The impact we’re having: Nicola Vernon of Transition Town Greyton
By rob hopkins 8th April 2014
Greyton Transition Town has been in existence for just over two years and is beginning to have a significant impact on our community. The one way which stands out for all of our community is what a great vehicle it is to bring about social integration. The context of Greyton is worth noting here as background. When the village was founded 150 years ago, it comprised long narrow plots of land where a house could be built at one end and the rest of the land was for livestock and crops. Leiwater channels brought water to every plot and people of all cultures lived sustainably and peacefully side by side. The Group Areas Act of the 1950s declared some of those people, with a darker skin than the others, to be ‘coloured’ and therefore to be removed to the outskirts of the town where they were placed cheek by jowl in mean little houses on a rocky slope with little soil.
The division this caused is still tangible and visible today, as in most of South Africa. Greyton has become an affluent English style village of oak tree lined streets and thatched cottages whilst Heuwelkroon, that rocky escarpment, continues to house most of the ‘coloured’ population and many of the social ills that result from poverty and oppression (economic now rather than legislated). Neighbouring Genadendal (3 kms away) fared worse.
In its day it was larger than Cape Town was at the time. It was a stopping off point for travellers moving from West to East. It housed cartwrights, wheelwrights, knife makers and other fine craftsmen, the first primary school in South Africa, the first teacher training college, the first printing press. Its mission station is still a place of peace and beauty but the surrounding town suffers from poverty and a lack of resources.
Into this situation let’s put the Transition movement. As a driver for social integration it’s the best I’ve encountered in 30 years of working in social welfare. I’m still working out the reasons as to why it is so successful. Part of the reason must be that we are all equal in the face of global challenges like peak oil and climate change. Even if the big picture is scarcely acknowledged there is an awareness that we’re all in the dwang when the shift hits the fan.
Secondly, those skills that our poorer community members have had to maintain in order to survive are regarded as desirable and valuable in Transition. Instead of being ashamed of having to make chutney because she can’t afford to buy her own, Auntie Dora proudly presents her organic, locally grown vegetable chutneys at our weekly Wednesday fresh products exchange table where they are swooped up by all and recipes, advice demanded.
A local natural building team is always in work now that the benefits of working with clay are becoming treasured once again – for insulation, availability and cost. Gardeners growing their own vegetables because they can’t afford to buy from shops are now having to produce surplus to meet the demands of a village becoming increasingly aware of food miles, toxicity of pesticides/herbicides and the benefits of supporting the local economy.
Our mantra is ‘Hands-on, heart engaged’. Whatever we do, it’s interactive or it just doesn’t take. We hold very few meetings, seminars or presentations but we do a lot of events and activities like our upcoming Trash to Treasure festival when all sectors of our community come together for an afternoon of music, workshops, competitions and enjoyment. We parade from the busy Saturday farmers’ market through the village to the rehabilitated part of the town dumpsite where each visitor can engage in activities such as composting, making biochar, building a permaculture swale, stuffing eco-bricks (plastic bottles stuffed with clean dry non-recyclable waste and then used as building materials), building the eco-brick outdoor classroom (first ecobrick building in South Africa), plastering the straw bale stage wall or making clay bricks for the composting toilet block.
On July 3rd we will become the first town in South Africa to be plastic bag free – with the full buy-in of the shopkeepers. There’s nothing like watching a dead sea bird have its stomach cut open and half a kilo of plastic waste removed from its innards to inspire a horrified shop keeper to abandon the bag.
With the help of two building engineer students from Han University in the Netherlands, an urban designer, architect and structural engineer (all working pro bono), we are drawing up the plans for a fully integrated eco-village comprising a mix of homes – sub economic housing side by side with affordable private homes, (for those able to manage a small mortgage), and with more affluent private homes. Solar panels, biomass digesters, grey water systems, community gardens will relieve the burden on the already overtaxed village infrastructure as well as helping to build a community. The ultimate residents are working with the professional team to help design and build their homes.
Our eco-crew school programme works both in the classroom and after school with nearly 80 children every week to engage the youngsters in environmental awareness and humane education. It astonishes me how much the children enjoy putting on plastic gloves, picking up a large black bin liner and cleaning up a river bank. They always ask when they are going to do it again!
We have swop shops where people bring clean dry recyclable waste and exchange it on site in a small shop for basic necessities such as fresh organic fruit and vegetables, clothing, school uniforms, stationery and toiletries. This uses up high end waste from the supermarkets as well as giving our local recycling entrepreneur over 700 kgs of recyclable waste from each swop shop.
Transition in Greyton has created 18 jobs – four of them through direct employment. We have a project co-ordinator, PA, eco-crew co-ordinator and a trainee. The others have been created through our mentoring scheme. We are currently mentoring four green businesses –
Pure Home: House cleaning/management agency using only environmentally friendly, non-toxic cleaning materials which are also sold through its own retail outlet.
Pure Café: Vegetarian and vegan café serving only locally produced, organic, seasonal fresh food and drinks.
Tabularasa Natural Builders: Natural building company, currently supporting the eco-crew children and adult volunteers to build the eco-brick outdoor classroom.
Greyton Green Park: Chipping, composting, biochar of garden waste on the rehabilitated part of the dumpsite.
Future schemes in the planning stages include placing solar panels on the roofs of local schools, building a green economy with job creation and local currency, and establishing a training centre for other communities wishing to adopt the transition model or a version of it.