AMBITIOUS plans are now afoot to develop a £1million community hub at the historic Herdman’s Mill site in Sion.
Revealed this week, Sion Mills Preservation Trust have already set the wheels in motion for the facility which will house a gym, sporting facilities, a library and office space as well as a youth drop-in centre, all contained in the maintenance block of the historic mill, which played such an integral part in the history of the village.
Celia Ferguson, whose family founded Herdman’s Mill, says funding has been applied for in the hopes of transforming the village.
The historic site was bought by Euromillions winner Margaret Loughrey in 2014 and substantially damaged by fire in 2016. In 2017 Mrs Ferguson won back the lease for the maintenance block at the mill through the High Court, which she now has plans to develop.
“We are hoping to build a community hub in the maintenance block at the Mill,” she said. “We are hoping to provide facilities for the community to use with regards sport and recreation. We also want to develop our archives and a library, develop some office space, provide work units for business and develop a conference centre with meeting rooms. We are also planning a citizen’s advice service in there and also a gym.
“We have seven huge units there with plenty of potential. The village lost its amenity space when the mill was bought over and now we hope to bring that space back. We want to transform the village.”
Mrs Ferguson was speaking after photos emerged on the Old Strabane and Its Memories Facebook page which showed the haunting and dilapidated interior of the old Herdman’s Mill. She says it’s not too late to save the historic building.
“It can still be done,” she said. “I still have hope. We don’t own it, so we can’t do anything with it. But the Preservation Trust can work with building owners to access funding to help them refurbish their buildings. We could be funding partners.”
Mrs Ferguson set up the Sion Mills Preservation Trust in 2011 to see the entire mill preserved, restored and used as a heritage centre.
In 2014, the site was bought by Strabane woman Margaret Loughrey for £1million after she won almost £27m in the Euromillions lottery draw.
The move was widely welcomed by the local community at the time but since then the site has been locked up and hopes that jobs would be created at the mill, in tourism, sports facilities and other business units, have dwindled.
In 2016, a major fire ripped through the historic Herdman’s Mill – which dates back to 1835 – causing substantial damage.
Funding has been applied for and the Trust are hopeful that it will be secured. Mrs Ferguson says that she hopes that if successful, the transformation will be a catalyst for positive change in the rest of the building.
“As part of the plan we hope to build a drop-in centre for youth,” she says. “We hope that by providing something really positive for the youth that it will help stop vandalism.”