From Glasgow, my latest stop on my journey, I took the train to Liverpool, home of the Beatles. Yes! I walked around a bit, went to Matthew St. where there’s a large banner over the street declaring this is the birthplace of the Beatles. There’s even a Beatle’s shop with all sorts of memorabilia. It really was quite fun. On the tourist map I found Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, John Lennon’s and Paul McCartney’s childhood homes, and there’s even the Liverpool John Lennon Airport!
Arrival evening at the 5th U.K. Transition Conference, held at Liverpool Hope University, my first thoughts were, “I don’t know anyone and I’m here all alone! But I’m soooo excited to be here and I’m sure I’ll soon feel right at home.” I did meet up with Ralph and Thomas from Paris and Naresh from Totnes, U.K., all three of whom I met at the French Transition Conference last month. I also recognized Laurie from the U.K. who I know through Quaker circles. Boy, it’s a small, small world. After dinner on the first evening was a “meet and greet” session where we did mixer/silly exercises to help us know each other, which was a big help. So I retired to my room that night a bit more at ease and eager for what was to come.
We began with a plenary session getting us up to date on what’s happening in the Transition world. There are now 375 official Transition Initiatives and 422 Mullers (those who are organizing and have intentions of continuing) in 34 countries. That’s pretty amazing growth for something that started just 5 years ago. And there’s so much enthusiasm among the participants of this conference. Some have been at it for the 5 years and some are looking for others to help them initiate a group. Rob Hopkins, author of The Transition Handbook and co-founder of the Transition movement, talked about the maturing of the idea and that there is soon to be a new book, The Transition Companion, Making your community more resilient in uncertain times, that draws on the experiences of the many initiatives and helps put the ideas into practice. Green Books, the publisher, has created a “blad” (book layout and design) which has been given to all participants and is available on Rob’s website, which you can access here: http://transitionculture.org/wp-content/uploads/Transition-BLAD-low-res.pdf. The book defines tools and ingredients for Transition, rather than being as proscriptive as the older book, recognizing how each community needs to adapt the concepts to their situation. I attended a workshop about the new ideas in this book and now I can’t wait to read it and introduce it to my community.
There were theme/interest groups varying in titles from “arts and culture” to “working with media/publicity/communication.” It was hard to choose since they all were so relevant to working with my Transition group. I chose “bridges to local government and strengthening community” and am really glad I did. Within that group we split up into more specific interests and I was in a group exploring, “ways to approach local government with an outcome of trust and mutual respect.” Some in our group had a lot of experience with this and it was really helpful. We explored ways to approach local governmental officials without turning them off. I am very interested in the next step our group need to take at home–introducing ourselves to the select board, and offering our collaboration on making Charlotte, Vermont a resilient community. Within that smaller group we formed a yet smaller group of 5 which is now our “home group.” We’ll meet the remaining two days of the conference to have a chance to talk about how things are going.
Another choice we needed to make the first day was picking a “hot topic” theme for a discussion. I chose “Scaling Up.” Here’s the description:
We come together inspired by the vision of Transition, we start tree planting projects, re-skilling groups, and so on. If we are serious about making Transition happen on the scale required, do we need to step up a level to make new businesses, livelihoods, and infrastructure happen? Are those initially drawn to Transition equipped to take that step? What holds us back?
We used a “fishbowl” format for the discussion. Six chairs were set up around a table and five people volunteered to go first. At any point in the discussion, someone looking on could sit in the sixth chair and someone else needed to leave the discussion. Or someone in the fishbowl could leave, prompting a replacement. It was just as exciting to watch the participants as being one of them. The conversation was lively and lots of good ideas were discussed. My contribution to the fishbowl was my concern that the businesses created were really needed by the community and that the jobs were meaningful and paid fairly. It was heartbreaking to hear from recent university graduates who couldn’t find work.
Creating jobs through community-based businesses is cutting edge Transition work and being done in Totnes and several other British Transition initiatives. An example of such a business just starting up is a community bakery. What does it mean to have community businesses? Who are the investors? Who provides the needs assessment? Although I came away with many questions, I really believe that this is the next wave of work for Transition groups. It will help define us a relevant to the community, instead of just an upstart fringe group.
I can’t wait for day 2!