I arise late; luxuriating in a rare opportunity to have a Sunday lie in. I remain in my room till lunchtime trying to catch up my blog; it is really difficult for me to keep this up to date now and the e mails and further route planning next to impossible.
When I go down Ruth tells me about her Encounters work in Sheffield, Doncaster and Liverpool. It is very much arts and transition work. She is also collaborating on a new project – Earthlings Lab with Lucy Neal in Tooting and Anne Marie Culhane in Lostwothiel. The work sounds inspiring and I think back to the amazing EDAP in two hours that Lucy put on in Battersea last year. With all that Ruth is talking about I can see that not only does she know exactly how to engage people with issues they would normally go nowhere near with her creative approach but she also understands inner transition and I feel excited to collaborate in some way when she moves to Totnes in the autumn. There is such a natural link here with Transition Tales and with Heart and Soul work; the key in fact that I have been intuiting as I have walked.
Encounters http://www.sharrowencounters.org.uk/index.htm are always working to find ways of working with people through the sharing of their stories. They invite ordinary people to come in off the streets to their shops, mobile shops and even a sofa on the pavement, and ask them simple questions about their lives and make creative use of them in all sorts of ways. They bring in professional impro artists and work with the regulars to create performance pieces. They send people out with cameras to take pictures and have others cut out the most interesting piece to them and create displays with them. They collect ideas on blackboards and leave them up for a period of time where everyone can read them. I think of all the empty Woolworths and imagine them all as vibrant people exchanges in the manner of Encounters shops. I agree to be in Dewsbury on Wednesday to watch the culminating performance of the shop there.
We talk about Transition Tales and my vision for the end stories created from the Quest sessions to be told back to the participants but that work with storytellers hasn’t quite given that and we realise that storytellers learn set pieces to tell and are not creating new on the spot. I have been thinking for a while that next maybe I need to take on this role but it is difficult to see how I can facilitate as well. Ruth suggests actors, impro artists, would be able to do this and I get really excited that finally the vision I have had might have turned a corner. If you are reading this and are an impro artist I would love to talk to you about this project!
We go out in the afternoon to Picnic in the Park to meet organiser Gareth, another transitioner here in Sheffield, part of the original hub, and Green party candidate. On the way I talk with Nam, Ruth & Ben’s 13 year old daughter and hear all about the recent Duke of Edinburgh award weekend she went on with friends. It sounds as though in 3 days she experienced all that I have experienced over weeks! She got sunburnt, her legs went through the lactic acid agony day, she started off walking fast and finished up walking at the end by the second day ( I have learnt all about pace on this walk, those that walk with me for a stretch tend to walk far too quickly at first and are tired by the end. I think of this in relation to the hare and the tortoise fable, and apply it to Transition and realise that quick action is good for immediate results, but slow measured action gives lasting results) had to carry her pack, got lost and had to walk much further, had encounters with farm animals on public ways, and in the end thought it a good experience because of the people, how doing it together brought them together, even the ones who were not normally friends at school.
Nam and sister Leah walk for an hour each way to get to school and lead us through the streets of Sheffield as sure footed as guides in the Andes led me up Inca trails.
Picnic in the Park is a small council run event as part of the Food Festival. I had thought it would have a local theme but unfortunately as Gareth explains the council hired the director from Manchester immediately eliminating much chance of that happening. It is clearly council run because it full of things asking people to sign up for exciting things other people are doing instead of engaging them to get involved in doing something at the event. It is all audience orientated and not participatory at all. The council have obviously not quite understood the principle that when people are actively engaged they will stay involved and when they are shown things from the sidelines they smile and walk on by thinking it is not for them.
The best thing for me was the smoothie from the pedal powered smoothie maker. It is very heartening to see these becoming more common.
Gareth tells me about the Transition Hub decentralising and forming the new local initiatives as the steering felt the pull to doing things, starting projects, and the natural sense of wanting to do things in their own localities. There is so much good sense in Sheffield’s approach to this.
Later, in the evening, I get to meet representatives of these various initiatives; Bob and James from Walkley Crookes, Heather from Heeley and Meerbrook, and Rohan and Jenny from the Sharrow and Nether Edge group. There is also Marion from the Porter area but heavily involved with the Heely and Meerbrook Moss Valley farm project I saw the previous day and Jerry Simons from Grow Sheffield and part of the original Sheffield hub.
We have a shared dinner and I learn that the Walkley Crookes group haven’t met the Sharrow folk till tonight; they are newer to Transition and didn’t have representatives on the original hub steering group. The people gathered are delighted to have made contact with each other and there is some conversation about whether there is energy from the new group to take part in a new group; they do not want at this point to start a hub again but they are seeing the need for a communications role so that the various groups can keep track of all that is happening if any are prepared to step up; the original members are all involved in other related local groups as well and have limited time though this is also perhaps their strength, in being able to bring these diverse groups together to share and support one another’s projects.
Marion, ecologist, has been a bee keeper for 35 years and I ask her about her passion. She is scathing about top bar keepers and says that it is not possible to keep bees in this more natural way in these times because they are prone to a parasite that came over from New Zealand and which alone they cannot shake off as though some strains of bee have learnt to groom one another the kind living over here have not and so they cannot survive in the wild any longer. She tells us they sprinkle their bees with icing sugar as this provokes the bees to groom themselves thus ridding each other of the parasite. She is slightly concerned though that the beautiful honeycomb she has brought us for dessert might taste of sugar and not the wild flower pollen the bees collect from around the city. I do not know enough about bee keeping to comment and would love to hear from anyone who keeps bees Top Bar fashion to add to this information.
The honeycomb with its thin layer of chewy wax is absolutely delicious and we are all in awe of this simple nourishing food. Rohan is apprenticing to Marion and they plan to keep bees on the city farm. The group insist I take the remaining honey comb with me and I know I won’t find easy ways to eat it the way I am travelling; I take it home to Ruth, who couldn’t make the shared meal and am glad I did; the girls are thrilled; fascinated, ask how honey in jars is made, what is added, and are shocked to discover that the answer is nothing; that natural food really is that simple.
As well as being ecologist and bee keeper Marion is also excellent at surveying land, and teaching about soil sampling, growing sticks as Heather described the process. The farm group show me the work they have already done in mapping the land. It is impressive and at this point I cannot see any reason why this project should not prove to be a great success.
I tell some transition tales of other places and Heather shares one she heard about when she was in Sustainable Peebles. It is called the 50:50:50 project and involved 50 people eating food from only a 50 miles radius for 50 days. They were allowed only 2 exotics from further afield. What they learnt was that it was bread they had to bring in; no wheat grown locally. The group are inspired by this and wonder if they ought to do something similar; certainly in terms of mapping their hinterland. They feel reasonably confident that Sheffield is a in good diverse growing area with the hills of the Peak to the west, flat lands to the east and lots of green space in and around the city.
Rohan tells me about the protest he and Jenny took part in and which he was arrested for; trying to stop a factory from burning carbon. The case will go to trial in the autumn and is being supported by Caroline Lucas and George Monbiot on the grounds that climate crime is a far more serious offence than trespass.
I discover that Bob Levine is the amazing female artist in residence that Ruth had been telling me about who started the imagined winter gardens project where people could look around the different participants gardens, and disused spaces and see artistic representations of how the spaces could look and what some people were doing with tiny plots of land see http://wintergardentrail.co.uk for more information.
Jerry sings for us; he is a soulful folk singer and his lyrics bring me to the edge of tears. He has added to a lament he wrote another verse in response to the BP oil spill about the earth’s blood we are spilling. His second song is more upbeat and you can hear it here sung by the original writer Maggie Holland www.myspace.com/maggieholland . I discover that Jerry was the human juke box during allotment soup I had heard tell of at the allotments. If you want to hear Jerry sing there is a file of his ballad you should be able to upload soon.
My favourite line of the songs… “A Mr Harding sort of England”; now that indeed will be an England worth living for, an England worth all our efforts to bring about.