THOUSANDS of people have signed a petition calling for Millisle’s historic Ballycopeland windmill and Ability cafe to be saved from closure at the end of this month.

The shock closure announcement came less than two years after a £1.7m refurbishment of the world’s only windmill in the world that uses the Hooper Roller Reefing System to harness the power of the wind.

Now 2,689 people have signed a petition organised by groups such as Millisle Community Association and the Millisle Health and Wellbeing Group calling for the windmill’s future to be saved.

At the start of February, bosses at Ulster Supported Employment Limited (USEL) told staff that their jobs at both the Ability cafe and as tour guides were ‘at risk’ due to a ‘funding shortfall’ with the site due to close on March 31.

Officially opened in June 2022, the heritage visitor attraction and cafe are managed by USEL who provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities and health conditions.

Hailed as a ‘haven’ for some of the borough’s most vulnerable residents, there are currently three contracted employees, five casual staff and three associate tour guides working at the globally significant site.

In order to preserve this valuable community asset USEL requires a financial commitment for three years; this includes funding of £50,000 for the incoming financial year followed by £55,000 in the next year and £60,000 for the third year.

Jacqueline Adeoye, a staff member, recently joined a number of local politicians to hand in the petition to Assembly speaker Edwin Poots at Stormont’s Parliament Buildings.

She thanked the public for their support saying: “I would like to thank all our customers who have supported us, they have done a great job. The petition shows that the community is on our side.”

DUP Assemblyman Stephen Dunne said the 2,689 strong petition was a ‘very clear indication of the popularity of this historic site with both locals and visitors from across Northern Ireland and beyond’.

He said: “I would like to thank everyone involved in organising the petition, including the Millisle Community Association and the Millisle Health and Wellbeing Group, and everyone who took the time to sign the petition and show their support for the windmill and café.

“The Ability Café provides real employment opportunities for local young people and those living with disabilities,” he said. “This is a truly historic landmark within Millisle dating back to between 1790 and 1813 and is a key part of the local history and heritage of Millisle.

“The windmill is one of County Down’s most prominent tourist attractions and we must make every effort to retain this amenity in Millisle.”

Mr Dunne added: “The site was reopened to the public in June 2022 following £1.7m investment from a combination of the Department for Communities, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs as well as Ards and North Down Borough Council, who all worked constructively to deliver this investment and transformation.

“I am hopeful that the strength of feeling through this very well-supported petition will play a part in securing the future of this wonderful tourist attraction and amenity, and I will continue to do all I can to preserve this historic site and attraction for local residents and visitors alike to enjoy.”