An historic former corn mill has been saved for the community thanks to a £1 million plan to transform it into a centre for young people with additional living needs.
There were protests when Wrexham County Borough Council put the landmark, three-storey Kingsmill building up for sale at auction but it has paved the way for the ambitious scheme to revitalise the site. The building was previously a heritage centre that was opened by Princess Diana.
But it has been empty for the last decade and there has been long-running uncertainty over the future of the site – until now.
Pic: Dr Stefan Coghlan
The new scheme is being masterminded by NHS consultant anaesthetist Dr Stefan Coghlan who has set up a social enterprise called Draig Supported Living that put in the winning bid. Dr Coghlan, who works at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, was spurred into action by the lack of facilities for young people to develop the skills to live independently with support. The aim now is to renovate the building so that supported living and respite care can be provided on the upper floors for young people with individual needs.
It is anticipated that four or five young residents will live in the building as they move towards independent adult life. The residents it will cater for will have a number of conditions that impair their ability to lead independent lives.
The ambitious plan includes creating a community café which will be open to the local community and general public. It will be staffed by the young people providing them with new skills and real paid work as well as work experience. The centre will also be promoting the Clywedog Trail that culminates at the site and celebrating the building's rich industrial heritage - such as by making the mill's water wheel more visible to the public.
Dr Coghlan, a former chairman of the Welsh Council for the British Medical Association, said:
"I started looking at what was available for supported living in North Wales and there really wasn't anything.
"This was a situation that needed to change. I wanted to provide high-quality supported living accommodation, personalised to each resident, that can help them reach their potential.
"I set up Draig Supported Living to deliver the facilities that would allow our most vulnerable to live the fullest, most independent lives they are able to.
"We started to look for sites and we felt Kingsmill was ideal for what we were looking for. "We felt it could be the flagship property for the new venture and could also provide a community benefit.
"This is just the first of what we hope will be multiple projects like this that we hope will benefit young people across North Wales." "The residents will be getting real work experience such as through working in the café.
"It will give job opportunities to young people who are starting out and as we develop there will be additional opportunities for people such as carers and support workers. "As well as supporting the young people who come here, we want to make the ground floor and surrounding area as open to the community as much as possible.
"Besides the cafe, we hope to grow some organic vegetables here and bring in farm animals to provide a petting farm.
" Other exciting plans include increasing visibility of the mill's water mill, using architectural glass to expose the workings.
He is also seeking to make the site eco-friendly, making use of solar energy, exploring hydro and providing electric charging points for vehicles. According to Dr Coghlan, positive talks have taken place with the National Trust about securing a lease for the site's car park and surrounding green areas, as well as with local campaigners who have spent many years seeking to ensure the building's heritage is preserved.
Draig Living is also investigating the possibility of providing transport for walkers to return to the starting point.
The Clywedog Trail is currently being relaunched and features on the North East Wales App which uses innovative technology to tell the story of the Valley using Bluetooth beacons. Joining him on the board is Jayne Knight, from Carrog. She can draw upon 40 years of experience in the public and voluntary sectors, which included founding the You Know website that helps people access vital information on social care, health and housing.
"I'm passionate about ensuring young people with individual needs are accessing the right home in the right place.
"We want them to feel valued, proud of where they are and where they are working. "It is important that people feel safe and are assisted to work and learn skills. It will give them the building blocks to support them going forward.
"As well as supporting the residents, we will be here for the local community."
Draig Living’s operations manager Emma Williams, who has a background working in social care, is excited about the venture.
"The pandemic has highlighted just how much something like this is needed. Hopefully, this will be the blueprint for many more.”