Torrs Hydro: A Community-Owned Hydro Project

Mary Cohen is a Director of Torrs Hydro, one of the oldest community hydro projects in the UK. The turbine generates power from the Rivers Sett and Goyt and is located on the site of an old textile mill in New Mills, Derbyshire. It is owned by more than 200 local shareholders, sells the power it generates to the local Co-operative supermarket, and has given grants to many local community projects.

I first heard about the project at a big meeting in the town hall. A lot of people came and were really keen to do it. I like to be environmentally friendly and it wasn’t going to cost too much money to buy shares so I started out as a shareholder. Then I went to the first AGM and, of course, they needed Directors and I volunteered. We’re entirely volunteer-led.

To get a project like this started you need a strong core team of enthusiastic people with a range of skills. Don’t count yourself out if you’re not an engineer. When I first got involved I was a primary school teacher; now I’m retired. My technical knowledge around Archie (the town’s name for the turbine) isn’t brilliant, but my expertise is talking to people. I show people around Archie, particularly school groups.

Our Directors include retired engineers, housing association employees, a retired solicitor, and people with computing backgrounds. You need people who can do the finances, people who can do the secretarial work and pull everyone together for AGMs.  Some of us are getting on a bit now and we’re starting to pass things on to the next generation. Archie needs to be checked daily and we have some younger people involved in that. We also have working parties every now and again when we need to clear leaves and rubbish from the river.

There have been lots of exciting moments. In 2013, one of our Directors, Richard Body, received a MBE on behalf of the project for contributions to the field of hydroelectronics. The International Energy Agency came to see us with people from Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. They were only visiting four sites in the whole of the UK and we were one of them.

Archie makes a good base for artwork, sometimes made from the rubbish we’ve pulled out of the river! We also had fun celebrating generating our millionth kilowatt hour with a sweepstake on when it was actually going to happen.

It’s not always a smooth ride. A couple of years ago Archie’s bottom bearing broke and he didn’t run for about 10 months. It was easy to find the new part, but it took a lot of thinking and work to get it into place. We really did need our engineers at that point!

Our current challenge is that because we were one of the first hydro projects in the country, 10 years in our equipment is a little bit dated. We went on a trip further down the river Goyt to Stingers Weir, a new hydro project in Stockport. We were a little bit green with envy at their state-of-the-art equipment! We’ve paid off our mortgage now, so the next challenge is to retrofit Archie to make him a bit more sustainable.

New Mills has really owned ‘Archie’ and that’s been key to our success. You don’t need to be a big town; we’re only a population of 10,000. When we’re doing our daily checks people who are passing will say ‘How’s he doing?’ or ‘Why’s he not generating today?’ We even have a local band called White Van Man who wrote a song about Archie.

Torrs Hydro hold regular public open days. Find out more:

Mary was talking to Caroline Harmon. This case study was compiled in January 2018.