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Inclusion and diversity

Tooting Trashcatchers' Carnival (Photo - Simon Maggs)


Ensuring that initiatives reflect the greatest range of voices and experiences is not easy, but is vital to their success.


Inclusion and diversity need to be embedded at the centre of Transition as a defining feature from the start; they cannot just be added in further down the line. It is helpful to distinguish between two forms of diversity. One concerns a level playing field of fairness and equal rights (for example, access to housing, employment and health), and the other concerns what happens on that ‘playing field’ – a celebration of identity, distinct voices and cultural expression...

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Diversity can only come from a commitment to values of inclusion and respect throughout the organisation. Go out to people and listen, and build on the concerns and passions that fuel the people around you.

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 with input from Lucy Neal, Catrina Pickering and Danielle Cohen

Inclusion and diversity need to be embedded at the centre of Transition as a defining feature from the start; they cannot just be added in further down the line. It is helpful to distinguish between two forms of diversity. One concerns a level playing field of fairness and equal rights (for example, access to housing, employment and health), and the other concerns what happens on that ‘playing field’ – a celebration of identity, distinct voices and cultural expression. The former concerns the rights of the individual and acknowledges that society has an inbuilt bias that needs to be monitored and redressed. The latter concerns the richness of our cultural commons and draws on a dynamic exploration of renewal, exchange and transformation that benefits society as a whole. To be clear about the difference between the two[i] is to be able to embrace the celebratory aspects of difference along with the necessary measures to monitor inequality.

In Transition Town Tooting, the Tooting Earth Walk Talk visited the main houses of worship in the town to hear readings from texts and scriptures in addition to secular poems that draw people together around care of the Earth. The Qur’an, for example, urges mankind to be a good guardian of the Earth and to not be wasteful, and in the Hindu religion Shakti and Shiva represent Earth and energy. Many key Tooting people who engaged with the day now form a Transition Town Tooting community panel, representing different professional and cultural backgrounds. Meanwhile, also in South London, Transition Town Brixton developed the Brixton Pound, which features activist Olive Morris and historian C. L. R. James, (along with James Lovelock and Vincent Van Gogh), affirming the contribution made to Brixton history by African-Caribbean residents, many of whom have adopted the new currency.

Ethnic minority communities can be very resilient, having frequently overcome considerable adversity. That said, there is often a perception in environmental groups that some sectors of society are ‘hard to reach’. It is worth considering this the other way around. Are environmental groups ‘hard to reach’? Who is reaching out to whom? One study in 2005[ii] found that 23 per cent of black and minority ethnic respondents were happy to engage with community voluntary projects, compared with only 9 per cent of white respondents.

Another myth is the idea that people on middle incomes tend to always be the people doing voluntary work, whereas in reality people on low incomes make a massive contribution to improving the lives of people in their communities through ‘informal volunteering’. A survey in 2002 of household work practices in the UK[iii] found that 6.8 per cent of exchanges in affluent suburbs are unpaid, as against 15.6 per cent in lower-income neighbourhoods. These exchanges might include, for example, transporting or escorting someone to hospital, keeping in touch with someone who has difficulty getting about, looking after a property or pet for someone who’s away, babysitting or caring for children, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry or shopping, collecting pensions, writing letters and filling in forms, decorating and DIY.

When we start to look around our communities, it becomes apparent that there is an enormous amount already going on that Transition can support, collaborate with and learn from. As one interviewee of Danielle Cohen, who has done research into inclusion in Transition Stoke Newington,[iv] said, “Transition should perhaps not be seeking to include others but should be seeking to be included by them.”

Some tips on making your initiative as diverse, equitable and inclusive as possible

by Catrina Pickering of Transition Network

  • Be up-front in stating that you believe there is strength in diversity. Be clear that you mean diversity in its widest sense, including ethnicity, disability, age, class, gender and sexual and religious orientation, and in a spirit that includes all national origins and a mix of combination of identities (everyone has that), as well as professional and non-professional status.
  • Listen, observe, be curious: seek to build common ground and common language around universal human delights and needs – love, food, family, engagement, connection. Speak to people and start with where they are right now, rather than insisting on your agenda. Be trustworthy. Be yourself. Ask what the barriers are to participation.
  • Use plain human language. Avoid jargon.
  • Be aware that what you are doing might feel right for you but uninviting for others. Different sectors of society meet each other in different ways. Be aware of alcohol and dress issues; cultural customs. Again, find common ground through forms of human engagement such as practical activities, food, the arts, creativity and celebration. Pay visits to local groups and projects in your area. How and where do they meet? Do they eat first, sing, pray? How do they make decisions? Challenge your own thinking.
  • Engage with young people. They are familiar with the contemporary world’s mixed cultural identities. They’re often directly part of how society adapts and is renewed through the interplay of cultures, influences and the idea that one voice does not need to obliterate another. Work with schools in creative ways.
  • Look out for events and partnerships that can create connections, participation and a sense of shared belonging to a place. The history of an area always holds keys to this through trade, history and – yes – sometimes exploitation, but the stories are there to be renewed and reconciled.
  • Learn to recognise power dynamics. Focus on engaging in straightforward human ways to be collaborative and creative. Be open to questioning assumptions that arise. How do we feel about adapting or letting go of ways of thinking?
  • Consider diversity training with agencies that specialise in providing it. It can give confidence and allow you to see where the opportunities rather than the problems lie. Transition Training is also looking at developing diversity training, so watch this space.[v]

It’s important to consider how inclusive we’re being in Transition activities. In Danielle Cohen’s research on inclusion in Transition Stoke Newington, she interviewed a woman who stated that, although she had done the Transition Training, she found it hard being the only person of colour in the group. “I didn’t feel there were that many people like me.” But there were other aspects too which had to do with the meetings themselves. She found them inhibiting and what she termed “quite sit-downy.” “I remember being in a meeting and there was someone just chatting complete s*** for 15 minutes . . . I often just found it really hard to talk.” She expressed a sense of disappointment in Transition, which was challenging to hear.

The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) took a decision a few years ago to stop preaching to the converted and to actively work with those who, up to that point, they hadn’t engaged with much. They intentionally sought to develop projects and initiatives in as inclusive a way as possible, by ensuring that those running the organisation asked themselves the following questions, all of which are just as relevant to Transition initiatives. This provides a great checklist for Transition core groups to keep referring back to:

  • Do we really mean it? (that is, do we really mean to address this issue?)
  • Do we know where we want to get to?
  • Do we know why we’re doing it?
  • Does our leadership champion this?

Whether we are talking about Totnes, Manchester, Forres or Los Angeles, the hallmarks of diversity remain the same. Every community has a diversity of perspectives, skills, stories and experiences, along with some power structures that are more dominant than others. Transition can begin to build alternative channels of community engagement that are open to everyone, regardless of differences, and should seek to acquire skills and tools to place diversity and inclusion at the centre of all its work.

[i] See Naseem Khan, Two Diversities Feb 2011, a writer on diversity for 40 years.

[ii] CABE (2005) Decent Parks? Decent Behaviour? The link between the quality of parks and user behaviour. Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. Available at

[iii] Williams, C, & Windebank, J. (2002) The uneven geographies of informal economic activities: a case study of two British Cities. Work, Employment and Society. Vol 16 No 2. Cambridge: Cambridge Journals.

[iv] Cohen, D.M.K. (2010 Reaching out for resilience: Exploring approaches to inclusion and diversity in the Transition movement. MSc. Dissertation. University of Strathclyde, Glasgow