It’s been a funny kind of a day; trying to rest feet, much harder to do when they are feeling fine and don’t need putting up on a big red cushion! The blister plasters are almost all off now and my feet are almost clean! It’s been a day of errands too; post, washing, sending things home that I don’t need, trying to find a map of the South Downs Way (and discovering I need 4!) trying to catch up on emails and uploading blog posts on a connection that keeps cutting out, sitting in the Art House Cafe; cooperative run, quirky, full of distractions, haunt of Transitioners, and venue for story telling later.
In the afternoon I visit the art gallery; they have a Turner exhibition. He’s my favourite artist, painting things as they really look, capturing every detail, in some ways better than a camera; the emotion felt, the situation lives. The painting they exhibit is a seascape. Blinded by so many plaques explaining the process of cleaning they gave the painting I find I am unable to retain the name, but for those of you who know his work it depicts a boat with 4 men struggling to put out to sea, to reach the larger sail boat, in tempestuous conditions. One man wears a red coat which is so bright against the dark colours of the sea and sky that it is reflected in the water. He was criticised in his time for that touch; too garish? Yet it is that touch that lifts the picture out of doom and gloom; man’s struggle against nature’s harsh environment and into a reminder of our interconnectedness with our environment. Yes, it is sometimes challenging, but we are an intrinsic part of it, our actions yielding a response, as much as we respond to the environment we find ourselves in. The man in the red coat offers balance- a small splash of colour that redeems the whole.
Balance, it is the theme of our times, for me. In the evening I am back in the Art House Cafe with representatives of Transition Southampton, and of the Art House Cooperative too. Transitioner Amanda Golding, touched by the story I tell, is reminded of an interview she had to conduct for her work. She was talking to an elderly gentleman. She asked him what small change he would like to see that would change the world.
Perceptive elder; he said he would want to see the positive news from around the world reported as much as the bad news – to be told of what is going on in equal proportion, not to become complacent, but neither to be dragged down into despondency. A strong theme of my walk so far is how to spread the positive news, I tell the group about the positive news radio station in Exeter, about the positive news communications ex phone box in Dorset.
I present Transition Southampton with the beautiful felted tea cosy I have carried with me from Totnes. Local artist Geraldine Finnon (LadiG at yahoo.co.uk) has created this exquisite item, a thing so precious one would want to keep it forever. Ladi G was born in Southampton so it somehow feels quite fitting that her art should reach her birthtown, and that it should reach here as a representation of the local craft she promotes. Megan Streb and Amanda receive the tea cosy; highly appropriate as they are sitting drinking tea from unmatching china teapots out of china cups and saucers, in the style of the Art House Cafe, and also in the style of events run at my home in Totnes, Bowden House, by Geraldine herself.
As everyone has been who has seen the work of art, Transition Southampton and the Art House Cooperative are wowed. They talk of getting a large teapot for their meetings, instead of the urn they use for events, to be able to make use of their new emblem. Geraldine was very clear with her choice of design for the tea cosy; Transitioners should be meeting over cups of tea. The scene is that of the Mad Hatters tea party, with me depicted as Alice, complete with storytelling hat, the March Hare, and the dormouse in the teapot all depicted. On the back, a flying hare; I have always slightly wondered if Geraldine thinks I fly when no one is watching, but I can assure you, and my feet bear testimony, I prefer to feel my feet firmly on the ground, walking in my own rhythm.
The story of the town that became a city, the place that is both ancient and modern, the Gateway to the World, is a tale of great but humble strides. They, as others have told, believe Totnes to be the thing to aim for, and speculate that it must be just the right size for transition. They are greatly relieved to discover that we find it just as difficult to engage those who are not involved, and to encourage those who come to meetings to actually take part in or initiate a project. They ask that I tell stories of failure too so that the different initiatives can take heart in knowing that they are all struggling with similar challenges and can then share the puzzle and then when one group or person comes up with a creative solution everyone would know and benefit. I like this idea; find it wise. Not only is there a need to spread our positive news far and wide, but also sharing our difficulties brings us together and helps us to find solutions.
For Transition Southampton, as with many others, the biggest challenge is avoiding burn out and attracting in enough new people to take on the many, many projects that are being dreamt up every day.
We talk of Heart & Soul groups as maybe being the way to reach those harder to engage groups. After all, we know through Transition Tales’ work in schools that no one is able to look at an external problem if they are feeling overwhelmed by a personal problem; their story must be worked through first. Megan isn’t too sure of the name, it makes her think of emotions and holding hands, and she isn’t too comfortable with that. We talk of possible other names.
At the end of the evening one of the Art House volunteers, she never told me her name, comes up to us and asks if there is a heart and soul group In Southampton. She had heard me talk of it in my story, and she is inspired. She hasn’t known where her place was in transition and now she does. Megan suggests she goes along to the visioning day the group are holding in Southampton this Saturday, and talk about it and see if she can get others interested in starting a group. I am thrilled; my story in transition started in just that way. I heard people saddened by the lack of youth presence in an early transition meeting and knew that was something I could contribute.
We don’t join in unless we think we have something to offer; which can be spurred sometimes in time of need. Amanda tells us how the high rise tower block where she lives was burnt in a fire a couple of weeks ago. She has been really moved by how the community rallied round and brought clothes, blankets and food while they were being given shelter at the Salvation Army centre. She tells us how she had never felt that there was any sense of community in her neighbourhood before this incident.
The visioning day on Saturday is the first the group have put on and they are both excited and nervous by the prospect. They have devised the day around solutions based therapy as a way to guide people through the challenges we face to the steps we can take to guide us out the other side. I wish I could be there.
Organising vision days, however, isn’t the only thing Transition Southampton have got cooking. One of their sub groups is the Built Environment group. They are busy putting together a Sustainable Homes Exhibition. This, for those of you who haven’t come across the idea before, is an open house project like the 9 Days of Art, Open Studio idea. Those who have retrofitted their homes, using solar panels, underfloor heating, light capturing devices, turf or thatched roofs (Transitioner Terry Robinson explains to us how much heat is retained by having turf on your roof, and we remind ourselves that we have both ancient and modern techniques at our disposal; thatching also keeps in the heat) used cob, and so on, open their homes at designated times and the public can go and visit them and ask questions, safe in the knowledge that here they will get unbiased answers, not the sort of information they would receive from those involved in the business and able to make money from it.
My host, Jane Oddie, hopes to be able to offer her house in this way if the new tenants are happy. The house, where I am currently staying has underfloor heating, light tunnels (thick glass floor and ceiling disks that allow natural light through which wouldn’t reach certain rooms in ordinary build), and downstairs bedrooms and upstairs kitchen and lounge to make the most of the daylight. Amanda talks of her downstairs bedroom and of how much more sense it makes it go downstairs to bed and go upstairs when the day starts.
It isn’t only the built environment group that are active in Transition Southampton; the food group are busy too. Their latest project is “Eat Local Wednesday” which they are running in collaboration with their local paper the Daily Echo. In it participating restaurants and cafes get a half page write up in the food section of the paper. They prepare only local food on Wednesdays. This they hope will encourage more and more eateries to think about buying local, thus encouraging local shops to reopen in areas where they have been lost to fast food outlets.
Through our sharing of stories comes a great idea. Jane talks about Southampton City Council “Walk to Work” Scheme. They are creating new wider pavements all up Bedford Place, where Jane lives. Southampton has really impressed me with how their city centre is a safe and pleasant place to walk. The group lament that their nearest farmer’s market is all the way to the north in Winchester. They vision that once the Bedford Road pavement creation is finished they will be able to ask for a piece of land close by which Jane suggests, on which a market can be held, she even knows who to ask. Megan has lots of ideas, she has been talking to people for quite some time about a possible market on Bedford Place and just needed to be told of the perfect spot to ask for that would meet everybody’s needs. Then Spiros of the Fat Fig Greek restaurant would be able to buy local and have his faith in the power of community restored.
The transport group, I hear, have been having great fun eating too! They have had two events, a slow picnic on the Common, with a cycle ride between different spots, and a slow bike ride dinner where participants cycled from one home to another around the city, to eat their starter at one place, their main course elsewhere, and dessert some place else.
Still on the topic of eating Megan has come across a great idea of baking cakes for the people on your street. She can’t remember the source, if anyone out there knows please comment, but this woman and her kids started baking cakes, the project is called Cake Radius, and then all the names of the people within a certain radius of their home are put in a hat. Three are drawn and they then go off and leave a note and a cake on the person’s doorstep telling them about the project. Megan is thinking about borrowing some children so she can have a go too!
Southampton is known for shipping. I won’t be carrying a ship in my pack for the next stage though, if the theme for stage one turned out to be Wool and the Wool Trade, with a fair bit of growing our own thrown in, the theme for stage two could well be innovative modern solutions. The gift I am to take to Transition Forest Row will embody that. I won’t spoil the surprise.
Shipping though; it is still a big part of life in Southampton. One of their big challenges is how to make use of the big containers that goods are shipped in. Regulations state they can only be used three times before being discarded. Imagine how many disused containers there must be in Southampton! Transition Southampton are getting creative; they are close to being able to get the local council to use some of them to create an arts centre on the site where an old building is being demolished; a project that keeps running out of funding; this could well be the solution. They are also talking about turning them into toilet facilities on the allotments.
Working with the council is still in exploratory phase, Transition Southampton are going to have a go at working with the local Greening Campaign, to see if collaboration is possible. Watch out for updates.
A final inspirational story from Southampton has to be the tale of nearby village Martin. The fame of Martin had gone before it, Transition New Forest were also talking about it. There had been a shared expedition to visit this successful village recently. Martin are now breaking even after only 4 years of Future Farms; a project to bring farming back to serving its local village. After only 2 months a similar project is already showing signs of success. 60% of the villagers are now actively involved in the project to farm 8 acres of farmland by volunteers in the local community. They keep pigs, chickens and sheep over one side of the village, and grow veg over the other. Volunteers help take care of the animals and the plants and receive produce in return. The farm is now producing a surplus which it can trade with other villages with. Though volunteers don’t get paid for their work, they are not so very different from how farmer’s families have always been, they don’t get paid either!
Transition Southampton talk of a nearby manor house, Hollywood, where one of their number works as gardener. It has Victorian walled gardens and is open to the public on just a few occasions. Transition Southampton have been amazed at what can be grown in these gardens, pineapples, peaches, apricots. I remember Martin Crawford’s wonderful forest garden back home in Dartington and the kiwi fruits he grows. Abundance everywhere.
The group remember a place they have all visited in Reading. I will blog about it here as I won’t be going so far northwest as that when I am in Sussex. It is the Risk Cafe,(http://www.risc.org.uk/) very close to the enormous shopping centre the Oracle, serving the best food ever and growing a forest garden on its roof!
I want to end this blog with thanks to Bic and all the directors of the Art House Cafe (http://www.thearthousesouthampton.co.uk/) for making us so welcome and being so enthusiastic. They are doing great work spreading the word, and providing a great space for artists, storytellers, and musicians to share their work.