SHE Means Business is celebrating its sixth anniversary with a special tour, presentation and lunch at the historic Frogmore Paper Mill. We spoke to Elena Lewendon, the CEO of the Apsley Paper Trail, the charity that operates and manages the oldest continuously working paper mill in the country.
Frogmore Paper Mill can trace its’ history back over 1,000 years, with a mill on the site first referenced in the Doomsday Book. It was first named in 1289, believed then to be milling cloth and grain.
Located on an island on the beautiful River Gade, the mill is part of a rich heritage of milling in Hemel Hempstead, taking advantage of the exceptionally pure chalk streams, its location close to London and with easy access to the Coast and the north of England.
Paper making started in 1774, with Frogmore Mill becoming the world’s first fully mechanised paper mill in 1803. It is, says Elena Lewendon, a history of innovation that continues today.
“The mill was the first mechanised paper mill in the world and the first to recycle paper. We still innovate today through education, heritage and trialling new papers made from unusual fibres and paper impregnated with flower seeds and petals used by some of the world’s largest brands.”
The mill makes high quality environmentally friendly paper alongside novel papers made from straw, hops, the grass from Wimbledon’s centre court and, perhaps more unusually, elephant, koala, reindeer and rhinoceros dung.
Elena has a long connection to the Frogmore Paper Mill and the charity that now manages the site, Apsley Paper Trail, first volunteering when aged just 15. Having studied Classics and Archaeology at university and then a Masters in Cultural Heritage Studies and Archaeological Site Management at the prestigious Institute of Archaeology at University College London. The mill was the focus of her research thesis.
Her career has seen her lead a number of important cultural and heritage assets before being appointed its CEO in 2021.
The pandemic proved tough for the charity, as it did for many of the country’s heritage assets, but worse was to come.
In January 2022, arsonists broke into the site with the resulting fire destroying the visitor centre housing a café, classrooms and its museum.
Whilst over 80% of the museum assets were saved, specialist heritage book binding and printing machines were lost. Yet, quite literally, out of the ashes a new future is emerging.
“The fire was devastating and heart-breaking,” says Elena, “but it has resulted in a new phase of how the site is being used. Rather than build a new visitor and education centre we are renovating some of the older buildings on the island site that were unused. These will become a new visitor centre, education and events space.
“The site of the destroyed visitor centre, at the top of the island, will become an outdoor education space where we can share our passion for the environment and the important chalk streams that surround the mill.”
The new visitor centre will open in time for Frogmore Mill’s 250th anniversary of paper manufacture on the site, and to complete renovations, Frogmore Mill has raised £50,000 of the £100,000 it needs.
SHE Means Business is our informal network for entrepreneurs in Hertfordshire with our lunch & learn networking events running from our Watford office bi-monthly. Celebrating its sixth anniversary, SHE Means Business is hosting a special tour, presentation and lunch at Frogmore Mill hosted by Elena. Tickets cost £20 with all of the money donated to the restoration of the Frogmore Mill visitor centre.