Volunteer of the month – Eric Harvison
After a brief break, our Volunteer of the Month feature is back for April!
We’ve been finding out more about Eric Harvison – most recently Eric has been helping open up for our weekly warm space Wednesdays slot – he’s also to be found amongst our cafe and milling volunteer teams.
What sort of volunteering do you do with Friends of Windmill Gardens and how long have you been volunteering?
I started volunteering with the windmill, helping to set up the new education centre in July, 2020. My involvement quickly spread to learning to mill our grain, giving tours of the windmill, and helping to run a pop-up cafe that we operate in the afternoons, serving up coffee, tea, and cakes (many baked with windmill flour!) to windmill and park visitors.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do when you are not volunteering?
I’m an avid cook, and an even more avid eater, though possibly more glutton than gourmet. I try to offset this by cycling a lot. In September 2021 my wife and I cycled from Tuscany to London, a little over 1,000 km in just under one month. Cycling through France was evidence that I can consume more calories in croissants than I can cycle off. I also enjoy travel; I’ve been a pilot for 40+ years, and my professional career was spent working for a US airline.
How did you get into volunteering with FoWG?
I became aware of the windmill through a posting in the Team Lambeth Volunteering Opportunities weekly newsletter. The combination of the history of the mill, and the ongoing mission of FOWG spoke to me and I’ve been a regular volunteer ever since.
What’s your favourite thing about volunteering?
Helping to preserve and maintain an important piece of local heritage. On a regular basis someone will approach one of us and explain that they’d lived their whole life in Brixton, and they never knew that there was a windmill here. It’s great knowing that my efforts are contributing in some way towards preserving the windmill for the next 200+ years.
How have you benefited from volunteering?
I moved here from Denmark in late 2019 and had not had time to establish a lot of connections before COVID struck. Our reduced operations during the pandemic became one of my primary means of social interaction and helped keep me sane. Beyond that, volunteering at the windmill has helped introduce me to south London and its fantastic community.
What advice would you give someone looking to volunteer?
Yes you can! There are an awesome array of volunteer opportunities, no matter what your background. We’d love to expand hours/days of the pop up cafe, but need more volunteers to make this happen. Not your thing? There’s volunteer opportunities gardening, assisting with our childrens’ education programs, helping with administrative tasks, or helping with our monthly open days. Learn to give windmill tours or become one of our millers.
Tell us a surprising fact about Brixton Windmill (if you can)
Peering north, through one of the upper windows of the windmill, you’ll look onto the walls of Brixton Prison. It’s here that in 1819 that Engineer William Cubitt installed another type of mill – the penal treadmill, a form of hard labour in which both male and female prisoners were required to spend up to six hours a day, 15 minutes on, followed by a 5 minute break, on what what loosely resembled a modern Stairmaster. Each treadmill would be driven by up to 24 prisoners, turning millstones that ground corn for use in the prison kitchens. By 1854 use of penal treadmills had been expanded to at least 54 British prisons, before gradually falling from favour and being abolished as inhumane in 1902.