A couple breathing new life into Middleton’s oldest surviving mill claim they have been left forking out tens of thousands of pounds to make the building safe following a fire which destroyed the adjoining building.
Martin Cove and Paula Hickey own Lodge Mill – also known as ‘the front mill’ – and had transformed it into a vibrant community space before arsonists set fire to the adjoining ‘back mill’ on December 30, 2021. Rochdale council’s building inspectors declared the back mill unsafe and ordered it to be demolished.
However, during demolition work, the couple say much of the rubble fell through their roof and landed inside their mill – home to an ice-cream parlor, Santa’s grotto, events venue, and even a ghost hunting attraction. Martin and Paula have since had to postpone events while work is carried out to repair the back wall and roof, while tons of rubble remains on the inside of their building. The couple did not have building insurance.
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Martin says he has been unable to contact the company which owns the back mill, EWC Property Management Ltd. The Manchester Evening News has approached the sole director of the company, but he is unavailable for comment.
The cost of the work is expected to be as high as £50,000, the couple say. Martin explained: “Once we started putting events on and getting different micro businesses involved, the buildings insurance costs shot up to £30,000 a year, which we simply couldn’t afford.”
Rochdale council says it acted legitimately to remove the danger and protect the health and safety of the public from ‘an unstable and extensively structurally damaged building following the large fire’.
A spokesperson said: “The building displayed structural defects that suggested ongoing movement/collapse was continuing after the fire had been extinguished, and the concern was that an uncontrolled collapse could occur spontaneously, which may affect the surrounding areas, including the adjacent low-level engine house building.Failure to attempt to safely demolish the remaining superstructure could have caused far more material damage to the adjacent buildings than that which was unintentionally caused during the demolition.”
They continued: “At the time of incident, the council engaged the services of a demolition contractor (who was already present on-site) to make the building safe, and the method of demolition was carried out in accordance with their own expertise, as a specialist contractor.The consequential damage caused to the adjacent building was a result of the extremely weak and unstable condition of the remaining mill super-structure and could not have been foreseen based on an appraisal of the building’s condition at the time.
“While the incidental damage to the adjacent building is regrettable and unintended, the damage was ultimately caused as a result of a fire, for which the council has no liability or responsibility for.
“To assist the owners, the council has arranged at no cost to them, for the demolition materials to be removed from within the damaged engine house building and we have offered for a structural engineer to be engaged to develop a temporary stability/strengthening solution for the damaged roof and walls.This will allow the structure to be made safe to allow repairs to be undertaken on the damaged sections of the structure.
“The owners have engaged a solicitor in this regard and have made representation to the council and specialist contractor, which are presently being responded to.”
The mill, on Townley Street, dates back to 1850. Martin and Paul bought it in 2019 with the intention of ‘putting it at the heart of the local community’. Paula said: “People in Middleton feel a little bit neglected by the bigger Rochdale town.
“We wanted to give them and ourselves something to shout about and be proud of. All this trouble with the repairs is costing us thousands, but we are determined to succeed.”
Lodge Mill’s Facebook page now has more than 300 Facebook followers on Facebook.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.