My heart is singing! Almost 8 months after returning from my famed and almost fantastical to me now walk around our beautiful country, and after probably the most challenging start of year I have ever had, I today tasted again of the nectar I imbibed on that six month pilgrimage.
I left my desk after a day at my laptop at the transition office and went off to a business meeting, a networking meeting with Young Devon, a charity who are involved in empowering and giving voice to young people with often no home, no work, no prospects, with no expectations other than a much desired partnership with them over Transition Tales’ next big exciting dream; a Big Walk around the UK with young people as journeymen storytellers.
Young Devon are based in Newton Abbot, our neighbouring town, I blogged about this place on the very first day of my walk (http://www.transitionnetwork.org/blogs/steph-bradley/2010-03/milk-human-kindness) , when I had no idea of what was in store for me, no glimpse of the wonders awaiting me, but already bitten by the enchantment of walking into a town… and falling in love.
I came this time by train, my favourite mode of non pedestrian land based travel. There is magic in the time taken out of time, a ten minute chance to write in my journal, trains give us time twice, time taken to arrive at our destination, and time to settle into the sacred space of a “how am I doing right now, how am I feeling, & what do I want to say to myself” check in moment.
After this precious gift of time given to me I alight in Newton Abbot to full blue sky cover and brilliant sunshine; it is very different from the rain and grey skies that greeted my earlier entry, and yet the experience of falling in love is the same. What is it, this tendency of mine to fall in love with settlements? It’s strong, palpable, real, and endlessly promiscuous, my love of one place never takes up all my love, there is always room for more and more and more…
So off I walk, following my nose and little blue cycle signs and half remembered directions that Vic Thompson, the woman who has brought me here, has given. I have never entered the town centre this way before. As I walk memories come a-flooding, here is where Hal & Jeff & I came – a TTT posse to talk with a newly forming transition Newton Abbot group, some 2 or 3 years ago, and as I walk on, a more painful memory , of walking here past these shops at Christmas time, exploring with my lover , the one who left me for another earlier this year, and I walk on , and with all of these memories comes too, a real joy to be alive, a glorying in my own aliveness this moment, this me, this day, this sunny walk into a town I barely know, my neighbouring town, and how much it woos me. Look, it says, I have this shop and this, this cafe, this fishmongers, this South American looking bar with tables outside, I have this old stone building, and this park, I have this face and this one too, come, it whispers on the barmy warm evening air, enjoy me, and give me pleasure, and I do.
And here I am, in the centre of the town having scarcely noticed how long or short a walk it has been, I am simply with the joy of having shared a loving time with this town, and I feel nourished and warm and a day of emails drifts into oblivion and a sense of the pleasure of living fills my being.
The Change Academy; I have no notion of what to expect. A young people’s centre, billiards room, dim memories of what Vic has told me, and here I am , the entrance looks unfinished, I might have hesitated, is it derelict, under renovation? But I know I am here – the second hand wedding dress shop is here on the ground floor, this is where I have been told to come.
I go inside the building, it is clearly being renovated. I hollor but there is no response. I take the dusty stairs up, not knowing what to expect and come in to an enormous spacious airy light, sun streaming though huge windows space. I am immediately gratified; it feels so good in here! And there, sitting at a desk in a small huddle of desks off to one side close by a set of the amazing windows is Vic.
She takes me to meet Debs. We are here partially to talk about the new national service. Vic has been rather embarrassedly trying to “sell” this idea. She hates the name of it, the military style branding of the new government scheme to get young people volunteering in community groups, yet Young Devon having been given the opportunity to pilot it with 900 16 year olds across the South West and she knows she and her colleagues are the chance there is to help shape this ill conceived , poorly thought through initiative into something that is worthwhile, to take the brutal commando style imaging and re brand it altogether more human scale, more nature based, more people centred, with arts, and environment and people care as motifs. They have this year and next, when the numbers must treble, to make a difference, before this becomes compulsory for every 16 year old school leaver in the country.
It is a challenge she has taken up, and with the determination only a person who loves what she does can muster, Vic is all set to find the gold in this opportunity. We have talked already about how Transition Tales might get involved and now Debs and I talk specifically about how Totnes young people can get involved. Just 15 young Totnes people will get the chance to take part in this completely free several week long project which consists of a week at a residential team building centre, a week of Totnes based day activities finding out what local community projects are around, and then several weeks to work together as a group to make something community based of their choice happen in conjunction with one of these groups or an idea of their own.
The group is to be from as many diverse backgrounds as possible. We talk about how to get some participants from our high school KEVICC, and how to involve our local Steiner school too and maybe someone from a neighbouring town college too, and agree to meet again to see if Transition Tales might input into some sessions.
Then I get a tour of the Change Academy. It is a massive big building, I learn that it was practically derelict when they took it on, now it is transformed – it is painted and welcoming – I learn that the young people are doing all the work themselves. I am inspired. It is such a beautiful space. I am taken to see the cafe; managed by young entrepreneur Laurie, just 19 years old, and keen to get involved with the Big Walk; she has always wanted to do something like this! The cafe is just gorgeous, it is chic and tasteful, they bought the bright shiny coffee machine new but everything else they got recycled second hand and it all looks just great.
I meet the young events manager and hear about the gigs they run, the workshops and events they run in their lovely big black shiny marble floored downstairs space. I see the space that is to become the textiles workshop where some will be working on the second hand wedding dresses for sale downstairs, very fashionably displayed with elegant photos of young Newton Abbot girls modelling some of the dresses, and the work station for internet, the reception area, and hear about the downstairs garage space where they can run bike workshops, and sorry Ben, hope you don’t mind, but I couldn’t resist selling them the idea of DR Bike workshops. For those of you who haven’t heard yet our very own Transition Network Ben Brangwyn has already found his post transition niche and is busily running a series of highly successful Dr Bike cycle maintenance sessions and has already got himself an adoring following. (http://www.transitiontowntotnes.org/content/transition-town-totnes-newsletter-54-may-2011)
Thoroughly inspired by the efforts of the young people in reforming the former billiards hall into a community centre worth its weight in gold, and having got Transition Tales a youth organisation partner where the synergy of some of the 16 year olds coming off their national community service having the chance of moving into a year long storytelling apprenticeship with Embercombe (http://www.embercombe.co.uk/) and Transition Tales is a possibility, and a promise of groups of 16-25 year olds with whom to pilot my new workshops for young people I leave the Change Academy already more than satisfied with the evening’s work. The evening, however, has hardly begun…
Vic is going on to the Transition Newton Abbot community garden. There is a chance they might be a community scheme the national service group might want to get involved with. We walk out of the centrally located Change Academy and past the huge Asda’s, my pre walk symbol of what Newton Abbot was about. I really enjoy walking past it, and remembering how it sheltered me from the rain last March and offered me a cup of hot tea in the chill wet late afternoon and how I had experienced a sense of community amongst my fellow cafe sitters, and felt the incongruity of this global giant being a shelter for the longing for community we humans have.
What I especially like about walking past it though on this bright sunny early summer evening is the fact that Vic is telling me about the transition garden that is just a few strides away! I cannot believe my ears. Another facet of this town that has no reputation locally for being anything other than supermarket land, big store place, tacky, poor, nothing to get excited about, is being revealed to me and I am delighted. I am even more delighted when I realise that to get to the garden we are going by footpath alongside a leat, full of all those wonderful life filled edges. The walk takes some 5 minutes, and it is a complete delight. It is impossible to know we are in a town centre, purple trailing flowers cling in clumps to the far side of the leat wall, gorgeously exhibiting themselves in all their splendour. We talk about the nettle beds and possibilities for nettle tea and nettle soup for the cafe. Laurie, I learn, is up for all things environmental, and we think about how young people can harvest the nettles for the cafe and bring new plants to put in the place of some of these, an edible edge along the leat along the path to the garden. As we near the garden the location’s townness is evident again with industrial buildings to walk by.
Then we meet a couple of transitioners; easy to identify, one is holding a bunch of green leaves she’s just picked from the garden and taking home to cook, the other, stopped to talk, is pushing her bicycle. We follow her into the garden and I am given a guided tour as it is my first time there and they know of me – the tale teller, and I fall comfortably into my role. I am instantly transported back to the rapture of my walking days. There is nothing, for me, more wonderfully my role in transition than the joyous task of gathering up to share, the inspired and inspiring endeavours of transition projects and this one, practically on my doorstep, is no exception.
Nestling between the leat and the river Lemon, a tributary of the Teign, on a flood plain, is Newton Abbot community garden. Like so many I have seen it fills me with wonder, with pleasure, with tears of joy. It is beautiful, an urban oasis. It was the awkward corner at the end of the town allotments. It was covered in brambles. Its fertile top soil lifted off to fill the allotment beds. Transition Newton Abbot (http://www.transitionnewtonabbot.org.uk/) acquired it for a peppercorn rent of £1 a year for the next 25 years! Now it has beautiful fifty pence shaped raised beds lovingly edged with slim wooden trunks. It has a pond and contains benches, some of them from the town centre where they were not used or needed. There is a compost area, a seating area, a potato patch (they tell me it isn’t a specially sunny patch and that trial and error over the past 2 and a half years has taught them tomatoes are not the crop of choice here, but potatoes do well.) It is very wet and I ask if they have watercress and am told it grows all by itself quite naturally in the leat a group of people on probation cleared out last year.
Pride of the project is the forest garden .I am thrilled. Nothing garden wise makes me so happy as a forest garden. It is the dream of my life to have a garden where I can one day plan my own forest garden. I tell the group about Transition Penrith’s research project to share knowledge about forest garden projects nationwide so that the learnings about what grows well under what conditions can be shared, and get their details to pass on to Naomi, my lovely northern host from last summer.
A cherry sapling is already fruiting in the garden and I look around at the carefully laid wooden markers of the edges of areas, and allow the pleasure of the experience to soak into my awareness. We are right beside the allotments, the town park, a row of town houses, and an industrial park, and we are in a forest garden in the making. I recall Poole and its similar patch, visited last April. I want to cry as I write; for we are already living our transition dream. It isn’t tomorrow that it happens, or next year, or in far off 2030, it is now, right now, in the hearts and dreams of every person who puts their dreams down on the face of the earth, right here, besides, and nestling up against, the trappings of early 21st century life.
We sit at the picnic table to meet and hear Vic’s proposal for young people to come and get involved. We are beside the shed area, I have been told to imagine the shed, they don’t have one yet, so everything they would keep in a shed is tidily stacked up, just as if it were indeed in a shed. As we talk about their longing for a shed one drives past. Atop a van it comes along the road that runs the other side of the leat. Sets of eager eyes follow it down the road, and before we know it we have lost one of our number, she is off down the road after the van, if they are having a new shed delivered then might they have an old one to donate?
Ah, transitioners, there shall be poems written, song sung, and tales shared about your endeavours, that will be repeated down across the ages; the faithful ones, the ones that know the benevolent nature of things, ask and ye shalt receive, believe and ye shalt manifest, enter into all with a spirit of fun and you never know what might happen next.
How I rejoice that I have the happy task of recounting your experiences for all to know of.
I don’t get to hear the end of the shed manifesting tale but I have all faith that the outcome will be positive. The group has moved on to what the young people might do onsite. All are agreed that they mustn’t be expected to do the everyday tasks of weeding and such like but must be given a task they can take ownership of, see complete, there is a large heap of clay taken from the land, they are going to use it to make a clay oven, perhaps the young people might like this task, they speculate, or building a shelter, the longed for shed, more benches. Such love is displayed and I am heartened that our young people are valued and cared about , and feel great warmth for this small bunch of pioneers who want to welcome with open arms our youth.
Talk moves to Nicky Scott (http://www.dccn.typepad.com/), for those in the SW this name is famous; he’s our composting guru; there aint nothing he don’t know about compost. Vic has worked with him and is thinking closed loops. Perhaps the waste from the cafe can be brought along the path from the Change Academy to the garden (I see images of a procession of people with small brown compost buckets carrying their wares down to the garden in exchange for fresh produce to serve in the cafe). There will be legalities to comply with, and a jorra composter might be needed for cooked waste. The garden is near private homes and must not attract rats, and there may be things not permissible about carrying waste through town centres, but where there is a will there is a way and the idea is an exciting one.
Vic and I leave the group discussing garden things, me promising to blog and see if I can’t attract more volunteers to their project (if that might be you contact me below and I will put you in touch with Bettina) & wondering if I may meet up with the man there who is going to be helping plant the gardens at KEVICC tomorrow, a lovely Transition Newton Abbot visiting TTT occurence as I have represented TTT visiting Transition Newton Abbot exchange, and we feel as though we have just had a brief excursion into paradise.
I am warm inside, still glowing several hours later, having been reminded of the joys of my walk. This is what it is to be truly happy in this world of ours; when being of service to each other and to others and our planet actually serves us as individuals.
Thank you neighbouring town, for sharing of yourself with me tonight; as a lover have you filled me with reverence, thrilled me, and brought compassion and love to my heart. I am indeed grateful for the privilege of living in Transition Times. We spoke today at Transition Network of what is that quality that has the power to move us to tears, and I said it is that which reminds us we are one, the connectivity of each of us with the collective. We had been speaking of the vision for a future post oil, post motorways, we had heard on a transition film about to be released, and from future vision bringing tears to my eyes, I have been brought vision made manifest just a handful of miles down the road. Make no mistake about our chances of success. We are in transition, we have already made it, we are living it, right now, with every step we take, with every dream we dare to realise.