I spent many of my formative years growing up around here when the main reason to visit Hay-on-Wye was to buy a horse and there was no reason at all to visit its neighbour, Talgarth, other than to visit the superb ‘George the Butcher’. In fact, during the early 1970s, I took a good friend of mine to an old pub where they still had real sawdust on the floors just so he could see what it was like! Lorry drivers who mistakenly decided to travel through Talgarth often found that they could not navigate the sharp corner near the bridge, and regretted their choice of route particularly if their vehicle had damaged the mill house in the town centre.
Some 40 years later, a small group of local residents started investigating the possibilities of using the old mill as a source of electrical power for the town but fairly quickly found that it was not viable. Instead they decided to do something even more remarkable and restore the old mill to its former glory and use it to grind grain. I confess that I was not involved at this stage but had I been I am certain I would have looked the other way and laughed into my handkerchief. How wrong I would have been!
Somehow the odd combination of a carpenter, solicitor, engineer, baker, architect, accountant, farmer, manager, builder and many others has produced something extraordinary; a fully operational mill producing a range of top quality flours for a wide range of baking. The Big Lottery came into the scheme of things, and provided something in the range of £500,000 to carry out the reconstruction work and cover the wide range of other costs to restore the building’s fabric, much of which was falling into the river.
I make no claim at all for any of this marvellous work as I only became involved after it had featured on the BBC's Village SOS TV programme. A promise had been made by the Mill Directors made to source the wheat (which makes the majority of the flour produced) locally, without realising that bread-making wheat is a relative rarity in Wales primarily due to the weather (which can affect the grain quality). Fortunately, within a couple of months we were able to find farmers who were growing Class 1 milling wheat varieties which would produce the top quality flour we wanted. Better still we then found one farmer growing a Canadian variety which produced flour of such outstanding quality we could use it rather like a distillery might choose to sell single malt whisky.
Within a few months The Bakers’ Table, which uses flour from the Mill started winning awards for the quality of their produce. In March 2015, The Bakers’ Table won a National Tourism Award Wales for the Best Place to Eat – Cafe. Word spread all over the UK that something rather special was happening in this ‘Cinderella’ of a town in Mid Wales.
Then last week, in London, at the World Responsible Tourism Awards the Mill was awarded a silver medal in the category ‘Best for Engaging People and Culture’. http://www.responsibletravel.com/awards/categories/people-and-culture.htm
If you had told me eight years ago that ‘little old Talgarth’ would have such a thriving community enterprise I would probably have felt you were delusionary and avoided any further conversations, but here it is on an INTERNATIONAL STAGE. Amazing!