The St Andrews Transition Roadshow: full report
By rob hopkins 23rd October 2014
Instead of running an annual conference in 2014, Transition Network is running four Roadshows around the UK. The pilot took place in Lancaster in July, and St. Andrews in Scotland hosted the first Roadshow proper. The St Andrews event was hosted by Transition University of St. Andrews, who have been doing amazing work both within and beyond the University. It was a great occasion, and in this post we’ll try and document and celebrate the event, and capture what you missed if you weren’t there.
Day One (by Rob)
The St. Andrews event started on the Friday morning with the Transition Scotland gathering, held at the Botanic Gardens in the ‘Glass Class’, a long greenhouse now used as a classroom. The morning brought Transitioners from across Scotland together to reflect, share and plan. As the Roadshow booklet put it:
“Whether your group is going strong, is just getting started, or is somewhat burnt out, we’d love to hear your story as we pool visions of how we see Scotland transitioning to a resilient future, and plan how we’re going to achieve it!”
That set the tone for the day. We heard stories from across the country, from groups thriving and acting as amazing incubators for all sorts of new enterprises and initiatives to those hanging on by their fingernails. One of the interesting challenges in Scotland is the Climate Challenge Fund. Several years ago, when it began, I remember Scottish Transition groups coming to the national conference and talking with delight to jealous Transitioners from elsewhere about this new government grant that was going to fund them to do Transition.
A few years later it’s fascinating to get a sense of how this has worked. While for some groups, such as Transition Linlithgow and Sustaining Dunbar, it has enabled the patient and skilful building of a range of enterprises and REconomy work, it also had a downside. Groups that had barely got started, had little in the way of successful projects under their belts, were suddenly well-resourced, and time and energy went into projects rather than building the kind of resilient groups and social networks that Transition depends on.
Then, after a couple of years, when the funding dried up, there was little to fall back on, and the groups floundered. Some of those groups are now finding their feet again, some have disappeared. Similarly dormant now is Transition Scotland, the national network. The morning discussed ways forward, the role Transition Scotland could play, and possible future directions for Transition.
The afternoon was held at St Andrews Town Hall, and was a REconomy workshop, entitled “Re-imagine your local economy”. It wasn’t just about the new ideas the REconomy are promoting, but also about linking those in with movements and initiatives already underway in Scotland.
The session opened with 3 keynote speakers. Transition Network’s Delivery Director Sarah McAdam spoke about where the idea of REconomy came from, how Transition Network is supporting it, and how far it has already spread.
Mark Simmonds, REconomy’s Enterprise Advisor, looked at the scope and potential of Transition enterprises in a post-referendum Scotland.
Philip Revell of Sustaining Dunbar, talked about their Local Resilience Action Plan, and what it has led to.
This was followed by workshop sessions: on farming; making the most of opportunities for emerging enterprises, the role of resilience action plans, and the one I went to, led by Angus Hardie, on the Community Empowerment Bill, a piece of legislation so fascinating that it will be the subject of a future post here.
After a break, I spoke briefly, and then it was into a choice of Round Table discussions. I went to one about Sustaining Dunbar’s proposed community owned business park, a fascinating, and slightly daunting step up for the group. After closing comments and a wrapping up, the event closed.
The evening’s event took place at the Byre Theatre, the town’s theatre that had closed last year only to be recently taken over and reopened by the University. This was a talk by me, in an odd space, with a gallery looking down on me as well as the audience in front of me. I talked for about 45 minutes, and it felt like it went well. A film of it will hopefully follow soon. I really enjoyed it, and had a couple of very nice St Andrews-brewed pints afterwards.
The second day was the Roadshow proper. As I then headed home on the 10 hour train ride home, I will hand over to Mike Thomas, Transition Network’s Support Co-ordinator, to tell you more, and leave you with a photo of the windfarm in the Highlands that I passed on the way home.
Day 2 (by Mike)
The St. Andrews Road Show is a bit unique as it was hosted by a Transition Initiative based in a University. Transition University of St Andrews have slowly been embedding Transition into their student community since they began. The Initiative has a Core Group that is made up of and chaired by students. Transition is promoted to all new students from the day they begin with the ‘St And Re-Use’ scheme which collects stuff from students leaving such as cutlery, utensils etc which are then distributed to new students in Freshers Week. In 2013-14 they collected nearly 1000kg of reusable items which were given new homes by over 700 students.
They also have edible landscape projects, low carbon living projects and social events like Carbon Conversations and Green Drinks amongst other things. It is a great initiative that introduces hundreds of people to Transition and hopefully when they leave university they continue to be involved in Transition in their local communities.
The Road Show got off to a great start with a Laughter Yoga session, which slightly worried me having done a fair bit of yoga myself, and thinking that if I also have to laugh at the same time, I may pull a muscle. It turned out that this wasn’t the case, and it was literally a good laugh (excuse the pun) without injuries.
We had a packed day to look forward to with workshops in the morning and afternoon. In the morning people attended workshops that consisted of an Introduction to Transition for people new to the idea, Resourcing your Transition Initiative and Supporting Healthy Transition Initiative. I was shadowing Naresh, our Transition Trainer, to run the workshop on Healthy Transition Initiatives.
We had a really interesting conversation where we discussed what success looked like for Transition Initiatives with lots good points put forward. We then had an introduction to the new Transition Support model that is going to be launched soon and people thought it looked really good and useful. Through our conversations it became apparent that many groups have the same problems, such as getting people involved, engaging with the community and group dynamics. These are themes that come up again and again and are ones that the new support model will help to address.
Speaking to others at lunch it seemed people found the other workshops helpful too. In particular the Resourcing your Transition Initiative workshop, which gave people a sense of where to go next for getting income. This was especially timely as lots of work developed under the Climate Challenge Fund would need to find new support as that Funding scheme is coming to an end.
Then it was off to St Andrews Town Hall for a lovely lunch of homemade soup and sandwiches. There was also a Sustainability Fair going on upstairs promoting actions that individuals can take to reduce their carbon and energy bills, all good stuff. During this time I got to chat to Andy and Rehema who gave me an insight into the impact of the referendum in Scotland. It seems that the referendum has really sparked a massive conversation amongst local communities on how Scotland should be governed and develop to deal with the future issues such as climate change, jobs, peak oil amongst others. We also discussed the historical land clearances and general land rights as they have a huge impact on the ability to build sustainable communities.
So feeling pretty full, physically from the soup and mentally from the conversation, the next workshop was a ‘Walkshop’ around St. Andrews community food growing projects. St Andrews have set up several projects around different parts of the University and town. The first one we went to was a revitalised orchard. Ali from Transition St Andrews (see above) explained how the University actually used to grow a lot of their own food in the past but that had stopped over time, so an a old practice was being revived by Transition.
We then went off to visit to some of the student housing, this particular area had a lot of lawned green space and Transition University of St Andrews had managed to persuade the University property managers that a community garden would be a good idea. This garden was obviously a bit sparse due to the time of year, but you could see that it had been well managed by student Transitioners and had provided a lot of fruit and vegetables throughout the year.
They have had some problems, such as people eating all the rhubarb before it was ready, but apart from that it was a really successful project. They have also been weighing all the food produced and have found that their yield has increased year on year. It is hoped to extend this food growing project to other areas.
On the talk I also got to hear about the Fife Diet project from Eva who is involved in running it. This is a great project that is concerned with all things food, such as local growing, food networks and reducing carbon. It is one of the largest food projects in Europe with over 6000 members.
As I was touring St Andrews with Ali from Transition St Andrews, a whole other range of workshops were occurring where people were finding out about REconomy and community resilience and how they all link up to provide a powerful means for developing resilient communities. Others were discussing how to monitor and evaluate what their Transition initiative had achieved and what tools can be used to do that.
We then headed back to St Andrews University for the Think Tank Session, where we were treated to homemade apple juice. At the Think Tank session we sat and listened to talks from Prof. Stuart Hazeldine from the University of Edinburgh, who gave his view on Scotland’s future energy issues focusing on the need to reduce domestic use, challenge the use of oil and to think about energy including transport, electricity and heat and Dr. Antje Brown from St Andrews University who highlighted the areas of global, European and national policy that are having an impact on our energy production and carbon reduction target.
We then all broke into groups for the Think Tank session framed around the question of ‘How can Transition build a new world while still operating in the existing system?’. There were 6 tables setup looking at these topics:
- Jam in the doughnut – Resourcing the “centre” of your transition initiative
- Wildcard – Any other ideas
- Acknowledging this moment of change (risks and opportunities)… Making the most of the situation in Scotland
- Developing our inner journey… Inner Transition
- Peaks and Troughs : how to manage cycles
During this session there seemed to be an intense conversation happening, with people writing furiously and many ideas, opinions and thoughts being shared. A lot of flipchart paper was filled up with ideas. There definitely felt like there was a lot of passion in the room for Scotland’s future, which felt inspiring to see. It was also great seeing students involved in Transition St Andrews taking a really active role in helping run the sessions, by being scribes helping setup rooms, contributing to the debates and generally making sure everything went smoothly.
As is often the case with events you learn lots from the workshops and also loads of interesting stuff just from the conversations you have with people. This is one of the real benefits about getting lots of interesting people with ideas and opinions together in one place. For example my views of a Cèilidh have been permanently changed as I learnt that a Cèilidh is not just a dance but can also be a social gathering where people come together to talk about a range of issues. A practice which had seen a real resurgence in the lead up to the Independence vote.
Overall, it felt like the Road Show allowed a space for people to make new friends and connections that will hopefully continue after the conference, as a post referendum Scotland feels like a place ripe for local communities taking the initiative in developing a positive future for themselves. A big thank you must go out to the Transition University of St Andrews team for all their hard work in putting on this event and to all the people who came along and participated to make it a really fruitful day.
The second Transition Roadshow will be run with Transition Penwith and will take place in Penzance, Cornwall, on February 6/7th.