Wednesday, 5 March 2014

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Gary Willis


GARY Willis was recently appointed the new chairman of the Town Mill Trustees in Lyme Regis. He is originally from London and grew up in Essex, eventually settling in the Wye Valley before moving to Lyme Regis in 1999. Gary, married for 25 years, works in environmental protection, running an organisational development and project consultancy for the past 25 years, helping large trans global companies sort out their problems.

HOW did you come to be involved with The Town Mill?
Boys and toys is probably the simplest answer. I had visited The Town Mill and a local friend had been involved in the renovation works, it just attracted me. I had decided in 2008/9 to reduce my work demands in part to build a house in Lyme. After the house was built, doing other things rather than working all the time became attractive and the Town Mill was one of those other things. Involvement beyond being a miller has been driven by need and recognising that my organisational problem solving skills could help the Town Mill grow and develop.

WHAT'S next for the mill?
Now I know the Town Mill well, something that has taken a surprisingly long time to achieve, I realise what a fabulous place it is. The complex, with its ancient buildings, historical engineering works and wonderful artisans striving to make an imaginative living, is in my experience unique. The way this extended team with differing interests, challenges and demands work together to make the Town Mill the exciting place it is should be a model to copy and hone – the Town Mill is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Where next is all about harnessing what is unique about the Town Mill and getting others to experience it. We have just submitted a bid to the Lottery for a large chunk of cash to help us create an interactive digital and model based heritage centre at the Town Mill. We now have a tense wait for seven weeks to see if we have been successful.

WHAT do you hope to achieve as chairman of the trustees?
We have been working hard over the last few months to build a vision for the future of the Town Mill and a business plan to guide us towards making it a reality – anyone interested in reading this can get an email copy by emailing info@townmill.org.uk. There is a lot to do and for all the effort to be worthwhile, the Town Mill needs to be an integral part of the Lyme Regis community. To me, this means offering more for those who live in Lyme and having more of Lyme’s residents actively involved in making it happen. To drive this all forward we have set up a number of clusters of activity – from developing the skills of a miller to designing/developing the Town Mills’ open spaces – each of these dozen or so clusters will have small teams driving change and development. The ‘milling’ area is a good example, we aim to enable those who come to work with us to develop unique skills in the historical process of flour milling. This reflects the start of what I want to see happening at the Town Mill – more going on, involving more people, to be able to offer a more interesting and engaging experience for all who come to The Town Mill.

WHAT do you like about Lyme Regis?
It’s in Dorset and on a spectacular piece of coastline. It has a vibrant community pursuing lots of different interests - for a small town there is a lot going on. The theatre is a great example of what makes Lyme different, a small venue in a small town that manages to attract some really first rate acts. Although Lyme relies on tourism and has a lot of people who come here for a change after working hard, it still feels like a town working for itself, it has a heart. The heritage and energy of the town give it a good feel.

WHAT do you think the town is missing, or what would you change?
Although Lyme focuses hard on making the location high on the agenda of visitors to the West Country and those who chose to retire here, not enough attention is paid to those who live, work and bring up families here. As an example, I find the amount of time that has been spent trying to create a park for skateboarders beyond belief. The drive for affordable housing is also seems somewhat under developed. Overall I would like to see more co-operation across all the organisations and individuals that shape Lyme’s future with a clear focus on the needs and aspirations of all who live and work here.

WHAT are your personal interests?
When people answer ‘walking’ as a hobby it always sounds odd, but it is part of why I love Lyme – my favourite walk is over Golden Cap to the Anchor in Seatown. I spend a lot of my year lost on some mountain pass somewhere in the world. I get a lot of satisfaction from design and have spent time designing whole houses or parts of houses – making something work on paper and then in reality is very rewarding. Photography is another long standing interest, although one that gets little time these days. Lastly riding my old Royal Enfield Bullet – when the rain stops.

WHERE'S your ideal holiday destination?
Caribbean, somewhere like St Lucia – some good sized hills, great diving and lots of natural history, either that or somewhere in the Himalayas – deserted high altitude places with wonderful vistas.


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