A couple of weeks ago, Transition Bristol held their Small Green Sunday event, to celebrate and reflect on all that they have achieved over the last seven years. Four members of the group have kindly shared their reflections on the day, and on what it felt like to come together to celebrate, beneath the bunting and fuelled with good food, all that Transition has brought to their lives and to their city.
Kristin Sponsler’s story
It is impossible to capture in words what it has been like to be part of the Transition Bristol journey over the last seven (seven??) years. From my arrival as a corporate escapee in 2007 and being invited by Transition Bristol’s founder Sarah Pugh to “help” with the Big Event that autumn (400 people and some big name Peak Oil stars in the lineup!) to helping craft our “light touch” and celebratory Small Green Sunday event this past May where we had 50 people max, it has been a bumpy and exciting ride.
One of my big learnings through all of this has been that it is quality of the partnerships and relationships, not the quantity of attendees that counts when you are trying to do Transition work in a city that has the feisty energy that Bristol does. Have a look at our timeline to see what the idea of Transition has helped to birth and inspire since we began as the first “official Transition City” in 2007.
Since I was on the door most of the morning, the highlight of Small Green Sunday for me was the amazing bring food to share lunch that the participants brought with them on the day, as well as all the luscious and scrumptious cake provided by Shannon Smith, local baker extraordinaire. The invitation was for people to come either for the morning session or to come in later and share in one of several “lunchtime conversations” that arose out of the interactive session in the morning. Even though the weather turned lovely after a shaky start in the morning we couldn’t get many people to venture out into the Trinity Centre’s lovely garden space because they were too busy talking! A sign of a successful event in my book.
Angela Raffle’s story
I’ve been part of the volunteer team running Transition Bristol for about five years. It’s been hard to envisage running anything that could match the wonderful Big Event of November 2008 so instead we’ve concentrated on behind the scenes, helping on masses of transition In Bristol stuff. Then with new energy from new people we found ourselves creating Small Green Sunday on 23 May 2014. The delight we felt from reconnecting across all the themes – energy, food, happiness, learning, transport, and links with Green Capital – was tremendous.
My memories of the event range from the excitement of rattling along the rough track from the allotments in the early morning sunshine with a vat of Mike Feingolds legendary cider fizzing on the back seat of the car, through to the joy of seeing everyone completely focused on lunchtime conversations over shared food – lightly organized with a mini-version of Open Space Technology. The worst panic moment was standing leaning with my back against the stage thinking ‘Eek – how many chairs shall we lay out? Will it be zero or 80?’ at which point two things happened.
One was a warm wet sensation in my right ear and the other was someone saying to my left ear that the best rule on a free ticketed event is half the number that booked. Looking round I found myself face to face with a huge German Shepherd dog standing on the stage and licking me, strangely comforting in an alarming kind of way. So we immediately removed half the chairs to leave 40, and that was exactly the number that came, which felt perfect. We had a morning of connecting, celebrating, thinking, discussing, planning, dreaming, and committing. The power of the Transition concept was definitely at work.
Tom Henfrey’s story
The importance of celebrating achievements really struck me when I moved to Bristol during 2013. Arriving from somewhere where community action has far less breadth and momentum, I revelled in the richness of what Bristol’s grassroots movements for social change have achieved. From needing to work hard to spend time in places where Transition is already underway, I literally found it hard to move without coming across some visible manifestation, and benefit, of decades of sustainability action.
Community gardens and other growing projects all over the place (80 throughout the city, I am told), providing local cafes and restaurants or acting as informal community learning spaces; a local permaculture group with over 1000 members, and dozens more coming through the design certificate course and Shift Bristol’s groundbreaking Practical Sustainability course every year; a city-wide network of community energy projects; a functional cycling infrastructure and thriving bike culture; more talks, films and other gatherings of the like-minded than you could ever hope to attend, and a new local currency rapidly establishing itself as a marker of distinction for independent traders.
Marvelling at the abundance, I was surprised to discover that the most common attitude among seasoned Bristolians in this scene was one of frustration at how much more remains to be done. While I joyfully rode or walked to the back yard of my local social centre to pick up my weekly veg bag from a community-run permaculture farm two miles from my home, I heard old-timers grumble about the extent to which Bristol remains very much part of the carbon economy, the traffic-clogged city streets, the number of supermarkets, economic dependency on a small number of large and ethically dubious businesses. All this is true, and it’s also true that several decades of community action, accelerated since Transition took off since 2007, has left a rich legacy.
The cultural ground for Transition has become well established. It’s easy to spend most of your time with people and in places who hold and express core values of sustainability and social justice, something I find deeply nourishing. Any new project or initiative is richly resourced in terms of knowledge, skills, networks, sympathy, and background understanding of the big picture of which it forms a part. In the daily work of pushing things forward still further, it’s natural to focus on how far there is to go rather than what’s already been accomplished.
It’s these past achievements that make current and future work possible, and everyone who has put vision and energy into making them happen deserve opportunities to take stock, look back, and celebrate all they have done. Thanks to them, Bristol has become an exciting, vibrant, inspirational place to live where the key challenges of Transition are being faced head on. I’m proud that I was able to contribute to an event that celebrates this and plans how we build on that legacy going forward.
Mark Leach’s story
One of my roles in attending Small Green Sunday was to explain or clarify the nature of Green Capital – the Partnership, the 2015 company, the European award etc.; but I took part in the day wholeheartedly and a number of things struck me.
Firstly, to see again just how much Transition has achieved over the last decade. Or to be more precise, helped people/groups etc in the city acheive. We are looking for lessons that Bristol can swap with others as we learn from other cities and they from us about being a greener city during 2015. Well, I think we should be saying to any city across Europe, becoming a Transition city can help nurture projects through the difficult seedling stage, and sow more new seeds too. The Bristol Green Capital Partnership has played a huge role too and the event made me realise just the extent to which the two compliment each other well.
The award of European Green Capital is not awarded for reaching the finishing line as a completely green city, it’s for making good progress along that journey – a journey that is long and difficult for all cities. Transition and SGS are great for reminding us how far we have to go, due to the ambitions and dreams of participants and their vision for where we should be going as a city.
I was bowled over by a sense of respect that permeated the event and those participating. People had challenging questions, but a tough, constructive challenge is so much more worthwhile than a limp negative one!
Another thread running right through the event was the desire to reach out and be inclusive. It’s easy for people outside to pigeon-hole Transition as a movement for middle class people that only those with time and space for it. I think I learned how far this is from the truth and certainly from the potential of Transition. The reality of Transition – as much practical and down to earth as well as, say, spiritual, and the broad potential appeal of permaculture.
And lastly the venue, the re-vamped Trinity building, beautiful Trinity Community garden and beguiling “shed” were perfect for the event and for demonstrating this reality.