Downham and Villages in Transition? One Woman's Winter Musings.
Downham and Villages in Transition is currently represented by folk living in the villages surrounding Downham Market, a small market town to the east of the Great Ouse and its adjacent cut-off channel. This area of west Norfolk was known for its orchards and vegetable growing. Nowadays, cereals and sugar beet dominate.
These villages have evolved from such different land bases of Fenland, Breckland, Washes. When we first started, there were a few more people living in Downham itself. We wanted our name to accommodate the surrounding villages as people living in them became increasingly involved in the activity of Transition.
In the early days we thought we had to get out there and inform, awareness raise or otherwise convert. We thought that whatever it was we should be doing it wasn't sitting around in a talking shop. The situation was too urgent not to get on and do something.
We worked together to create several ambitious, even audacious events that were better attended than we imagined possible and learned much about working and playing together and found deep pleasure in sharing our concerns, enthusiasms and resources.
This was a small but fairly constant group of people, mostly incomers to Norfolk, mostly graduates, mostly over 40, mostly, (but not all) with some past hippy training and living in Downham Market and surrounding villages. We proposed the name Downham and Villages in Transition to give us scope over time to extend our activities out from the market town and into our villages making the best of our thinly spread resources.
Our blazing events from 2009 included:-
Our Food, Our Future in Downham Town Hall which brought in folk concerned with all aspects of local food offering stalls, parallel talks/films, children's events, a cafe and afternoon talk from Norfolk organic gardening guru, Bob Flowerdew.
A showing of the Age Of Stupid in the town hall with a cabaret afterwards featuring The John Preston Tribute Band.
A wonderful day gathering of Transition folk across the Eastern region featuring a morning Open Space and afternoon Conversation Cafe complete with tea and cakes....
A recorded album of songs written and performed by local musicians, poets and Ordinary Schmos, opposing mass burn incineration for Kings Lynn called "Smoke On The Wash" (2011, CD available at www.jptb.co.uk) and related flash mob street "performances"....
And over the years evening film showings at a local cafe, information and conversation stalls at local events with arguments for 50p, benefit ceilidhs, rock gigs and local growing, food and allotments village hall days.....
Nowadays we don't do much shouting or touting, we allow ourselves time to meet and share ideas, reflections, ambitions, worries. The situation is too urgent to just get on and do something. We meet together in each other's homes, plant edible hedgerows along the edge between private and public, occasionally turn out for group work days to share skills and labour. We are more confident and more realistic about the challenge posed by an unsympathetic and disordered Town Council and a majority population of retired folk.
The audacious events haven't happened for a while; we've learned, with some cost to health and well-being, how demanding they were of personal energy and resources.
Instead we devised a year long programme of conversations for 2012 based around talks given by invited speakers which were open to the public but whose primary aim was to deepen our inquiry into some of the issues facing us whilst creating a warm, intimate and nourishing evening event for all those interested. We called this "Overcoming Impossibilism" and invited several speakers from the New Economics Foundation, a well known activist/film maker, a local UN climate summit/10:10 activist, a local well known organic farmer/anti GM activist, a peak oil theorist and all were invited to consider their chosen subject in the context of overcoming the culture of "impossibilism" that undermines the confidence and resourcefulness of ordinary folk everywhere.
Meanwhile a stoically dedicated group of volunteers turn out on Fridays and Saturdays to run a market stall for the local food co-op which has been emerging over the past few years. This offers veg from a local organic farm and has steadily increased its range of whole food. It continues to run on the goodwill and generosity of a stable but small group of people. The town council has not yet seen its way to support this group by making available a small amount of space to store produce and still doesn't allow the stall onto the main market place.
And we are soon to start the fourth year of our Full Permaculture Design Course based in the villages surrounding Downham and Swaffham and taught by the much respected Hannah Thorogood from Designed Visions (see below for contact details). Several of the group have completed the course and it has offered people from across the region the chance to come together over 6 weekends at the homes of people endeavouring to live "One Planet" lives in the area with some parties, wild swimming, saunas, music and good grub thrown in. The picture shows last year's course participants and Hannah listening to a talk on "Humanure" given by John Preston at our home in Stoke Ferry.
So, still no Energy Descent Action Plan for Downham Market, no allotments for many of the large surrounding villages, the continuing attempted imposition of a mass burn incinerator by Norfolk County Council, fields still dominated by sugar beet and scarcely any jobs for the young folk living around here. And yet there is a much enhanced network of people living in these parts through the activities over the years.
Musing on this a few days ago and feeling some despondence about the above, I turned to Rob Hopkins' site "Transition Culture" and found his lovely article comparing the character of the growth of Transition culture to that of mycorrhizal fungi, a quiet, unseen network, steadily spreading and branching in the underground dark; taking hard to find nutrients to the fine roots of plants and reducing drought and temperature stress are amongst its many benefits. Reading Martin Crawford's chapter on mycorrhizal fungi in "Creating a Forest Garden" I marvel at the aptness of the metaphor so much that I'm in danger of taking it too literally....I even read that mycorrhizal fungi are "critical in the sequestering of carbon..."and wonder if the same might be said of the activities of a few folk drawn to this kind of work?
Thank you Rob for reminding me that I'm often looking in the wrong place for signs of the growth and that the life of beneficial activity is often working away unseen in the dark. On reflection, this seems as true of the culture of shared meaning that knits our lives (which are never anything other than together) together, as it is of our own minds and hearts.
We become distracted from our work of patient, nothing-special care taking of our lives by the blazing, daily headlines and giant recurring themes of unprecedented extreme weather events, human violation and its attendant suffering, environmental degradation and daily evidence of the pettiness of life on the road disconnected from its source in the river. At least, I can say this of myself.
The river runs strong though, maybe stronger than ever now that resistance to its course is backed by the mighty on all fronts - Sometimes it seems it's fair roaring in my ears, other times as barely audible as the sound of silence....
Growth is happening in wholly ordinary places around the globe, in peoples' warm living rooms, on the allotment, around teapots on kitchen tables, in candle lit public meeting rooms, sound studios, around camp fires, meditation retreats, gardens and town squares to name a few - it's unstoppable. It's even happening here in West Norfolk and occasionally even breaks out into the open..... Carol Hunter, Downham and Villages in Transition, West Norfolk
Images: Some of the original DaViT group, all still involved; Unrolling the banner for No Incineration in West Norfolk, 2012; Arguments for 50p - raising awareness event in the early days; Permaculture Design Course 2013 flyer; A rapt audience for humanure, Permaculture Course, 2012, Stoke Ferry, Norfolk (by Carol Hunter)
Permaculture Design Course in West Norfolk 2013, booking contact Ben Margolis, tel: 01760 756029, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Smoke on the Wash available at www.jptb.co.uk