Last month Transition Network took a dive into ‘What Is’, an inspiring, fascinating, and at times challenging immersion in the Transition movement and the challenges that lie ahead for us.
We hosted four webinars, in the context of our ‘Transition: Bounce Forward’ series. The focus was on initiatives in England and Wales, but the lessons and insights were universal, and participants joined from around the world, including the US, Canada, Brazil, and Iran.
The first one, held on September 7th, was entitled ‘What is the context for the next 5 years of Transition’ and featured 3 guests, Kevin Anderson, Nick Anim and Eva Schonveld, and was chaired by Transition Network’s Rob Hopkins.
Kevin Anderson, one of the most honest and outspoken advocates for rapid action on the climate emergency, began by stating “to understand what action is needed, we must recognise where we’re starting from”. And we are not starting from a good place.
He presented a recent paper he had published (summarised in this article in The Ecologist) which showed that when aviation and shipping generated by imports are taken into account, the scale of cuts we need to make in order to stay below a 1.5 degree rise isn’t the 2-3% a year proposed by the UK government, but closer to 9 or 10%. “In 2020”, he stated, “climate change has become system change”, before setting out a series of challenges the Transition movement needs to address. Time with Kevin is like an appointment with a doctor who tells it to you straight, and his honesty and clarity was much appreciated by those participating.
The second guest was Nick Anim from Transition Town Brixton (sporting a very fine TTB shirt). He has spent the past 5 years exploring, through research, why it is that, as he put it, “environmental movements tend to be green but mostly white”. Among his findings are that the Transition movement and the wider environmental movement haven’t been attentive enough to durable inequalities that marginalised groups face every day.
He concluded his talk by saying that the Transition movement is “a Trojan Horse of revolutionary possibilities … we operate under the radar but we also must join hands with other movements in our localities such as XR and Black Lives Matter”.
Eva Schonveld focused on the role of inner Transition and how important the role of inner is for both Transition and for activism in general. She talked about the impact of trauma on our ability to respond to what is going on around us, touching on the role of colonisation and power and the need to recognise the role of trauma, and design processes to address it. She shared many insights from her recent article, co-written with her partner Justin Kenrick, which was re-published by Transition Network last month.
Participants were then put into small groups to discuss what they had heard and to formulate questions for the speakers. The Q&A was far reaching and fascinating and a couple of our highlights from the discussion were:
“When responding to climate change, there are no technocratic solutions, there are some technocratic responses that may help, but ultimately it is much more an issue of society, values and community” - Kevin Anderson
“So many people have … largely unwittingly just slid into going along with the system that doesn’t work for any of us” - Eva Schonveld
“At the local level, it’s very much about the stories you tell. How, for example, do you link the issues of police violence to climate change? Police violence creates a hostile environment for a particular group of people, and with climate change the end result is a hostile environment for a particular group of people - once you understand that, then you can make some connections that resonate with each and every group” - Nick Anim
The second webinar, the following day, was titled ‘The Opportunities These Times Present’. It featured presenters from Transition Town Liverpool, Transition Town Letchworth, and Transition Llandrindod Wells and was chaired by Transition Network Trustee, Peter Lefort.
Paul Riley talked about how Transition Liverpool have had a resurgence recently, with new people and a new sense of energy in their activities. He acknowledged that it is harder to build momentum in a large, complex city like Liverpool, where 1 in 3 people are below the poverty line. They found though that when COVID hit, “we found possibility everywhere”. “I watched love and imagination become the most important things in the world”, he said. They are working on a project called sParkIt, a takeover of carparking spots across the city, and are currently crowdfunding for it (if you have any spare pennies) – working with many organisations and architects (‘sParkitects’) to make it happen. “We are finding that our imagination is becoming the superpower that we always thought it was”, he said.
Dorienne Robinson and Catherine Smedley talked about the Incredible Edible project in Llandrindod Wells. It emerged from an event about food security and then formed under the umbrella of Transition Llandrindod Wells. They set out to work with their local council and built a good relationship that ended with the Council offering them a former tennis court. They also created a GardenShare scheme to open up more land for people who want to grow food, and have been running online training courses. Catherine discussed the Seed Library that they have created, for edible plants and bee-attracting flowers. During COVID, Dorienne said “we have seen the emergence of a strong mindset in the town for food security”.
Julia Sonander from Transition Town Letchworth discussed how the group have been working, during lockdown, on their promotion of a Cycle Network for the town. They worked with other local organisations to create a cycling plan to connect parts of the town together, and have since been pushing to make it a reality. They have also been working on their community allotment, as well as other established projects that have been running for some time in Letchworth.
There then followed a fascinating Q&A discussion. A few key quotes from that:
“People really want to build back better” - Paul Riley
“We have had to learn to compromise” - Julia Sonander
“Almost everything that is a climate resilience project is also a COVID bounce back project” - Paul Riley
“We had been finding it a struggle to get people onto our community allotments. Now there are lots of people” - Julia Sonander
The third webinar featured representatives of Ealing Transition, Transition New Mills and Transition Kentish Town and was presented by Hilary Jennings of Transition Town Tooting.
Trevor Sharman of Ealing Transition, an area where much of the employment is linked to Heathrow Airport, told us that the group formed in 2009 and has hosted over 90 events and run a number of projects in the area. They manage an open space which provides a community garden, allotments and a pizza oven, as well as managing two community orchards, a forest garden and Incredible Edible patches throughout Ealing. They run a CSA vegetable box scheme which has 50 shareholders. They also act as a broker for community energy schemes, working with the Council, schools and other bodies and as a result 22 schools, a children’s centre and a hospice have solar systems in place.
They have given a lot of time to creating a good working relationship with their local council, taking opportunities when they present themselves. They pressed the Council to declare a climate emergency, and have built good relationships and are trying to hold the Council to being bold and imaginative on this.
Phil Frodsham from Transition New Mills talked about how, before lockdown, the group had run an amazing ‘community conversation‘ to develop a vision beyond the climate emergency declaration. Around 85 people attended, including local councillors and ‘provocateurs’, and ideas for what they want to create were turned into a ‘New Mills 2030’ book.
Two weeks later lockdown arrived! The work of implementing the ideas continued online though, and many projects are now underway, including Nature New Mills, Pedal Forward and Home Farm New Mills, a project focused on growing historical grains. They also want to create a Civic Imagination Office in the town, and to make their community conversation an annual event.
Debbie Bourne joined us from Transition Kentish Town, a group that has been active for 10 years now. Last year Camden Council ran the UK’s first ever Citizens’ Assembly, which generated 17 key recommendations, one of which was about deeper connection to the community. Lawyer and activist Farhana Yamin came up with the idea of turning an empty café on the High Street into a Think and Do, in collaboration with the local Extinction Rebellion and Friends of the Earth groups as well as Transition Kentish Town.
What emerged was an amazing imagination space which ran for 6 weeks and in which there were almost constant workshops and other events taking place for a wide range of groups. The Council’s involvement was key, and many Council workers took part, often meeting Council workers from other departments for the first time! Think and Do hosted 80 events in 6 weeks.
Once COVID arrived, Think and Do moved online, hosting over 40 webinars on very diverse topics. The group remain aware of the possibility that they are being used to ‘greenwash’ the Council (“what about the other 16 recommendations?” Debbie asked), but feel that their involvement is yielding very real results. They have been involved in creating a ‘barrier-busting’ unit at the Council and Debbie concluded by saying “let’s set up Think and Dos everywhere!”
A few standouts from a great Q&A conversation were:
“Think and Do really needs someone to be paid to take this to the next level, a volunteer project manager to turn the ideas into results” - Debbie
“Remember that even the worst councillors at some point wanted to make positive changes, which is why they became councillors. Tap into that” - Phil
“The most diverse element of what we are doing are the practical projects, because differences are irrelevant” - Trevor
“Does the language you use as a group attract people to you or drive them away?” - Phil
“Community gives me hope, Transition gives me hope. It’s great fun” - Debbie
The final session was entitled ‘Reinventing and revaluing projects in changing times’ and was presented by Transition Network’s Yaz Brien.
Karen Jones and Laura Marchant-Short of Crystal Palace Transition Town talked about two projects, the Crystal Palace Food Market, and the Library of Things. The market was established in 2013 and, just before lockdown, had grown to 30 stalls of established farmers and producers as well as new entrepreneurs. The Library of Things is a library of tools and other resources that people can borrow.
Both projects were hugely impacted by the pandemic. When the lockdown began the market was closed and they looked for ways to adapt it for safe use. Using permaculture principles they redesigned the physical market, completely reimagining how it was laid out, spreading it over different days, with stencils on pavements and many other measures. They also harnessed their website to enable traders to do delivery schemes. In June they reopened properly, completely redesigned, in a form that could stay open even in a lockdown.
The Library of Things similarly had to be completely redesigned. Demand was high as many people wanted to get on with projects and activities during the lockdown. So the Library was reimagined as ‘Things on Wheels’, where things were delivered to people’s homes. It required a lot of work to set up, but it has ensured the survival of the Library and met the needs of the local community. “It has been creative thinking that has saved our projects”, Karen said. “People trust us and people want us to succeed” added Laura.
Chris Turnbull of Hythe Environmental Community Group talked about their work in several different areas. One of their projects is Hythe Hops, where over 120 people grow hops for making into a local beer. The main project he wanted to share is their gleaning work, done in collaboration with other local organisations, where food that isn’t economic for the farmer to harvest is collected by volunteers and distributed to people experiencing food poverty. They have harvested over 12 tonnes of food since April, usually by 6-9 gleaners each time. They also do urban gleaning, especially of fruit trees.
Anita Roy and Helen Gillingham of Transition Town Wellington found that before lockdown all of their projects – community allotment, gardening training, Repair Café, tree plantings and more – were starting to get a lot more interest and traction and enthusiasm. When lockdown arrived their trainings moved online, and they started working with Transition Town Taunton and others to create a campaign around allotments. They mapped all the allotments and found huge evidence of need for new allotment space and are now lobbying and pushing the Council to create more.
They have planted many fruit and nut trees around the area and struggled to maintain them. Over the course of the last year, especially since the pandemic, said Anita, “we have really worked hard to work with a wider range of groups and people”. “Come to Wellington”, she said, “and we’ll show you around!”
A few key quotes from the Q&A session:
“The Market itself is a way of sustaining ourselves” - Karen Jones
“We’ve been banging on about food security and environmental methods of farming for such a long time and people thought we were mad, and now people are coming to us and going “there was no food in the supermarkets! It’s a thing!” It’s wonderful having people we’ve never seen before who are now valuing our farms, organic farms, the short chains between the farm and the market. That’s really powerful” - Laura
“The most popular things during lockdown were DIY things, cooking and gardening projects, and I think that’s amazing, that we can all be a bit more self-sufficient than we were” - Helen
“There’s so much more in food than food. People are now looking at the small plots of land, the interconnected gardens, looking at corridors, how do you build a large amount of space for wildlife when you don’t have a large amount of space – you jigsaw things together, you make a patchwork, and that’s the only way that we as a species are going to be able to survive with other species…” - Anita
Our thanks to all our guests, to the Transition Network team who made it possible, to our great presenters, and to everyone who participated.
We look forward to sharing more Transition: Bounce Forward news and activities in the coming weeks – watch this space!