Silk surplus caused trouble at Whitchurch Silk Mill

First published in News Basingstoke Gazette: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Reporter

ONE of the problems at Whitchurch Silk Mill was that there was too much silk, a meeting heard.

Whitchurch Town Councillor Claire Isbester, who is on the mill’s board of trustees, told councillors on Monday that the surplus stock was discovered as the new board tried to learn from past problems and succeses. She said the mill had three quarters of a ton of silk yarn – enough for more than 150 production runs.

She added: “Silk yarn does not last forever, risking becoming too brittle for the tension of a machine loom if kept for too long in the wrong conditions so this is another reason it is not prudent to keep large stocks.”

To deal with this problem a sale was held at the mill last weekend, which attracted about 500 people.

The historic mill in Winchester Street, now run by a trust, stopped producing silk after 200 years in December 2011, because it was costing too much money.

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council also withheld its annual grant for the mill, because its requirements were not being met.

Cllr Isbester said the new trustees were aiming to provide health and safety and equal opportunities policies and report on visitor numbers and customer satisfaction. As a consequence, the borough council grant had now been paid, she said.

From April, the silk mill will be supported with grants of £21,000 each from the borough council and Hampshire County Council. Both councils have made the grants conditional on proper business planning, with the county council offering two days of consultancy support. The borough’s grant is down from the £25,650 it allocated this year.

A report to last week’s borough council Cabinet said although “some issues remain outstanding with regard to the legality of the new board”, the board was working towards the mill becoming less dependent on taxpayers’ money.

It wanted to resume silk production to address “some recent negative comments from visitors”.

The mill received between 10,000 and 11,000 visits per year and the aim was to increase visits by 20 per cent through more innovative marketing, the report said. It also said the new board wanted to reverse “the growing distance between the mill and the local community”.

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