Ballycopeland Windmill Jacqui Adeoye closes the gates to Ballycopeland Windmill for the very last time.

    By Julie Waters

    BALLYCOPELAND windmill, which was refurbished as a tourist attraction at a cost of £1.7m less than two years ago, has closed. Staff at the windmill and adjoining Ability Cafe closed the doors for the final time on Saturday after hosting a special farewell afternoon event.

    Cafe team leader Jackie Adeoye said staff were ‘completely gutted’ as they thanked their customers, many of whom had become friends, for their loyal custom over the past two years. Despite a massive outpouring of public support and a 2,689 strong petition handed in to Stormont calling for the unique heritage site to be kept open, it closed its doors on what should have been a busy Easter weekend.

    Local residents have described the closure as ‘desperately sad and monstrous’ after the £1.7m refurbishment programme transformed the fortunes of Northern Ireland’s only working windmill in June 2022. Staff were shocked to be notified at the end of January by senior officials at Ulster Supported Employment Limited (USEL) that their jobs were ‘at risk’ due to a ‘funding shortfall’ and the complex would close on March 31. Staff, the local community and elected representatives were united in their call for Communities Minister Gordon Lyons, whose department invested £1.2m in the restoration, to step in and save the windmill’s future.

    In order to keep the windmill site open USEL stated they required a financial commitment for three years. This included funding of £50,000 for the incoming financial year followed by £55,000 for the next year and £60,000 for the third year. However, the Department did not meet the funding shortfall and now, less than two years after the official opening, the complex has closed. Some staff have lost their livelihoods as they do not drive and cannot be redeployed within USEL.

    At this stage it is not known when or if the Ballycopeland Windmill will be re-opened to visitors. However it is anticipated that any new operators could not be in place until after the busy summer period.

    Hailed as a ‘haven’ for some of the borough’s most vulnerable residents, the cafe employed people with a range of disabilities and health conditions, and for many their employment was ‘more than just a job’.

    Jacqueline Adeoye, Ability Cafe team leader, had been at the forefront of the campaign to keep the site open and said she was an ‘emotional wreck’ after losing her job. She said: “There are some staff that are being redeployed but I don’t drive and can’t travel to Belfast. I will have no job, no money and a family to support. We are all completely gutted.” Jacqueline praised the local community for their support but was clearly disappointed their efforts had been in vain. “The community did an amazing job, the amount of support was just crazy. I wish it could have went the other way,” she said. “People have been calling in all week to give us their best wishes. One of our regulars called in on Monday, she was crying, saying they are going to miss us.”

    The team held a special farewell event last Saturday to thank their customers for their support. “I am trying to hold it together but it is really hard. It is not just a job but I tried everything I could.”

    Attracting 19,000 visitors in its first seven months as a heritage site, Ballycopeland is the only windmill left in the world that uses the hooper roller reefing system to harness the power of the wind. The extensive refurbishment of the site included a new access road with car parking as well as a revamp of the miller’s cottage and the kiln man’s house.