Our Shared Learning Project

Sleaford U3A members joined with Heckington Mill volunteers to celebrate the mill’s official opening by HRH The Princess Royal. The event, on 13th October, marked the end of a long term Shared Learning Project between our U3A and Heckington Windmill Trust.

The mill in Heckington is of international significance as it is the only surviving eight sailed windmill in Western European. The Windmill Trust raised £1.6 million for the restoration including refurbishment of the mill, bake house, miller’s house, brewery and the development of a new information centre.

The U3A members from Sleaford and surrounding U3As began their journey in November 2014 with an introductory talk on the mill and the restoration plans. It was clear that more manpower was needed for collation of the historic collection, further historical research and the preparation of supporting interpretive displays. This became the Shared Learning Projects focus.

Three strands of research quickly emerged. One group worked with the archivist conserving and cataloguing objects and documents for the mill’s archive database. This involved developing cleaning skills, photographing items, cataloguing and database entry.

Another group conducted research on the milling families and associated trades in Heckington. They used primary sources from Lincolnshire Archives, newspapers and published articles to put together Heckington’s milling history from 1620 to the present day.

Meanwhile, some members explored the mill’s connections with the Tuxford family in Boston. William Wedd Tuxford built the original eight sailed windmill at Skirbeck in 1813. It operated successfully for most of the 19th century. In 1891 it was sold to John Pocklington who used the parts to repair his Heckington mill.

As you can imagine, such diverse activity required careful monitoring so the team worked together in small groups and had monthly meetings to report back on findings and identify where to go next. They then disseminated their findings in displays as part of a Reminiscence Day at the mill and talks for local U3As groups.

Finally, they developed history folders and a timeline of all of Heckington’s millers, millwrights and mills. These formed the basis for the interpretive work for the new information centre which The Princess Royal described as ‘imaginative’ and ‘an important part of the community’.

Several of the members became so inspired that they have continued as mill volunteers. They were actively involved in refurbishing the miller’s cottage to its original decor and furnishings and can regularly be found serving in the tea rooms and shop.