The words “A.G.M”. and “celebration” don’t exactly flow together. A.G.M. conjures up: minutes; agenda items; amendments to constitutions; corrections to amendments to constitutions; and generally men in suits coughing to get attention. A top table. Members and officers. Two hours listening to people talking. In this blog I wanted to take a look at how we evolved our A.G.M. over the last three years and how it’s become more and more useful for our group (Crystal Palace Transition Town).
Old School: 2012
With our first A.G.M (2012) we were still a bit old school: a selected representative from each theme was scheduled to speak for 10 minutes about what was happening in that theme: Food and Growing, Energy, Waste, “Local and Fair” and Skillshare. Then a happy accident: the person who was scheduled to speak overall on all the food projects was delayed. As they say in permaculture, “the problem is the solution”.
So we asked 8 people to say a few words each about their aspect of food and growing instead. Suddenly the people who didn’t normally speak were speaking. The person who cared about permaculture talked about permaculture, the person who always watered that garden talked about always watering that garden. The meeting opened up and it felt like a room full of involved people rather than a room divided into talkers and listeners. It also helped that we had chairs arranged in a circle. No top table.
In 2012 we got something else right. We put some questions out to the floor and invited people to respond to them. This, after all, is what a Transition Town is supposed to be about, but something can be forgotten in the midst of meetings and emails. A community responding. One of the questions was “How can we source more sustainable food locally?” We got into clusters and discussed it. Every one of the 30 people there had a chance to participate.
A new member, Karen, suggested we launch a food market. We had already learnt how to put that sort of person in their place, coming into our group with her grandiose ideas:
“That’s a wonderful idea. Would you like to lead on it?”
“Yes.” was the unexpected reply.
Fast Forward one year: 2013.
We now call it our AGM and Annual Celebration. The group has grown considerably. That imposter, Karen, has drawn in a team with Laura, Rachel and many others and is about to launch a weekly food market. They have sourced fantastic suppliers, have a market site, a website, done all the boring council/insurance form-filling stuff and are good to go. So that’s worth celebrating.
Building on the year before, we get as many people as possible to speak, rather than just one rep on each theme. We have gone up from 30 people to about 65 attending. Several local councillors come along to support us and check us out.
We Do Do-ocracy….
In my 2013 welcome to the A.G.M., I highlight the idea of do-ocracy. We are here to celebrate the do-ers. We have already gained a reputation in the area for a being a group that is pro-active and positive and it seems important to add that to our unspoken manifesto. There’s something impressive about putting the people who are “doing stuff” on the pedestal, giving them the microphone.
Do-ocracy has another strength in that helps the tone of visioning processes. It reminds people that while their opinions are valid, if they are not going to get involved in activities there is no guarantee any of their opinions will be taken onboard or that their vision will become a reality. The do-ers make the decisions. Doing is one of the important currencies by which we measure our progress. Do-ocracy also protects the do-ers from anyone who wants to do an impersonation of the Harry Enfield character who’s catchphrase was “You don’t want to do it like that!”.
Do-ocracy also clarifies that we are not using a server-provider model. We are volunteers following our passions, keeping to our values as much as we can, with limited time and capacity. If you want to see a certain kind of stall at the market, or a bee-keeping event in the community garden, it’s much more likely to happen if you come along to the next meeting, send out a few emails, follow them up and see if you can get something rolling.
Since this idea has been introduced, some have found it challenging and strange. People had to learn to shake off old habits and old ways of thinking. Sometimes “shouldisms” can hang in the air. I still see it happen where people work hard to please a whim expressed by someone no one has heard from for months.
Roll of Do-ers
But celebrating the do-ers has taken us on a new and exciting journey. Back at the 2013 A.G.M., as well as the food market launching we hear how:
- Our three community gardens has grown to five, new projects have sprung up including: Palace Pint, Palace Power (solar panel project), Palace Preserves, and Palace Pick-Up (Community Clean-Ups).
- The Local and Fair group has delivered Fairtrade Fortnight and The Local and Fair online guide to local businesses. And on the night, Angus, who has been following us for a while online, takes the plunge and launches the Transport Group. Simultaneously we are approached by Tim who wants to focus on public transport issues.
A local councillor tweets during the event about do-ocracy.
We don’t get everything right. The night over-runs and we have to tidy up so we don’t get time to do a proper brainstorm. Feels like an opportunity missed. One to fix for 2014…….
Fast Forward One More Year: Annual Celebration and AGM (2014).
Note the swop around in the title this year. (Maybe next year it’ll just be “Annual Celebration”!)
We sent out emails well in advance asking a wide range of people to do 3 sentences on their specific area. We grouped them together so that people won’t feel like they have to speak on their own. We timed it carefully and warned people we would keep to their times.We had Louise with her “saucepan of time” to time-keep. Anyone over-running was unceremoniously rattled. It was a good balance between keeping it tight and having some fun.
Before people had even settled, one of our new projects, Busker’s Paradise had welcomed them in with flamenco guitar. Mehul’s videos, a photo-collage of the year’s activities set to music, have become a highly-requested part of the night.
It is a powerful way to remind old stalwarts that all the hard work has been worth it – especially before and after photographs of gardens. I put up the objectives from our three year old constitution. I admit that we when wrote them, they felt pie-in-the-sky. Not anymore.
This year we lined up an impressive line-up of do-ers. We heard from EIGHT speakers on the market alone : Paul, who has found employment through the market, Alex the Duke of Edinburgh volunteer, Laura on the wide community outreach, Beth on the artist’s collective Handmade Palace, Steve the Busker Organiser, Andrea the trader, Veryan who organises children’s activities and Karen with the overview.
These short snappy presentations flowed really well and there was a real sense of variety in the speakers.
Right across the other themes, the do-ers were encouraged and empowered to step up and be celebrated for what they had done. Patchwork Farm has grown into a network of six community growing spaces, two more in the pipeline, a host of garden shares, Friday Farmers, and over 40 local gardens contributing their glut to the weekly stall. “Local and Fair” has delivered another Fairtrade Fortnight and produced a map version of their “Local and Fair” directory. Seven community clean-ups. An Edible Bus Station and plans for a growing space at Crystal Palace Train Station. Palace Trees is our latest new project. Patchwork Preserves and Palace Pint are into their second year. The new transport group has delivered bicycle repair workshops and is planning play streets. Captain Sensible is coming to open one of our gardens on his old stomping ground.
And as well as all the physical stuff, it was important to take time to acknowledge the secretary, the treasurer and the people who update the website. The invisible, essential emails and arteries of a group this size.
Celebrate, Don’t Spin
As well as being celebrationary, we’ve learnt the importance of honesty. At past A.G.M.s I would have been tempted to positively spin things more, but I’ve learnt that B.S. can come back and bite you: people turn up to see your wonderful thriving project and it’s just you and your small dog. So now if we need more people to make a project work, we say it. Invite new volunteers in and let them know they could be the difference that could get the project really off the ground. If we make everything sound brilliant, the new people will just go home thinking “They don’t need us.”
Spending A Million
And we kept right on schedule and had time for a great visioning activity.
We put out the questions:
“What would you do with a hundred volunteers?”
“What would you do with a million pounds?”
The ideas that came back were really interesting and highlighted a number of new themes, including the elderly, teenagers and health.
By the end of the event 87 people had attended and around 30 people had taken the mic. It felt like we had got even better at handing over the floor, and handing over the Transition Town, to the members.
For all the talk of declining resources, it feels like our most important resource is our people. And when members connect with each other at an event like this, the whole Transition Town gets stronger. To know you are part of a bigger vision can make those Saturday mornings in the rain giving out fliers a little easier.
We like to keep our feet on the ground in Crystal Palace Transition Town. But I would say that by the end of the 2014 Annual Celebration each person who came along went away feeling they were part of something happening, something that was bigger than themselves. Something worth celebrating.
Joe Duggan has been involved with Crystal Palace Transition since early 2011 and has been co-chair since 2012.