DEDICATED volunteers have described the restoration of an historic windmill – which has taken an astonishing 35 years and around 100,000 man hours to complete.

The incredible transformation of Oldland Mill in Keymer, near Hassocks, was the work of three generations and more than 100 volunteers who have worked diligently to save one of the treasured relics.

In use for 200 years, it had fallen into disrepair and was in a sorry state before restoration work began in the 1980s.

The wreck of a once magnificent structure created a blot on the magnificent view on Lodge Hill overlooking the South Downs, according to the Oldland Mill Trust.

But in 2004, Oldland Mill was the beneficiary of a £60,000 DEFRA Grant under the Rural Enterprise Scheme.

Stuart Meier, 64, chairman of the Mill Trust, has worked tirelessly with other volunteers to restore the historic Sussex landmark.

He said: “It was once the oldest working windmill in Sussex, but it was in a state of almost total collapse.

“I wanted to do something for this potentially beautiful building.

“I remember as a child, seeing these structures all falling down and feeling it was quite sad.”

Restoration began in the 1980s with skilled volunteers taking care to reuse as many of the original timbers as possible to keep the feeling of the original mill alive.

The windmill’s round house was rebuilt using original bricks, and a new roof was constructed to its original design.

According to Mr Meier, if they had not acted when they did, restoration would have cost millions, due to inflation and the continued deterioration of the structure.

As it was, the restoration took 35 years, three generations of volunteers, of which there were well over 100, and around 100,000 man hours.

The iconic structure stands at 60ft, with more than 20 tonnes of oak used to make the outer structure alone, with some pieces measuring two square foot – the width of a tree.

The restoration has been deemed a success by all, and by 2008 the mill ground wheat again for the first time in a century.

According to the Trust: “All this would have been lost if local volunteers had not worked so hard for so long to save it.

“It is a working windmill, grinding flour regularly, and we hope to be selling our wholemeal stone-ground flour at the mill next year.”

As well as the classical features, the mill also boasts an online real time automated weather station (AWS).

The trust is also the proud owner of a winnower – a device traditionally used by farmers to separate the weed seeds and chaff from the harvested corn.

A market leader of its time, the device was exhibited at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London, in 1851, winning awards at trade shows across the country.

COMPOSER Andrew Lloyd Webber paid tribute to the volunteers for their efforts in saving Oldland Mill.

The volunteers were winners of the Angel Awards in November 2014, which recognises community heroes working to save their heritage.

The composer and award founder presented their award to thunderous applause and paid tribute to the “army of volunteers over many generations who made this possible.”

The trust was also awarded the Ultimate Award, voted for by the UK public.

Steve Meier stressed the importance of donations, despite the grant they received in 2004, as the nature of the reconstruction is ongoing and large scale.

He said: “Our biggest hope for the future of the windmill is to make it sustainable and for it to still be there for the next 300 years.”

Volunteers hold open afternoons on selected days from 2pm to 5pm where they give guided tours of the mill.

Guided tours are also offered for small groups with 16 visitors accommodated at any one time for safety reasons.

Visitors of all ages are welcomed, from guide, scout and youth groups to more mature groups, and of course families and couples looking for a fun day out.

These visits run on donations, and the mill has seen donations ranging from £40 to £200 for large groups.

More help is always needed, from skilled workers who can use tools and sow, to painters, with the mill repainted every year.

A May Fair will be held on the first weekend of May, with Morris dancers and other performers expected, with a hope to raise funds for the continuation of the restoration.

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CONSTRUCTED in 1703, the mill was in use in the village for 200 years before falling into disrepair in the 1980s.

In 1801, the Mill was mentioned in the National Defence Schedule for the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1887 after already being open for 185 years, the mill was used as a venue to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

The last mill to be driven by both wind and steam power, in 1912 it ceased working commercially.

By 1927 it was conveyed to the Sussex Archaeological Society by the Turner family.

Residents say it has had many uses over the years, as a playground, for storing contraband during the war and even as a lovers’ meeting place.