Laguna Vere in Tbilisi, Georgia, was once the premier aquatic sports centre in the Caucasus.
On the outskirts of a rural town in Southwest England, there stand the remains of an old creamery. The site consists of a number of large buildings, warehouses and bottling plants, with a tarmac road running the length of the complex allowing freight access to the various units.
The original milking parlour was built here in 1872, and the creamery that it developed into was once the largest employer in the town; it grew dramatically throughout the early twentieth century, the site soon developing to incorporate a range of art deco buildings, spread across a large plot of land beside the river.
A railway line had stopped nearby in those early days, which allowed milk bottled here to reach wholesalers in London the very same day – one of the main factors which fuelled the site’s success.
The subsequent closure of the railway line caused the factory to suffer heavily though, and many jobs were lost as the operation was gradually downsized.
At the peak of the redundancies, there were also two suicides at the site – in one dramatic instance a former worker hanged himself from the walkway that connects the two main buildings, high above the access road.
A fire in 1993 rendered the drying tower unusable, but the damage had already been done by this point – it was Margaret Thatcher who hammered the final nail into the coffin, with the decentralisation of milk collection. The creamery struggled through its final decade, finally closing its doors for good in 2006 – along with the loss of over 100 jobs, and a severe knock to the local economy.
Nowadays the site is considered by most locals to be something of an eyesore – a debris of steel and masonry lies scattered about the complex, and reports have shown asbestos traces in several of the crumbling warehouses. Nevertheless, with easy access points and a wealth of production lines, bottling rooms, offices, corridors and store rooms to be discovered, it makes an attractive destination for urban exploration.
On gaining access to the site, the first thing to grab your attention is the graffiti. A large proportion of this is not the work of amateurs, but rather the striking designs of professional artists. ‘Welcome to the Art Factory,’ reads one colourful sprawl near the entrance.
The largest of the buildings features an open-plan design, with rubble and girders strewn across the factory floor. Make it to the north wall, and you’ll be able to climb the long flight of steps that wind their way up into the corrugated drying tower. A steel gantry used to reach from the top of the stairwell, and high above the factory floor, opening onto the fourth floor offices on the other side. Now however, the severed ends hang in ruin.
From this vast chamber, a number of corridors lead off into a maze of offices and stairwells.
As you explore through this warren of whitewashed rooms, there are some striking features to be observed – such as the three-storey glass stairwell with its art deco roundels, and the rusting remains of the bottling machinery.
It is the graffiti however, which really brings a warmth to this site. Although fans of urban exploration are usually firmly against the defacing of abandoned buildings, nobody could criticise the artistic merit of the richly detailed, colourful designs which adorn many of the site’s drab walls.
The company who currently own the creamery did have plans to develop the site. In 2008 a planning application was submitted to the local council, for the construction of 125 new homes. It was refused however, as the local Planning Inspectorate considered new sources of employment to be a higher priority than new housing. A subsequent proposal in 2009 detailed a plan to turn the site into 73 homes, as well as a complex of employment units and offices.
This move seemed set to go ahead, until a year later the company who owned the site went into receivership. It transpires that the sole director of the company now lives in Thailand, and the authorities have been unable to contact him… instead, the council are currently in communication with the receivers regarding development plans.
For the time being at least, the milk factory remains as an ugly landmark on the edge of town; a monument to failed industry.
Photography by Kilburn Adam.
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