Our Story.

It’s been quite a journey!  A heady combination of stubborness, almost infinite patience and inspiration.  Here’s the story from the beginning up until the point where we signed the agreements to enable Atmos Totnes to become a reality. For the story since then, see our Latest News section.


May 2007: Totnes Times leads with the headline ‘R.I.P.’ , announcing the closure of the Dairy Crest site.


Dairy Crest argue that a review has shown that the side needed modernisation and expansion and couldn’t expand because of “its quite land-locked position”.  Spokesperson Sinead Noble says “it goes without saying that when you take this kind of decision, you take it reluctantly”.  Totnes Mayor Pruw Boswell is quoted as saying “how much can this town take?”

The following week, under the headline “Ray of Hope”, it is reported that “a desperate search is under way in Totnes for between 20 and 30 acres of land which would allow Dairy Crest to expand – and survive”.  It describes the efforts that then Totnes MP Anthony Steen is making to find an alternative site for Dairy Crest in order to be able to keep them in the town.

July 2007: Dave Chapman and Nigel Topping, interested in the idea of bringing the Dairy Crest site into community ownership and creating a sustainable business park, meet with South Hams District Council’s Head of Property Services, and leave the meeting determined that getting the development Totnes needs for the site will require bringing the site into community ownership, not just trying to influence from a distance what happens there.

August 2007: The ‘Sustainable Business Park Group’ (SBPG) group starts meeting.

September 2007:  Totnes Times reports that South Hams District Council are looking to acquire the site in partnership with one of two firms.  Their Executive Committee announced that Totnes members will be kept informed of developments.  The Times reports that:

“Community director Alan Robinson said he would be happy to talk to anyone involved in the Totnes consortium – which hopes to establish a sustainable business park on the site – but it was important to realise that the Council wasn’t master of its own destiny, and needed to respond quickly to the market”.

Under the headline ‘Final Hours at the Dairy’, it also shows Brian Edgcombe on his last day working on the site.  “It’s the end of an era”, he says.

photo (63)

It also reports on the last evening at the Totnes Creameries Social Club. Rose Morrison, social club manager, is quoted as saying “all the people who wanted to be here were here. When the disco stopped it was quite emotional, but it was a nice night. The last thing we were left with was alcohol-free lager and nobody wanted that”.


Concerned that Dairy Crest intend to demolish the Brunel Building, Totnes Town Council leads a bid to English Heritage to have the building listed.

November 2007: English Heritage announced its decision to refuse to list the building, on the grounds that “… despite having historical interest through its association with the unfinished and unsuccessful South Devon Atmospheric Railway, the building has experienced considerable alteration since it was first erected [and this] has compromised the integrity of the building and thus much of its context as an industrial building”.



January 2008:  Totnes Times leads with the headline “Vision of the future”, reporting how Tanya Vickers, “a Totnes mum”, has appealed for an imaginative use for the site, based on the proposal she submitted to Totnes Town Council the preceding month.  She told the Times the site “presents a chance to conceive an ambitious and prestigious development for the area, a well-designed, carbon neutral, iconic, mixed-use scheme positioned next to a highly visible, central, major transport hub and the Dart river”.  Following the article, Tanya makes contact with the SBPG group, and the Atmos group is born.  The name ‘Atmos’ is chosen to reflect the site’s history in terms of the Brunel’s atmospheric railway, and also its intention to model a ground-breaking response to climate change.

February 2008: An appeal against English Heritage’s decision is unsuccessful, and Dairy Crest begins removing the roof of the Brunel building.  A community campaign begins.  The Telegraph reports that Dairy Crest are soon to demolish the Brunel building, and mentions the community campaign rallying to save it.  It quotes Ed Vaizey, the Conservative arts spokesman, as saying, “This is a shocking act of cultural vandalism. This is one of just three unique pumping stations, built by the country’s greatest engineer, and it should be listed and preserved.”

Others also weigh in, including Jeremy Clarkson, who said “Dairycrest is a jolly big and important company, I’m sure. But its chilled products will never worm their way into the fabric of Britain quite like Isambard Kingdom Brunel did. And, nor, I suspect, will whatever they propose to build when the pumping station has been pulled down. I urge them therefore to think again.”

A spokesman for Dairy Crest responded by saying “we have applied for authority to demolish the building but we haven’t made any decisions yet about the future of the site. We are looking for a developer who wants to develop the site. We are still prepared to look at all reasonable options.”  Totnes MP Anthony Steen asks questions in the house about the matter.  Also this month, architect Andrew Kirby comes on board and work starts on design work for the Atmos group.

Having taken the roof off the building, Dairy Crest replace it with a temporary roof of hardboard sheeting.

March 2008: As a result of the campaign, English Heritage reverse their decision and the building receives a Grade II Listing status.  The Totnes Times headline is “Power of the people saves pumping station”.  Cllr Pruw Boswell, who spearheaded the campaign and had threatened to lie in front of the bulldozers if required, is quoted as saying “it just goes to show that the community can pull together and change things.  Now they are going to have to put the roof back on”.

April 2008: Totnes Development Trust/the Atmos Project is awarded £10,000 by the Adventure Capital fund to do work on its bid for the Dairy Crest site.

April 2008: Devon Life reports on the listing of the Brunel Building, and quotes Nigel Topping as saying “Brunel was of one of Britain’s great innovators of the industrial revolution. Now we hope to use the building to show off the work of innovators in sustainable living, which will be the 21st century’s revolution.”

THe Atmos Project group, April 2008. Nigel Topping, dave chapman, Jill Tomalin, Helen Stiles, Tanya Vickers and Martin Bjerregaard (Totnes News).

April 2008: Under the headline “MP Steen checks out ‘funky’ project”, the Herald Express reports on a meeting between the then Totnes MP and Tanya Vickers of the Atmos Project to brief the MP on the concept and on progress thus far. Steen later writes a piece for the Western Morning News called ‘Great opportunity forshowcase development’, which concludes with the statement “I hope the board of Dairy Crest sees the potential for a landmark development doing something for the community that has worked so hard for it for over 100 years”.

April 2008: In an article in the Totnes Times called ‘Big plans for Brunel’, Nigel Topping of the Atmos Project is quoted as saying “This will be an iconic, instantly recognisable, world-class design which will epitomise Totnes.  It will be a development that the town can be proud of, creating a fitting legacy for future generations”.

May 2008: South Hams District Council holds a public consultation on the future of the site. 


May 2008:  A Totnes Times article called “MP backs bid for an iconic atmosphere”, relates how the Atmos group met with MP Anthony Steen to brief him on progress with the project.  Mr Steen is reported as being “excited by the project”.

July 2008:  South Hams District Councillor Julian Brazil tells the Herald Express ““we need to speed up the process (of redeveloping the Dairy Crest site) as quickly as possible. If necessary, use a compulsory purchase order to buy the site.  The worst thing that could happen is that it remains derelict for the next 10 years. Totnes needs it now”.  A Dairy Crest spokesperson replies that “we are still in the process of evaluating the best option for the site at Station Yard, Totnes.  No decisions have yet been taken as to whether this will involve disposal or development.”

November 2008: An article in the Totnes Times entitled “Plan for Atmos is faring well – claim” reports on a presentation by Dave Chapman of the Atmos Project to Totnes Town Council.  It said “And while most commercial developers wanted Brunel’s historic building, which was critical to the heritage of Totnes, moved, Atmos wanted to incorporate it into the site as a community building.  ‘The Brunel building has been a useful building for us’, he said”.  Later that month, an article called “Railing to get plan in gear” reports on a meeting between members of the Atmos group and Dairy Crest officials.  It quotes Tanya Vickers as saying “we are the outside bet …. I think they realise now realise their site isn’t worth millions and millions”.


January 2009: Paul Wesley of Totnes Chamber of Commerce tells the Totnes Times “Atmos promises to make up for the loss of 166 jobs on the Dairy Crest site. We want jobs which are sustainable and not affected by the decisions made by international corporations in another country. We were shown a presentation of the scheme last week and everyone was enormously impressed.  The plans are very detailed and represent the fantastic expertise we have in the town.  When Atmos gets off the ground it will really put Totnes on the international map.”

The same article quotes Dave Chapman as reporting on a recent meeting with Dairy Crest to discuss the project and the acquisition of the site.   “We had a meeting with Dairy Crest and their feedback has been very positive.  They’re looking for more understanding of the work we’re planning to do, especially the legal framework and our financial model.  I don’t known if we’ll be the sole bidder but I would be surprised if anyone else was interested in the site especially in the current climate.”

July 2009: The Atmos group complete a detailed prospectus of their proposals, entitled “The Atmos project: Transition in Action. A Masterplan for the Dairy Crest site Version 1.0‘ (see right).

September 2009: Dairy Crest announces it will be tightening security on the site after a group called ‘Urban Explorers’ got into the site and posted photos of the insides of the now-derelict buildings online.  A Dairy Crest spokesperson said “we are currently in dialogue with South Hams Council and other interested parties with a view to future development of the site.  We are not aware of any unauthorised access to the site and believed that steps taken to secure the site were adequate. However, after some indication of trespass, we are now reviewing these arrangements.”

You can see the Urban Explorers’ write-up and photos from their visit to the site here.  The article from the Herald Express also mentions the Atmos Project: “The Totnes based Atmos Project is one contender for the site. It wants to turn it into a complex of new homes alongside cultural and tourism facilities”.


February 2010: A well-attended public meeting and presentation in the Civic Hall in Totnes is held to update locals on the latest developments with the Atmos Project

March 2010: Dave Chapman of the Atmos Project tells an article in the Totnes Times, “we want to have a constructive dialogue with Dairy Crest.  We need to agree a joint land value for the front of the site and a structured deal for the rest of it.”

June 2010: The Herald Express reports that specialists have cleared the site of asbestos, after it was discovered during the demolition of parts of the site.  A spokesman said “all the asbestos has been removed. The site is clear. We have received the appropriate certificates from the relevant authorities.  We will now start the demolition again soon”.  The Dairy Crest spokesman said demolition work would carry on over the next two months. “It’s an ongoing process. We have to make the site ready for a future development.  It is not yet decided what sort of development we will have there. It is still at the consultation stage but it needed to be cleared out.”

October 2010: Chloe Nicholson opens CoCo’s Nursery in the former office building on the Dairy Crest site.  Leatside Surgery announced that it will be moving to the Dairy Crest site on a temporary basis while its premises is being expanded.  Totnes Development Trust/Transition Town Totnes is awarded a potential £70,000 (in the end it was £63,000) to bring its proposal for the site up to a stage of readiness to bid for the site.

November 2010: Off the back of the work it has done through the Community Builders funding, the Atmos group applies to Social Investment Business for £2million to refurbish the Brunel Building (funding that is no longer available) but is turned down because the letter Dairy Crest writes isn’t felt to demonstrate sufficient commitment to sell the building to the Atmos group.  It is also clear during this time that Dairy Crest is circulating details about the site to prospective developer purchasers.

December 2010: Consultants ‘Think, Eat, Drink’, working for the Atmos group, complete a business plan for the Brunel building, stating that they believe it could be a viable restaurant.  Monk & Partners report that, based on the ‘Think, Eat, Drink’ business plan for the site, it is their estimate that the Brunel Building has a negative value of -£3,600,000.


February 2011: South Hams District Council adopt their ‘Totnes Site Allocation Development Plan Document’, which states that any future development at the Dairy Crest site must include the following:

  • provision of a number of jobs at least equivalent to the site’s previous use;
  • to the south of the leat, at least 30 dwellings and employment development with retention of the listed building;
  • to the north of the leat, subject to it being demonstrated that satisfactory access can be achieved and that flood risk can be satisfactorily overcome, about 30 dwellings and employment development together with improvements to the riverside environment and public access
  • contribution to the A385 corridor management scheme; and
  • provision of cycle and footpath links including to the town centre and the riverside

February 2011:  An article in the Guardian headed ‘Totnes: Britain’s town of the future’ refers to Transition Town Totnes’ involvement with the Atmos Project: “And the TTT has designs on the old Dairy Crest building near the station as part of its bid to get more assets into community ownership”.

March 2011: The  Atmos group meet with Robin Miller, the company secretary and newly in charge of the disposal of the site.  He is given a presentation about the Atmos proposals, but restates that Dairy Crest is committed to a process of seeking full market value for the site, to clarifying with the Environment Agency the situation in terms of levels and flood classification for the northern part of the site, and to proceeding to a full planning application for the site as a way of establishing a value.  He is told that his best option would be to allow the Atmos group to submit the planning application, thereby avoiding the inevitable community backlash that such an application would invoke.

July 2011: A planning application is submitted by Dairy Crest to reinstate the slate roof on the Brunel Building.  This is granted in October.

August 2011: A teenager falls 20 feet through a Perspex window onto concrete on the site, and an ambulance is called.  However, as the Herald Express reports, “the keyholder could not be contacted and [emergency responders] they knew they could not cut the hardened steel padlock. They decided to lift the gates off their hinges using their hydraulic equipment”.  Following a difficult and hazardous operation the young man is recovered.  Watch Commander Paul Chambers said the lad was ‘very, very lucky’.  “If he had tripped and fallen head-first through the skylight he might have been more seriously injured. It seems he landed feet first. Just a few feet away from where he did fall were lots of old steel and aluminium pieces with quite sharp edges.”



February 2012: Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston meets with the Dairy Crest management to discover why there has been no progress thus far on the site, and to press the case for Transition Town Totnes/Totnes Development Trust to be a central part of whatever happens there.  She is told that attempts to sell the site on the open market have drawn a blank, and that Dairy Crest now has an interest in “leaving a legacy” in Totnes.  She assures them that if TTT/TDT are seen as central to their plans, she will give them her full support.

Photo: Karen Perrow. 

March 2012:  Work begins to reroof the Brunel building.  Over 200 people gather outside the Dairy Crest site with writer and broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby to launch the ‘Atmos Totnes: heart of a new economy’ campaign, as captured in the video below:

April 2012: Lord Deben, also known as John Selwyn Gummer, states “I think Dairy Crest ought to think very carefully and see how it can best progress what is, after all, the one opportunity which is there for this site”.

PostersmlLater in April, Atmos Totnes hold a big public meeting in the town’s Civic Hall.  Totnes News reports it like this:

“Members of the Atmos Project in Totnes go into a meeting with Dairy Crest officials secure in the knowledge that they have the backing of the town for their vision of the future of the now derelict site.

Around 300 people gave a ringing endorsement to the plans for bringing the Station Road site, once occupied – and still owned – by the milk giant, into community ownership”.

You can read a full write-up of the meeting, and hear audio from the talks, here.


May 2012: Sarah Wollaston hosts a meeting with representatives of Dairy Crest and the Atmos team. Dairy Crest say that they wish to leave a legacy in Totnes and recognise that the Atmos is the way forward and that they need to find ways to work with the Atmos Project team.

June 2012: Atmos team meet with Diary Crest to review the Atmos masterplan and feasibility work the Atmos team have already completed. The outcome of the meeting was that Dairy Crest agree to review seriously the plans and to come back to the Atmos team with how they want to move forward.



Also in June, Kevin McCloud (see below) and Tim Smit are unveiled as Patrons of the Atmos initiative.


July 2012: The Atmos project team form the Totnes Community Development Society. The society, registered as an Industrial and Provident Society for the Benefit of the Community, is the legal entity which is taking forward the ATMOS project.

Atmos with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

September 2012: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is unveiled as the project’s fourth patron.  Hundreds of people turn out to greet him.  Here is a video of the occasion:

December 2012: After several month of supplying information to Dairy Crest, they agree that the way forward is to agree Heads of Terms with Totnes Community Development Society setting out how both parties will proceed in respect to the disposal of the Totnes Creameries site.


April 2013: A meeting between Dairy Crest and Totnes Community Development Society takes place to draft the Heads of Terms.  Also in April, Greg Barker MP visits the Atmos site.  You can read more about his visit here.

June 2013: The Heads of Terms between Totnes Community Development Society (TCDS) and Dairy Crest are signed in June. They set out how TCDS will lead the creation of the masterplan for the site, with a view to obtaining planning consents through the use of a Community Right to Build Order and what conditions need to be met in order for TCDS to obtain the freehold of the site. The intention is to convert the agreed Heads of Terms into full legal agreements.

July 2013: In July 2013 TDCS secure loan funding from the Environmental Research Association agreement to take forward the masterplanning work.

atmospicAugust 2013: Dairy Crest commission a site clean-up over the summer.  Totnes News, under the headline Plans to change a factory to eco-houses (see right), quotes Dairy Crest’s Duncan Good as saying:

“We are cleaning up the site because we are in the final stages of negotiation with Totnes Community Development Society about the disposal of the site and how we can take forward the Atmos Totnes project”.

September 2013Dairy Crest and a Manchester welding company are fined for exposing employees to potentially fatal asbestos containing material during work on the site in 2010.  Speaking after the hearing at Plymouth Crown Court, Health & Safety Executive Martin Lee said: 

“This was a very serious incident that could severely impact on the future health of the employees who worked with and near the asbestos. Both Dairy Crest Ltd and Rochdale Electric Welding Company Ltd committed safety failings that led to them being needlessly exposed to dangerous dust and fibres”.

November 2013: In November TDCS secure seed corn funding from the Homes and Communities Agency Community Led Project support Funding.

December 2013: Work gets underway to finalise the legal agreements to enable the project to move forward.


August 2014.  Following a long process to set down the final agreements, Dave Chapman, Rob Hopkins and Frances Northrop (below) of Totnes Community Development Society sit down in the garden of the Tangerine Tree cafe in Totnes to sign the contracts which finally allow Atmos Totnes to move forward.  Details of that final agreement can be found here.


From this point on, you can follow the story of how Atmos Totnes unfolded through our Latest News section.

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