Transition Training: the Trainer
In 2008 my friend Mandy Dean and I attended one of the first Transition Trainings in Totnes. We'd had a Transition Initiative going for nearly a year and the main reasons for doing the training was to check whether we were “doing it right” and also because we intended to apply for “official” status. Having at least two of your steering group members taking the training was one of the requirements.
We had an inspiring time; not only did we find that we had a pretty good grasp of what Transition entailed, but spending a whole weekend together with a group of people, all fired up by Transition was an invigorating experience. By Sunday afternoon, Mandy and I knew that facilitating this course was what we wanted to do. Less than six months later we were back in Totnes, this time for the “Train the Trainers” four day intensive course.
Those days now seem such a long time ago, I've since delivered trainings in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Belgium. At first we could barely cope with the demand, every month several “Training for Transition” courses were running in the UK, as well as abroad. In the end Sophy and Naresh, the course co-creators decided it was better for them to go on a world tour, delivering trainings all over the world, as well training new trainers in each of the countries they passed through, than for hundreds of people to hop on planes and descend onto London or Totnes. Those were heady days and as the first group of trainers were run off their feet, another group was trained and added to the existing pool of UK trainers. However, no sooner did we have those extra trainers than the demand for courses started to lessen and these days there are so few trainings that some of us have started to wonder whether we might have reached our “peak”. The sudden drop in demand can only partially be explained by the deepening of the economic crisis and the tightening of purse strings, as here in the UK, even funded courses with free of charge places fail to fill up.
Maybe Transition is now so well known among the movers and the shakers that activists feel that they no longer need a course to familiarise themselves with the finer points of the Transition concept. Or maybe the initial adrenaline infused flush of seeking for answers in the face of Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Doom has run it's course and people are now waiting to see whether 2012 will indeed bring the apocalypse, in which case there is little point in doing anything. I really don't know!
Reading Rob's Hopkin's April round-up of Transition news or the Transition Network's monthly newsletter, it certainly looks like there is plenty of Transition activity going on. Yet there are many initiatives that are struggling or dormant, due to difficult group dynamics , lack of time and money, burnout or the absence of a long term vision. Sometimes these groups engage in training in order to re-invigorate and inspire themselves, which in the vast majority of cases is a successful tactic. Others get taken over by single issue activists such as anti capitalist or anti windfarm campaigners. “Let it go where it wants to go” is one of Transition's basic principles, but what if it has gone so far away from Transition ethos, it is no longer recognisable as a Transition initiative?
At the last Annual Gathering of Transition Initiatives in Powys, I was flabbergasted to find that of the thirty or so participants, all core activists, only a couple had read the old Transition Handbook or the new Transition Companion. Less than five had ever visited the Transition Network's website and even fewer frequented it regularly or read the newsletters. It made me wonder how these people know that what they are doing is actually Transition. There is no doubt that the work they are doing is valuable and contributing to their locality's resilience and sustainability, but is it Transition?
I remember when I first got involved with a T initiative, I was struck by how different the T ethos and methodology were from anything I had ever come across before. The emphasis on community empowerment and extreme inclusivity was an idea whose time had come; the thought that communities, if given good quality information about the challenges, would be able to use their collective genius to bring forward the answers appropriate for that area and it's people. The use of ultra democratic tools such as Open Space, World Cafe, Visioning and Timelines was engaging and fun. The acknowledgement that true change starts within and that therefore we need to develop an understanding of how people and communities deal with this on an emotional level was ,in an environmental movement, revolutionary. The power of gratitude, generosity and compassion blew me away. I could go on and on about all those characteristics that make Transition still so exciting for me and that is why I find it quite sad to see and hear of those initiatives that just aren't doing Transition any more, but have side tracked into traditional "green" campaigning and whose members are slowly leaking away through boredom or because of power plays.
Of the initiatives that are still going and are active in Wales, the majority had one or more members taking part in Training for Transition. The feedback we get after trainings so often expresses renewed enthusiasm, a clear vision of the way forward and a far deeper understanding of how Transition works. My fellow trainer Nick Osborne states it beautifully:
“One of the things that stand out for me about the Transition Training is how it can take people on a journey. I have seen a number of people start the training in a fairly desolate place, feeling despair, depression and a real lack of positivity about the situation we find ourselves in. I have seen these people go on a journey and emerge looking forward to the next steps...and come to a much more positive place at the end of the weekend, feeling more connected, hopeful, motivated and inspired to take action. It is a very humbling thing to experience and be part of people going through that kind of shift.” (from: The Transition Companion)
I don't think I'll ever grow bored of delivering these trainings. Each one has it's own flavour, challenges and often magic. Like the one in Lincoln where Transition Horncastle was born, because several people had come to the training independently and then they found out they all came from the same place, or the one at Minstead Study Centre, in the heart of the New Forest, where we gathered in the Celtic roundhouse to meet the descendants or the one at the Centre for Alternative Technology, where storytelling took on a life of it's own.
If it sounds like I'm seriously plugging Transition training, then I'm certainly guilty, but it is because I have seen, time and again, how these weekends both lift and bring people together and give initiatives a much needed burst of energy and inspiration. It is because I want to see Transition as a movement grow and expand, it is because I don't want the message to become less than it was, watered down or downright adulterated. It is because I still see Transition as the best hope my kids got for a future worth living.