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Construction students join effort to restore Norfolk’s windmills

16 Nov 2018

More than 100 construction students from City College Norwich are set to help the Broads Authority preserve and restore windmills on the Norfolk Broads, commencing a 5-year project that will create a legacy for heritage construction skills in the region. 

 The Broads Authority’s heritage lottery funded programme known as Water, Mills and Marshes has launched its Heritage Construction Skills Training, an initiative which will focus on embedding heritage restoration skills into local colleges of further education offering courses such as carpentry, joinery, brick work, painting and decorating. 

Following fears that the skills required to restore the historic windmills of the Broads were in decline, it is hoped the new work modules will pass on the knowledge required to maintain this Broads-specific architecture and so ensure their future in the Broads National Park landscape.

 Construction students from City College Norwich have started working on this exciting initiative which will add an important dimension to their construction skills.        

This year alone, more than 100 students will be involved.  Working alongside experienced heritage construction experts, the students will carry out restoration work both on site and in the college’s construction workshops.

It is hoped that otherwise endangered skills required to restore the mills of the Broads National Park will continue to flourish in the new students and allow them to become restoration specialists for mills and other period properties throughout the Broads National Park. 

A new temporary building, specifically for renovating windmill caps and sails, as well as other parts such as doors, windows, and cogs for the mills’ internal workings, is due to be installed on the college’s Ipswich Road campus by the end of the year.        

Some of the first students to gain site experience are a group currently undertaking work at North Mill in Halvergate. The site is run by Heritage Skills Training Supervisor, Sean Grimes.

When asked about the differences between modern construction and heritage construction, Sean Grimes said,

“If you lay bricks as a commercial brick layer you might lay 1000 in a day. When you’re a restoration brick layer you might only lay ten.

"The reason for this difference is the way buildings change over time, North Mill was built on wood foundations which have since rotted and distorted the shape of the building. Because the mill isn’t straight the students can’t use a spirit level and because of the materials used they have to work with lime mortar instead of cement.

"All of these factors add up to create a more complex job which requires specific skills. If we’d like to see the iconic mills of the Broads restored to their former glory then it is vital that there are local people with the knowledge and skills to rescue them.” 

Az Keeble, 18, a Level 3 Bricklaying student with City College Norwich, said,

“Restoration is restoration, similar skills apply to other heritage projects. What we’re learning when we’re working on the mill will help us with other future projects. These skills will be very transferrable.” 

Steve Carr, Head of Construction at City College Norwich, said, 

“This is a fantastic opportunity for our students to develop a completely new set of skills, and learn about an area of construction they might not have considered before, providing a pathway into a career in heritage construction. 

"Without this initiative there is a real danger of traditional skills, essential to the preservation of our heritage structures, dying out. 

"Working closely with the Broads Authority, we are equipping our staff and students with the knowledge, skills and practical tools, to pass these heritage construction skills on to a new generation.”               

To find out more about the project visit www.broads-authority.gov.uk/water-mills-marshes

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