Work is no grind for Mike

The accolade itself may be superb recognition of a Norfolk miller's passionate dedication to local food and his 20 years of hard slog. But as Mike Thurlow celebrated picking up a national award yesterday, his thoughts were turning to how he could put his winnings to good use - by buying new grinding stones and building an educational centre for children.

The accolade itself may be superb recognition of a Norfolk miller's passionate dedication to local food and his 20 years of hard slog.

But as Mike Thurlow celebrated picking up a national award yesterday, his thoughts were turning to how he could put his winnings to good use - by buying new grinding stones and building an educational centre for children.

Mr Thurlow, who has run the only working watermill in the county at Letheringsett for nearly 20 years, has battled against sometimes overwhelming odds to make a success of his business near Holt.

He has had recognition in the past, including a string of north Norfolk tourism awards. But his latest triumph has outdone all of that.

Last night he was officially named the nation's Local Food Hero in an inaugral competition run by the television channel UKTV Food.

With the prize came praise from UKTV Food judges including Gary Rhodes - and a £40,000 cheque which will allow the mill to be developed like never before.

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“Winning was a real accolade in itself,” said Mr Thurlow.

“When you think you are top of the pile nationally, it's marvellous.

“I watch my food miles, I believe strongly in local produce and I am deeply passionate about what I do. I think it is those things which the judges liked.”

The key now is what to do with the cash and Mr Thurlow has clear plans for his historic mill, which sits next to and is powered by the River Glaven.

“I want to buy another set of grinding stones to bring what we have here from two sets to three.

“Once these are up and running we will be able to increase our production by 50pc.

“But perhaps most importantly I want to create a children's virtual reality centre, an educational facility.

“So many children have no clue where their food comes from, many of them think peas grow in the freezer in Tesco. I want to teach them the reality about food.

“I have never had enough money to do these things before, but now I do. It's wonderful.”

Among Mr Thurlow's customers are many high profile Norfolk customers, including Richard Hughes of the Lavender House at Brundall.

“Mike is one of the most passionate producers I know,” said Mr Hughes.

“I was in the same competition and although I would have liked to have won myself, Mike's success is hugely well deserved.

“He will come here to deliver and stay for half an hour talking about nothing but his flour. He has struggled somewhat over the years with the authorities, so this is a great pat on the back for him.

“It is the only flour we use in the restaurant and it is of great quality.”

Another customer is Galton Blackiston of Morston Hall, who has used Mr Thurlow's products for 15 years.

“Partly because of the high level of competition he was up against, but also because Mike has chosen to create traditional local products which are not necessarily easy to market, this is a wonderful win,” said Mr Blackiston.

“He could have gone down an easier route but instead he has pursued what he believed in.

“He is a great character and is very loyal to his customers.”

t The mill is open six days a week, closed on Sundays, bank holidays and some days over Christmas. For opening times and details of working demonstrations, call 01263 713153 or log on to www.letheringsettwatermill.co.uk.