Meetings with Initiatives.
Transition network has recently employed a new Delivery Director Sarah McAdam and myself Mike Thomas as the Transition Initiative Support Coordinator. Transition Network is currently developing a strategy lead by Sarah which you can read more about here. In the past two months as part of a range of ongoing activities gathering views and ideas from Transition Initiatives, we setup two pilot meetings to get a flavour of what Transition Initiatives are up to, one in the South East in a very windswept Brighton and one in East Anglia generously hosted by Gary Alexander at his house in Diss. Both of these meetings were really useful and it was great to hear about the work that Transition Initiatives had been doing and the challenges that they face.
What have groups been up to?
The following is a summary of what groups told us at the meeting about what had been going well and what the challenges were for their groups. First up, are the things that are going well for Transition Initiatives. In the South East groups had been really busy doing the following:
- Film showings and events happening at least once a month that keep transition alive in their area, they also now plan 6 months ahead and it has become a regular process;
- An energy network being setup and growing;
- More people getting involved in transition voluntarily because they care about it and want to help, this is testament to there being an active group in an area;The potential for Designing new TI group, as the person had been involved in group which folded, but they now wanted to re-launch and felt that the experience of being in a group would make the next one stronger;
- Having a regular routine had really helped keeping the group going;
- Putting on the Seedy Saturday – seed swap event, which has been running over 4 years and has a good turnout and lots of local community come to it;
- Setting up a community allotment that has been consistently used and is now established;
- Carrying out specific work with mums and kids, doing green workshops with kids and getting people into Transition who wouldn’t normally think to get involved;
- Running a Friday food market, which has been a good hub for meeting people, but it is still very middle class;
- Running an Eco open house event for the past 5 years and developed into a self sustaining event that reaches a lot of people;
- Developing the skills and ability to put on events, which have been great for raising awareness.
East Anglia has also been busy.
In East Anglia Initiatives have found the following to working well:
- Sustainable Bungay have held loads of open core meetings monthly since 2007 in different venues which they fell have created an invisible coherence. One of the key things has been to give them a feeling of openness and consistency. They also hold a themed ‘green drinks’ monthly social for members to get to know each other on a more social level;
- Greener Fram have been successfully running the Transition streets projects (they had a bit of funding to do this which helped), which has doubled their membership and raised awareness. More info on Transition streets here http://www.transitionstreets.org.uk/;
- Transition Sudbury took on some vandalised raised beds in the town and planted edible and bee friendly plants in them as they were doing this work they made good links with the community through this. They are aiming to take on a whole street and get them growing food in the future;
- Stour Valley runs a annual 30:30 food challenge which has been really useful in building partnerships between groups and is now a working group in its own right and it regularly uses and promotes the Community Supported Agriculture Projects in the area;
- In Norwich Transition Circles have been meeting regularly for several years and are now one big group that focuses on different themes, they are considering whether they should split into sub groups;
- Transition Cambridge do celebration really well, they have just celebrated fifth birthday, they do skillshares, have xmas parties, they have a month off in the summer to rest, have group cycles, eat together and regularly share food, all of which helps keep the group going;
- Transition Nayland have been really good at recruiting local people through supporting the local school where they helped get solar panels on the school, put on a nature and eco clubs, talks about energy. Engaging with children has got the parents involved Transition;
- Transition Dereham have developed a really good permaculture network which has stood the test of time with a permaculture design course running for 4 years, while initiatives have waxed and waned;
- Transition Wivenhoe took on doing the refreshments at local farmers market where they sold local produce from CSA projects, this has gone so well that other events have asked them to do pop up cafes at events which has been really good for publicising transition;
- Transition Norwich setup the Magdalen St. street festival celebration which is now in 4th year, this is put on in a quite deprived area, which is also multi ethnic. It has been really great that the event has been taken on by the community and they have engaged with lots of local arts groups and businesses;
- Transition Cambridge have become much better at connecting with like-minded organisations and see a real strength in that. Charlotte from Sustainable Bungay seconded this and sees the power to convene as one of the key strengths of Transition;
- Sustainable Bury have put on a green Fair (that was previously run by the Green Party), they made it an educational event that was also a good recruitment opportunity;
- People also felt that one of the strengths of Transition is the openness of working together and pulling people together on projects.
Challenges that Transition Initiatives face.
Transition is not always a smooth road, and there are many issues along the way. In the South East they highlight many challenges, with these being the most common:
- Transition needs to experiment and do what works, not waste time on doing stuff that doesn’t work through identifying the things that work and sharing them;
- How to open up activities beyond the middle class participation;
- No validation of what is being done;
- Not having a clear story of transition, we need to have a story that takes account of the complexity of the times we live in;
- It is hard to nurture, build and maintain groups especially when trying to get a balance of internal dynamics and projects; It can be difficult to maintain a healthy group space;
- Making it fun can be difficult;
- There are difficulties around responsibility
- feel responsible for the transition movement
- can be hard to know what to do
- esp. around contentious issues
- also around organisational stuff like funding etc.
- also not having a clear way of making decisions – responsibility can fall on a couple of people;
- Feels difficult to move from big issues to local action;
- Defaulting to old paradigm habits in the operations of transition groups (hierarchal ways of doing things etc.);
- Small active groups that struggle to grow past their initial growth;
- The different perspectives on what transition is within groups and externally outside of the group;
- Hard to get new people involved, always the same people getting involved, the usual suspects;
- Raising awareness of transition can be hard;
- People having different ideas over how groups operate, the structure verses non-structure debate;
- Not understanding the psychology of people and why they do things is crucial to success, otherwise we can be wasting lots of time.
East Anglia raised a lot of similar issues.
- Again funding running costs of groups and projects;
- Running meetings, managing different skills levels and understanding of meetings and decision making;
- Creating livelihoods for people and up scaling transition in their area, how to agree in the group who makes a livelihood out of the transition groups activities (that have been run by all volunteers of the group). Getting group agreement for getting people to be paid;
- Should transition be about volunteers or paid people, some people think it should be voluntarily others paid;
- Burn out of transition people and not having enough capacity to do things, others in group suggested that sometimes projects/groups should be allowed to die;
- Handing over projects when you’re burnt out but don’t want the project to die. How to enable new people to step in and finding new people to take on the roles;
- How to get people to let go of projects;
- Dealing with conflict in the group;
- Feeling disengaged. Transition can sometimes feel parochial, futile, the issues too big to deal with, not progressing fast enough;
- Feels that Transition needs to be more involved in local government planning, become part of local politics. Not knowing where to put energy to be most effective;
- The difference between towns, cities and rural areas have issues. Smaller places sometimes have solidity and stability;
- Stour valley: Not a middle class town it is working class, feels that sometimes people in the town want don’t want transition;
- Recruiting new people as many don’t want to get involved;
- With austerity environmental issues are much less on the agenda. But double edged sword, is this an opportunity for transition, but there are different views of wealth and poverty in society;
- In general can be tough doing transition;
- New members questioning need for core group. Why go to their meetings? Projects but no core group. people come through the projects. The ‘doughnut’ effect where the core disbands and projects continue.
Groups meeting up, a good idea?
Groups had a lot to say about the benefits of meeting up and what this might mean if they did it more regularly.
The South East’s view.
- Having the responsibility of managing a network could be an issue;
- They didn’t want to be managed by TN;
- They would like to deepen the transition process;
- Would be really good to have networks to share information;
- Felt that getting people to meet face to face is key, especially in the beginning;
- Want to do things in a new way that reflects the new processes and not do things like the old hierarchical system;
- It was felt that some stuff could be done a lot easier on a regional level;
- Groups could do launch training together;
- As people coming into transition at different skill levels this could be a challenge;
- Re-skilling events are popular and could be put on by a network; Could be a learning network;
- People wanted to know about their part of a wider movement and regional networks could help build feeling of part of larger movement;
- Questioned whether we are building resilient communities that are connected up;
- Someone stated this quote “Success is how to cope with disappointment of failure”;
- Could have content specific conferences on particular topics;
- Good communication would be absolutely essential;
- Resources (funding) would be a big issue in getting stuff off the ground;
- A paid role would be really helpful;
- Groups could share learning on what they have found worked really well;
- Groups can also share and support each other.
East Anglia’s view.
East Anglia has less time to discuss this, but still managed to state the following:
- Gathering is difficult, but it was wanted and felt to be needed;
- Meetings would need longer time and would be really nice to have a shared meal;
- It was felt that meetings on specific issues would be good as they can go deeper into issues;
- People could visit another area and stay over and facilitate another initiatives core group meeting;
- If a grant was got of say £10k to help pay someone to organise regular regional meetings, that would be really helpful as organising is time consuming?;
- Not only is there a need for regional meetings, but a regional support group would also be good;
- A permaculture convergence had already been arranged and they used powwow calls to organise this, Transition Network is currently looking into tools to help with organising;
- Transport is a real issue especially in such a spread out area, might be easier to have smaller sub regional meetings which are easier to get to and allow for more people can come to them. Then less effort is needed, could be county wide or have a 30 mile guideline.
What’s your view?
Do these themes and challenges ring true for you? What have been your successes as a transition group and what challenges do you face? Please let us know by commenting on this blog piece – we’d love to hear your experiences and views.
Transition Initiative Support Coordinator