The Atmos Totnes campaign, which is seeking to bring the town’s former Dairy Crest site into community ownership, and its vision of the site as ‘the heart of a new economy’, are at the cutting edge of thinking about the economy of the future.  At least, that was the opinion of many of the delegates at the Social Enterprise Exchange in Glasgow, the world’s biggest social enterprise event.  Speakers included Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civic Society and Chuka Umunna, Shadow Business Secretary.  Here is a short podcast we made that accompanies this piece:

The Atmos campaign was represented at the event too, sharing a stall with Transition Network’s Reconomy initiative.  They found huge enthusiasm for the campaign and for their concept for the site among delegates, many feeling that it would be a cutting edge initiative that would put Totnes on the map, both nationally and internationally, as a centre of innovation.

Nick Temple, Director of Business and Enterprise at Social Enterprise UK (right) and Susan Aktemel of Impact Arts

Nick Temple, Director of Business and Enterprise at Social Enterprise UK told them “we’re seeing more and more assets in the community transferred over to social enterprises, sometimes from local authorities and sometimes from private companies.  Atmos would be a really pioneering example of a wider trend we’re seeing nationally”.

Teresa Burton of BuzzBnk

Teresa Burton, CEO of Buzzbnk, said “we see a very strong movement towards community-owned businesses, community-owned buildings, and I think that’s re-strengthening communities to be able to leverage the skills and expertise and finance that they already have in place”.

Claire Carpenter of Edinburgh's 'The Melting Pot'

Also at the Exchange were some projects already doing some of the things that are planned for the Atmos site.  Claire Carpenter runs The Melting Pot, an incubator for social innovation.  Asked what that means in practice she said “most of us are not interested in mending the printer, or making sure the internet connection works after 6 weeks of waiting for it to get turned on, or all those other things that take up time and energy.  People don’t want to run their office, they want an office to run for them”.  She told them how essential incubators can be at stimulating new businesses in a community.

Iain Tuckett, CEO of Coin Street Community Builders

Iain Tuckett runs Coin Street Community Builders in London, a project which began in the 1970s, which has many similarities to Atmos, being owned, developed and managed by the community.  Coin Street have given the Atmos initiative a lot of input during its existence.  He said “what’s amazing about Totnes is the sheer positive energy of the groups there.  If the groups are able to get a common vision and secure that site, then it would be very high profile, and it is bound to be a success.  People will want to go down to Totnes to say “look, this is how you do it”.  There are other towns like Totnes, that have got great opportunities, but they need a beacon and I think Totnes could be that beacon”.

Michael Norton, social entrepreneur and founder of UnLtd

The mood among delegates was summed up by Michael Norton, who has been involved in social enterprise for many years and who co-founded UnLtd, one of the leading organisations that promote social enterprise in the UK. “An eight acre site of social enterprises, of doing business in this new way, to enhance the economy of Totnes?  Absolutely amazing.  I think the sky’s the limit”.

Kate Bull of The Peoples' Supermarket

The Atmos Totnes campaign will be holding a public event in Totnes on the evening of April 17th.  To keep up to date with the event, keep an eye on the website, where you will also be able to hear daily ‘Atmos Voices’, people across the Totnes community voicing their support for the campaign, and also be able to add your name in support.