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The Newton Abbot Energy Sculptures

Way back in late 2009 us bods in the Energy Group of Transition Newton Abbot (TNA) hit upon the idea of creating some public art for Newton Abbot.  We wanted something tangible and visible around the ideas of energy saving and renewable energy that would spark a discussion in our town.

The journey has been a long and interesting one! Not always smooth but in the end successful.  What you now see in Newton Abbot is the product of a lot of good will, hard work and persistence in turning this idea into reality. The majority of the design, construction and installation work was carried out by lovely TNA volunteers.  This really helped us keep the costs of our ambitious public art project to a minimum.  

The Journey
It all started with a chance encounter in autumn 2009 at one of our street stalls.  We had just found out that we were unsuccessful in securing a government grant to work on a showcase listed building where cost-effective Energy Saving measures could be undertaken.  Overhearing our disappointment was a local councillor who offered to help us out with a more modest grant towards this project.  As a spin-off from Newton’s Cradle we wanted to tell others about Energy Saving using Public Art around the town.

It is surprising how long it takes to get from an idea to reality, especially when it comes to Public Art.  Getting the initial concept and miniature mock-up was quick, as was getting the buy-in from our Town Council.

Next step was sourcing the materials as sustainably (and cheaply) as possible.  Given the size and number of the sculptures, it was always going to be difficult to get the wood.  We sought the advice of Teignbridge’s Tree Officer in finding a light-weight substantial tree trunk.  We knew this project was meant to be, when a week later we were told that a magnificent 150 year old cedar needed to be taken down by the council.  We had our tree and we were on our way!

Now we had to work out a way to design something large yet manageable.  We wanted the sculptures to be seen by as many people as possible when they arrive in town.  We also had to consider reasonable access to the information and message behind the art work.  It was no mean feat to make and install such large and striking sculptures using a tiny budget. But where there is a will, there is always a way.

We started with a one-foot long model to get the proportions right. It was a lot of fun in the warm workshop.  Then came the serious business of the ten-fold scaling-up and dealing with knotty wood, wind and other practical problems.  Most of that was of course done outside, sometimes in the cold, but always with lots of TNA volunteers.  It wasn’t always hard work,  there was a fair amount of playing too!!

Where possible, we did our best to source materials and work locally.  Apart from the perspex balls we had hoped to make in glass, we managed to do this.  These needed careful drilling for which a special jig had to be made.

There is no public project without the paperwork.  Planning, Highways, Legal and land owners are only some of the many people we had to get permissions from and consult.  As things turned out they were also the people who helped us with useful advice and support.  The process was not without time and bureaucratic frustrations, but necessary to ensure everyone is on-board and public safety is not compromised.  Persistence and patience were vital!

We couldn’t afford to pay someone to install the sculptures. So what do good Transitioners do? We did it ourselves of course. We decided to train some of our team of 15 volunteer installers.  Luckily we got the support of several people prepared to do a practice installation and then the real one late at night.  Volunteers, materials, procedures and deliveries all had to be exactly listed and scheduled.  Risk assessments, notifying neighbours and police, CAT scanning for utilities, organising transport all had to be organised and covered by our lovely volunteer team.

Operation Installation took place in the late evening and early hours of the morning of Nov 5th/6th with crews at each site awaiting delivery of their sculpture. It was both scary and exciting and logistically a HUGE challenge. The final one went up in the early hours of Nov 6th and the delivery crew got home around 3am! Tired but very satisfied!

The following day we went and staked out a couple of the sculptures and just watched people’s reactions which proved really interesting. As people walked past they did a double take.

We got some good press coverage and mostly positive comments.

For press articles go to People’s Republic of South Devon or Newton Abbot People or Mid Devon Advertiser

They have been up for nearly 6 months now and seem as if they have been there forever. Someone we met recently asked us about the one near the station and was sure they had been around for quite a while which proves that they fit in perfectly and complement their surroundings. They have been much admired as well as the odd unflattering comment but luckily very few.

What next? We are planning a sculpture guided walk when the weather improves. This will show-case our town and the use of energy past and present and give food for thought.

We know the sculptures have been embraced by the town when a 6th sculpture featured in the architect’s design on the front page of the local newspaper recently as the centre-piece of a square due for re-development in the heart of Newton Abbot.  The other 5 sculptures are on arterial roads and at the station. This last one in the centre will complete the jigsaw.

Do pop over to Newton Abbot and check them out!

Materials and Symbols
Each sculpture measures 500 X 3000 X 65mm and is made of:

  • Cedar from a local tree that had to come down after 150 happy years.
  • Steel bases perfectly made by a local blacksmith Rob Hills at Seale-Hayne.
  • Other materials used are acrylic spheres & paint, concrete and steel bolts.

The symbols you see on the sculptures represent five sources of Renewable Energy.  The symbols are based on 35,000 year old cave paintings.

Our Message
Our aim was, and still is, to start a debate in the town about Energy and how it is at the heart of the economic and environmental challenges facing us today.

TNA is currently running a number of projects aimed at helping residents reduce their household Energy use: Kingsteignton Transition Together or KTT, and Newton Transition Together  NTT,  based of the Totnes Streets model. It aims to bring households together to look at energy use and setting personal goals to reduce energy consumption. This is all part of the debate the energy sculptures raise. More about this in another blog. Bye for now

Helen Chessum for Transition Newton Abbot 

Images: Detail, perspex balls, Jane Baker; Roof rack and Drilling, Fuad Al-Tawil; Installation and Musing, Jane Baker


Ben Brangwyn's picture

What an impressive feat! I'm

What an impressive feat! I'm based in Totnes and will make a point of heading over to your town to check out the sculptures. Thanks. Ben.

Katheryn Trenshaw's picture


Fantastic project.  Lovely to see what your vision has created... and so much goodwill and cooperation too.  I look forward to seeing the work.  Thanks for sharing.

Katheryn, Artist & co-facilitator of the Transition Town Totnes Arts Network,