Transition in Southampton: What is it like translating the Transition Agenda up to a Citywide scale?
Our group has been around for quite a few years, and one of the discoveries we have made is that although Southampton is not a large city (population 240,000; urban area 23rd in size in UK), some residents who know of Transition as a movement are surprised we are active in Southampton. There is a contrasting challenge in dealing with a wider and more diverse community than the original market town population where Transition began, which is that some groups and areas of the city are geographically and socially hard to reach. Of course these challenges around creating a public profile will exist in any location. The difference is that in a city it is harder to achieve saturation, because there are so many unique communities within it which only partly overlap, and the population itself is dynamic and mobile.
All that said there are some special joys to being part of the life of a city. We can tap into the energy of numerous individuals, and our group is constantly refreshed with new connections. This is exemplified in the student population (40,000) which is active here in local projects and organizations, including Transition. Southampton is a busy sea port which brings benefits and challenges. A power plant was planned to which wood chip would be imported on a massive scale. Given the broader sustainability issues and the strength of local feeling against the development, Transition Southampton chose a route which supported and enabled the "no" campaign, without becoming committed to a campaigning stance, which generated criticism from two sides. By not actively campaigning against particular projects Transition in Southampton can remain focused on building positive change.
It is fair to say our city attracts people who love the natural world. We have a SSSI in the shape of Southampton Common in the middle of town, we are a moderate bike ride from the New Forest and border the majestic South Downs, and we have wildlife rich waterways and tidal habitats cutting through our city.
The first photo is of the freight bikes on which they traveled across Europe and with which they powered their shows. Several Southampton residents have since been inspired to get their own.
We are organized along the lines of subgroups with a coordinating committee. Attendance at the committee meetings is fairly open, with representatives of the subgroups encouraged to come as well as named committee members. We meet monthly for business and arrange that some of those meetings are widely publicized and include an element such as a speaker or workshop which encourages wider attendance and helps us grow in knowledge and sense of community.
There are numerous subgroups; most recently formed is "Heart and Soul", we briefly had an "Education" subgroup. There is no restriction on forming subgroups, as long as they are in line with Transition's main purpose, and over a period of time the number of active groups will rise and fall. The subgroups are self organizing, some meet in person, others mainly communicate online, it comes down to what works. For example the "Events" subgroup works mainly online to organize films and speakers, but when a larger event is planned more people get on board and get together to make it happen. The core groups are "Built environment", "Energy", "Transport" and "Food". Subgroups usually meet in public places, like a pub, or in the open air when we can.
We keep in touch with each other through an email list to which anyone can post via a moderator, and through our website, which as ever acts as a shop window for all our activities. There is a wiki with useful resources, lilke printable leaflets, proforma press release etc. We are lucky to have talented people to design both online and on paper on a voluntary basis. There is an e-newsletter to promote events and celebrate achievements. Transition Southampton has several publications; a guide to low carbon affordable cooking and growing, a sustainability guide which includes local businesses, A5 fact sheets on several topics, and a series of trifold leaflets. In a city the size of Southampton there are a great many community events at which we can offer a stand, often in partnership with one of our core projects or a project we support.
• Treemendous is a group buying scheme which enables Southampton residents to buy fruit trees at greatly reduced prices. The vision is a distributed orchard and community apple harvests. This photo is of some of the Treemendous team and Transition stall holders at the local Pumpkin Festival juicing apples.
• Southampton Open Homes brings energy saving and greener living to you in a concrete way when households welcome the public for a day to see how it's done and cross pollinate ideas with each other.
• Draftproofing workshops and parties (in conjunction with the Environment Centre Southampton)
• Bike to Basics is a chance to get expert help and fix up your trusty steed for free
• River walks involves setting up leisure walking routes exploring our waterways and using rail transport as a start and end point.
• Carbon footprint calculations while you wait (in shops)
• Grow Your Community supports new vegetable growers by setting up a network of street reps (experienced gardeners) to offer advice and encouragement.
• Books for Free is a project run by Transition (fully devolved from the national organization of the same name) which collects and organizes donated books to then offer them to the public for free (or a small donation to the charity which manages the premises)
• On the same premises a small office space wholly for the use of Transition Southampton.
• Grass is Greener festival, a bike powered day long event with Seize the Day and renewable energy cinema.
• Partnership with the Ropewalk community garden, and the Centre for the 3rd Age, who offer us outdoor and indoor space for free and with whom we work closely, also Catch 22 who support the Grow your Community Community Gardens arm.
Transition Southampton AGM 2013 is approaching fast. In a sense who can know what new vision and energy will arise? The "Heart and Soul" subgroup have taken on the responsibility of theme and execution and we will be looking at the idea of change, and how we come to a point of making enduring changes in the way we live. The AGM is also an opportunity for us to look at our geographic spread and bring people together to work on a neighbourhood level. We continue to build links, especially since a change in local government means we have been invited to work with them towards common goals, like a bulk energy purchase scheme and local energy production, with a genuine expectation that sustainability is more than an item on an agenda. Thanks to our community connections Transition Southampton have been offered opportunities to apply for grants for a paid staff member, and to create an honest to goodness physical hub (based in the premises of a wholefood retail co-op which is launching soon). We are not a large group, relative to the size of our city, but there is a sense of momentum and huge potential in our streets which makes bringing the Transition idea to Southampton a project we all want to belong to.
Photos: Pleasant revolutions freight bikes (photo by Christelle), Members of Transition Southampton waving to the ship as it sails, Holding meetings outside (Photo from Clare), Juicing apples at the local pumpkin festival and swans at sunset from Cobden Bridge.
Helen Plowman is an active member of Transition Southampton and holds the role of Press Officer in the Coordination group.