunity for all to appreciate the amount of hard work that has taken place and the potential future use of this historic building for the benefit of the local community and businesses, along with a possible link to the RSPB Beckingham Marshes Project.

The History Group put on a display of photographs and information about the village, along with a step-by-step progress of the work carried out on the Old Willow Works building. There was also a display of willow craft tools and their uses by Rodney Cousins.

Refreshments were laid on and served in the form of a light buffet, courtesy of the Parish Council and Willow Works Steering Group. There was a short presentation, by Group Chair Brian Suart, and Project Co-ordinator Colin Gibson, showing all those present the commitment given and effort taken in reaching the current stage.

The work required, which was carried out by local contractors and tradesmen, included reroofing, replacing timbers, repairing and re-pointing brickwork, new guttering and down pipes, new doors and windows fitted, all in keeping with the style and age of the building. Owl nesting boxes and bat roosts have also been erected. Volunteers carried out many practical jobs, such as removing layers of manure collected over several years during its use as a cattle shed. Details of funding obtained from various organisations were disclosed, along with the timescale given within which the renovation successfully managed to keep.

After the presentation, the audience were invited to ask questions. The Willow Works Steering Group were optimistic that the Open Day had gone well, with much positive feedback and encouraging comments from those who attended. The Group enthusiastically sought funding to enable them to carry out the next phase of the project, making the building available for use.

Phase Two

Over the next four years from 2006 to 2010 much hard work went on behind the scenes by the Willow Works Steering Group, trying to carry out the next stage. This included setting up a company limited by guarantee and of charitable status called The Old Willow Works Ltd, made up of members of the Steering Group and Beckingham cum Saundby Parish Council. The aim was to ensure use of part of the building for the community as a heritage centre, free of any charges, as well as renting to businesses and other organisations.

The company worked with Trent Vale Landscape Partnership to help provide funding, management and running costs for the project. Efforts were made to obtain a lease from the Environment Agency who owned the land. In the meantime the building remained under licence agreement.

Some land next to the Willow Works was acquired after negotiation with Environment Agency, originally to create an entrance off the Oil Road. In 2010 water was connected and Nottinghamshire County Council provided £5,500 enabling electricity to be installed into the building.

Early in 2010 some funds were also obtained from the Environment Agency allowing the erection of boundary fencing and construction of the car park and entrance road into the site. This work was carried out by local contractors and a dedicated group of volunteers. Since then the Environment Agency has withdrawn from being the lead partner to the project, creating the problem of who would take over this role. The Old Willow Works Co and Beckingham cum Saundby Parish Council were approached, but after making lengthy enquiries and seeking legal advice it was decided that it was not possible to proceed in the role. Further enquiries to partners within Trent Vale Landscape Partnership identified Groundwork. Groundwork Creswell then agreed to take on the responsibility for the redevelopment and having obtained freehold from the Environment Agency, commenced work on site from 1st October 2010, with Crestra the trading arm of Groundworks carrying out the work.

The construction of a new outside toilet block is almost complete with grateful thanks to Star Energy for grant of £20,000. Sewage works, surface water disposal is now complete. The block paving of the car park has also been completed and this area will be landscaped. The internal renovation is ongoing and should be completed by early July 2011. It is now a firm agreement that Beckingham cum Saundby History Group is to have exclusive use of a room within the building where all artefacts will be housed.

It is expected that this will be available to members anytime, free to carry out archiving, research and display preparation. Displays will be created in the entrance foyer and in the open area on the first floor. The group may also have use of other display areas.

The buildings lettable and outside space will be available for hire by members within the community by arrangement at preferential rates.

A group, called The Old Willow Works Beckingham Community Group, which will be a sub group of the Parish Council, has been formed to liaise with Groundwork on behalf of the community. The Community Group will be expected to open and close the building for local lettings and do some promotion of the facilities of the Willow Works. The Old Willow Works Ltd has now been terminated as the company is no longer required.

The area of land between the Willow Works and Star Energy road is to be landscaped as part of the restoration project with suggestions and ideas being sought from the community. Click on Willow Works Community Field link to find out more. A Willow Works Community Open Day was held on 10th September. Click on the Willow Works Events link to find out more. For details of the Official Open Day see below.

Official Opening

Wednesday 5th October 2011 was a very special day for Beckingham with the Official Open Day taking place of the Willow Works in Old Trent Road. It was a day of particular significance and importance for Parish Council Chairman Brian Suart and Parish Clerk Colin Gibson who were invited to perform the Opening Ceremony together.

In November 2004 Brian and Colin started a campaign to save this unique 120 year old building – possibly the only one of its kind in the country. Their aim throughout was for it to be of some benefit and use to the community, always insisting that it should never be a financial burden on the Parish. Over the next six years they worked tirelessly as volunteers putting in a great deal of hard work, time and effort into the project. Together they overcame many difficulties and obstacles on the way, when others might have given up. Despite several setbacks their persistence and dedication helped ensure that the project succeeded.

Over 70 invited guests attended the Open Day, including dignitaries, representatives of groups and organisations who are or were involved, local businesses and members of the community. The day began with speeches led by Groundwork Chairman Jim Mould. He explained how they became involved in 2010 by taking on the ownership of the building on behalf of the community after the work had stalled due to lack of funding enabling it to be completed by Groundwork Crestra Ltd. He stated that they had employed 10 young people on the project and as a result three had gone on to gain permanent employment.

He was followed by Michael Copleston from RSPB who was extremely enthusiastic about the building and its possible uses both for the community and in conjunction with the RSPB Beckingham Marshes Project. Beckingham resident Chris du Feu from the Willow Works Community Group then gave a brief slide show and talk on the history, renovation and restoration of the building. He also mentioned the proposed community garden, which will eventually be open to the public during daylight hours.

Lastly, Virginia Green from Trent Vale Landscape Partnership (TVLP) gave thanks to all involved and listed the sponsors. The restoration and refurbishment of the building has been the mainstay of the Heritage Lottery Funded TVLP Project for the area. Funding came from many sources including WREN, Heritage Lottery Fund, Star Energy, Environment Agency, Nottinghamshire County Council, Bassetlaw County Council, Groundwork, and Beckingham cum Saundby Parish Council.

Guests were then invited to take a tour of the whole building, where they were able to view all its facilities. They were able to view a display on the history of the building by the local History Group with members on hand to answer any questions. There was also a willow basket weaving demonstration by basket maker and craftsman Ray Lister and Samantha Pearce.

At noon Brian and Colin had the honour of performing the Opening Ceremony by cutting the ribbon together. It was a moment of great pride and emotion for them both, a culmination of all their hard work. Described on the day as stalwarts and pillars of the community, tributes were paid from many quarters. Mention must also be made of all other volunteers who helped or were involved in any way during the period of restoration. After the Opening Ceremony a delicious buffet lunch was served.

The local History Group now have a permanent room in the Willow Works and held their yearly Open Day there for the first time, making full use the building, which was considered a great success. The venue houses training and exhibition rooms, a function room and full welfare facilities. This unique building was once a thriving willow industry and significant building in the area. Brian, Colin and everyone involved hope it will again become an important focal point and resource for both the local community and businesses alike.

Some of the images used to create this page are by kind permission of Andy Wickham to whom we are extremely grateful. The images below are of some of those involved in the project including sponsors, Groundwork, TVLP and Willow Works Community Group. Please click on images to enlarge.