As part of the Bright Ideas programme, our advisor Sophie from Locality offered to take us on a visit to a nearby Locality member in West Yorkshire.

The idea was for Kirkstall Valley Development Trust (KVDT) Board to go and learn from another organisation at a crucial phase in our transition from a development organisation to a delivery one.

What did we want to learn?

We worked with Sophie to identify what we wanted to learn during the half-day we had set aside as volunteer directors. We wanted to know how a community anchor organisation engages with the community, how they recruit and keep volunteers, and how they found the stealth to develop a large community building from scratch. We really wanted to see how they turned their vision and passion into action!

A group pf people standing in front of the Queen's Mill entrance

We chose Castleford Heritage Trust because they are Locality members, and have many things in common with us, the main one being they redeveloped a large redundant mill. We have in our plans to redevelop two mills in Kirkstall, Leeds! We will want our mills to be a mix of community activities and income-generating activities as well.

Castleford Heritage Trust is enterprising in themselves, but also managed to secure large amounts of grant funding for their project, which is the balance we need to strike in our early days as a community business.

The business side of things

It was great getting there on a sunny day, and being welcomed in the new “community rooms” which were created this year thanks to a Power to Change grant through the Community Business Fund.

We heard how the Trust started many moons ago from a small shop unit in town, and grew from there, which is our situation as well having just opened our shop unit this week.

Lorna the manager was able to talk to us about all the steps they took from there to engage the community with their various Heritage programmes, eventually culminating in buying the largest stoneground flour mill in the world and basing all their activities there. How inspirational!

A bag of Yorkshire Stoneground wholemeal flour

We also heard from James about how he project-managed the refurbishment grants and slowly re-opened parts of the building to the public. They now have a Tea Room, a base for the Canal and River Trust, an art gallery, mill rooms where they produce flour again and the latest addition is a craft beer store, complete with tasting counter!

They are hoping to fully reinstate their water wheel and want to re-create hydropower at the mill. We have been looking at Hydro Power too, on the same river as part of our project.

How to run a successful volunteering programme

We really quizzed Jenny, the volunteer coordinator about how she ran such a successful programme. She explained that she always asks people what they like to do and what their skills are, so she can set them on the best task.

People sitting around a table having a meeting.

The volunteers are also organised into teams under “senior volunteers” who are happy to mentor the newer recruits. This helps with people’s motivation and is a sustainable way of keeping everyone engaged. They can move from one team to another because everyone knows it’s all for the benefit of the Trust.

What we learned

We took many things away from the visit, some very small and practical such as where to advertise our volunteer roles, how to bargain down contractors etc…. and some that make a huge difference, like making sure all sides of the organisation gather around under a common vision.

We also took time to reflect on what our assets are within our organisation and our community to better engage people. We don’t have to have to do everything ourselves, we can lean on partners, and use all our collective resources to generate the most activity.

The visit informed and inspired us, and we went back to Kirkstall not only with our heads full of ideas and possibilities but also with our #powerofcommunity leaflets, some Queen’s Mill flour, and even some beers!

A view of the wooden water mill

Castleford Heritage Trust were such great hosts, we can’t thank them enough for sharing with us. They are close by too, so we intend to keep the communication going.

Chris Hill 

Kirkstall Valley Development Trust