All hands to the pumps as Windmill Inn celebrates boom in trade after flood-hit bridge reopens

Windmill Inn
(left to right: Landlady of the Windmill Inn Janet Bilton, Rachel Smith (member of Windmill Inn team), Ann Storey (Leeds City Council), Kath Ledley (member of Windmill Inn team) and Cllr Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council executive member for regeneration, transport and planning

An award-winning village pub, which has been the focal point of the local community for over 400 years, is celebrating a resurgence in business since the September reopening of Linton Bridge and is now is looking forward to a bumper Christmas and New Year.

Linton Bridge over the River Wharfe was the main artery connecting the Windmill Inn at Linton to regular customers in the nearby village of Collingham. But, following its closure after the 2015 Boxing Day floods, a previously short stroll across the bridge became an hour-long trek or a 20-minute journey by car for anyone wanting to call in to their ‘local’.

Only months before, the Windmill had been named ‘2015 Community Pub of the Year’. Now the inn was cut off from a large part of its customer base and would remain so for over a year and a half while a major programme of repairs led by Leeds City Council was successfully carried out on the grade II-listed bridge.

During that time, sales at the Windmill dropped dramatically, with a popular weekly quiz night placed on hold and regular events such as Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve parties – previously ticketed because of high demand – cancelled.

Turnover fell by 35% despite the introduction of a free shuttle bus service funded by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) to support businesses in the area. Financial help from the council also came in the form of business rate relief in the immediate aftermath of the floods totalling £13,000 and a flood hardship grant of nearly £4,000.

It was a desperate time for landlady Janet Bilton, who took over the pub in 2008, and the team of five full-time and six part-time staff who rely on the pub for their livelihood.

Janet Bilton said: “The last 12 months have been particularly difficult for us and we were really worried that we might not be able to trade through it but the loyalty and commitment of our staff has been amazing. The help we have received from the council has also made a big difference.

”Since the bridge reopened we’ve seen a resurgence in trade and a lot of familiar faces have returned to the pub. Our recent Bonfire Night festivities drew huge crowds and we’ve got a packed festive programme to keep customers coming back.”

The work to repair and strengthen the bridge cost £4.95million, fully funded by the Department for Transport. The project was carried out by contractor AE Yates on behalf of Leeds City Council, working in partnership with Historic England and the Environment Agency.

The total cost to local businesses in lost trade has yet to be calculated but grants and business rate relief worth over £3.5 million has been paid to 284 businesses across Leeds to help cover the cost of cleaning up, hardship caused by the floods and the slow process of recovery.

Leeds City Council executive member for regeneration, transport and planning Councillor Richard Lewis said: “It is fantastic news to hear the Windmill Inn is now firmly back on its feet following a very difficult time for Janet and her staff while Linton Bridge was closed for repair.

“The council was pleased to offer financial support and guidance to such a historic local business and employer, and the scenes of celebration when the bridge reopened reuniting the communities of Linton and Collingham were very special.

“The bridge repair itself was an incredibly complex challenge, and again we need to thank everyone involved with it for a job very well done and the residents of the two communities for being so patient and supportive.”

Linton Bridge was built in the early to mid-19th century. It suffered major damage to its foundations during the Christmas 2015 floods, with the south pier visibly sinking along with cracks in the central and southern arches and damage to the stone parapets and walls of the bridge. As a result the bridge was closed from December 27 2015 until it was officially reopened at a community celebration event attended by the Lord Mayor of Leeds Councillor Jane Dowson on September 2 2017.