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Otterton Mill owners grateful for community's help

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: December 20, 2012

By Stephen Davy-Osborne

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AN EAST Devon couple have been "overwhelmed" by the generosity shown to their business in the wake of the floods that devastated parts of the Westcountry.

Otterton Mill suffered extensive flooding during the storms which resulted in the popular visitor attraction being closed while the extent of the damage was assessed; the third time this year that flooding has affected the 1,000-year-old working mill on the River Otter.

During this time a number of individuals and businesses came forward to offer their support to mill owners Simon and Caroline Spiller, who have been inundated with generosity.

Caroline said: "You just have to look at the positive things that come out of these situations and it's these things you have to celebrate.

"On the night of the flooding two local families who work in the mill brought the rest of their families down with them and started moving everything up out of the way of the water, trying to minimise loss."

After flooding in the summer damaged the car park, the mill was struck again by rising water on Wednesday, November 21, when a "one in 100 years" flood saw much of the mill under water.

"We managed to get things turned around for the Saturday and we were able to reopen," said Caroline. "But it flooded again that day. We just seem to have had a number of 'one in 100 years' events in a very short space of time."

The mill has remained closed while extensive cleaning and sanitising is carried out, while a number of walls and roof tiles have had to be re-pointed.

"What is holding us up is that we have to get approval from our insurers," said Caroline. "They are particularly busy at the moment, which is understandable, although they have been supportive there's only so much they can do."

As well as offers of help to clean things up and get the popular tourist attraction reopened, the mill has had its resident chickens offered a temporary home after their coop suffered particularly badly during the flooding.

"Their pen looked like a sledgehammer had been taken to it, but it was just water damage," said Caroline, who very gratefully sent the chickens to live with nearby villagers Mark and Maz Dufall. "It's a big weight off us knowing that they are now in a safe place."

Mr and Mrs Dufall had no connection to the mill, but after hearing that the chickens were in need of a new home, and being the proud owners of their own chickens, they offered their services.

Maz said: "The mill has been very unlucky as they have had several floods now. We were just offering help in an emergency. The chickens needed somewhere to go, we couldn't leave them homeless.

"We have taken in two cockerels and four hens, but we are keeping them in a separate enclosure to our own, as we don't want handbags at dawn on the lawn!"

And it wasn't just the chickens which were offered a temporary new home. A number of the mill's staff, who were out of work while repairs were undertaken, have been offered temporary jobs with other businesses.

Care provider Home Instead Senior Care is currently looking at employing three members of Otterton Mill's staff. Mark McGlade of Home Instead Senior Care said: "Three people have been referred to us from Otterton Mill and we are going to be looking to see about getting them trained up to work with some of our clients."

Bicton College has also managed to find vacancies in its staff.

Principal and chief executive of Bicton College, David Henley, said: "Otterton Mill is a very well known and valued local business and while they are shut down we have roles which are a perfect fit for two of them. It's about working together to overcome challenges. We have a high regard for Otterton Mill. We wanted to help, were able to help and it fitted our vacancy."

Caroline added: "The response from the business community has been a very pleasant surprise; I know how strong the community spirit is around here in East Devon so in a way it shouldn't surprise me. Even other businesses in the hospitality industry around have been very good to us too.

"I have been overwhelmed by the unconditional generosity of the local community. It has enabled us to keep going knowing that you have that support there."

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