Transition Penwith’s journey to a thriving west Cornwall
By rob hopkins 5th March 2015
Transition Network’s Transition Initiative Support Coordinator Mike Thomas reports from the recent Transition Roadshow in Penwith, Cornwall:
The Penwith ‘Rethinking our Economic Future’ event was great and I hope that Transition Penwith members have been taking a long deserved rest after organising an event that had several events in the run up, a REconomy day, a talk by Rob Hopkins, a Procession through the high street, a Transition Roadshow, and a gig. Pheww!!
What I loved about this event was the fact that there was such a wide range of participation with so many people from different groups, institutions and areas. It really reached a wide range of people from the Penwith district and beyond, from local people, Councillors, council workers, the Mayor, partner organisations and people involved in a range of local groups.
On top of this, the whole event was run on a gift economy model, where people could donate money, time or whatever they felt appropriate. This meant that it was really was accessible to all the community.
I am now going to give you a whistle stop tour of the event.. are you ready?
Friday was the REconomy day which focused on how Penwith could meet its own needs as an area, doing some serious thinking towards an Economic Blueprint for the area. Over a 100 people attended this event where they listened to talks on (videos linked to below):
- REconomy by Transition Network
- Local Energy by WREN 10 and West Country renewables
- Pop Up Penzance – converting empty shops into art galleries and temporary shops
- Inequality Myth Busting talk by the Quakers
- Food assemblies in Cornwall, where they have been getting local producers together to work out how best to distribute goods.
- Falmouth Students local currency, a group of students have setup their own local currency called the Fxunc (the Funk) with Che Guevara on the note.
- James Meadway from New Economics Foundation did a talk on the Economic Crisis and alternatives
- A Cornwall Bank: could we have one?
These talks were really interesting on the whole a gave a wide range of different examples of how to change things. Transition Penwith also produced a short film on the Friday.. here it is:
Lunch was titled “Lynne’s veggie fabulousness” provided by, you’ve guessed it, Lynne, an inspiring individual who has been involved in many a food project. This was followed by a World Cafe session where people got together in groups to look at a range of issues concerning Penwith.
This was where the hard thinking and discussion was done, as people discussed intensely the real issues, barriers and challenges to creating an economically sustainable Penwith that could meet the needs of its inhabitants. The groups focused on food, energy, land, environment, currency and banking, community enterprise and housing. After all the thinking was done, people then fed back their ideas and thoughts, all of which will inform the Penwith Economic Blueprint.
Having many people from the Council as well as businesses an other organisations meant there was a lot of knowledge about what could happen and whether it was possible – and if it wasn’t how could it be made possible. As this was going on our own Rob Hopkins was asked his view on the different issues that came up, which definitely kept him on his toes and tested his own knowledge of Transition and REconomy.
Rob Hopkins talk
For those who had a real thirst for Transition, Rob did an evening talk in local theatre space the Acorn to over a 100 people. The talk went down really well, and Rob covered REconomy examples, our new support offer and Inner Transition. There were some good questions from the floor and people were really positive about it. There was a real buzz to the event and I am sure it prompted many conversations in the pub afterwards.
Saturday started with a procession down through Penzance high street, with Morris dancers, banners with lettering made out of bottle tops, bees made out of papier mache and much, much more. It was really vibrant and well attended and showed that Cornish flavour of Transition. Personally I love that aspect of Transition where it morphs in with the history and culture of an area. It is also testament to Transition Penwith’s involvement in the local community that so many people came out and were involved.
The Procession led people to main venue for the Road show, where they were treated to a talk about Transition and its importance. Engaging with the local community is a high priority for Transition Penwith and inside there was plenty of opportunities for local people to give their views on Transition and Penwith. They had prepared a massive map painted on wooden boards and asked people to put any Transition activity on it, the idea being to gain an overview of all Transition type activity in the area. They also had space for people to write what they liked and disliked about Penwith and what they would like to see developed in the area. This was particularly popular with loads of children were drawing on it and lots of people adding to the debate. I had a quick chat with a elderly couple who stated that “I agree with all of it” after he had looked at what others had written.
One of the real prominent issues that people didn’t seem to like was second homes, as access to housing in Cornwall is a real issue. One thing that I have forgotten to mention is the quality of cake they had, people in Penwith really know how to bake a cake, and as we all know cake can make or break an event! Again it was all provided on a gift economy basis and was available for free to all people who attended.
As all of this was happening indoors, outside the local farmers’ market was in full swing, they had especially come out for the event. Lunch was provided by a local business Whole again communities who provided soup in flasks for lunch, which meant that there was zero waste. Indoors there were stalls promoting the following great local groups, West Cornwall Green Party, Permanently Brillant, Bosavern Community Farm, West Cornwall Friends of the Earth, Friends of Bolitho Gardens and Newlyn Green, Penzance Organic Gardeners and Growers (POGG), Penwith Environmental Network, West Cornwall Community Renewables and Plan-it-Earth. This was great as people were able to talk direct to groups to find out more about them and to make connections. There was also an introduction REconomy workshop running in the morning giving an overview of REconomy for those who had missed Friday.
After all the earlier activity I was slightly worried that the afternoon workshops might have been a bit flat, as people might have had enough of Transition, believe or not this can happen. But, this was not to be the case and it was a really productive, interesting and stimulating afternoon.
About thirty people attended workshops in the afternoon run by myself and Sophy Banks, a range of people from different groups from all over Penwith and a couple of people who had just wandered in off the street, which was fantastic. The opening got people finding their neighbours, exploring how long they had been involved in Transition and starting conversations. There were mainly older people in the room and some had been heavily involved in environmental and green groups for a very long period of time (effectively being the elders of the movement) and it was felt that there was a lot of potential for sharing experiences and knowledge.
In the Introduction to Transition workshop Sophy used the Transition animal to explain the different activities that a Transition group usually does – from forming and developing as a group with a vision, values and a sense of shared purpose to the activities of connecting locally and doing practical stuff. The group also explored the common stories we find in the media, and how Transition invites us to imagine the story that we most need – of rebuilding our communities as we reduce energy and create sustainable systems for living together.
The strengthening workshop was for people already involved in a community group, and was based around the Transition Health Check – which helps groups reflect on how they are doing in a variety of areas. It is important to be clear that this is not a test but a self help tool, (we are really not into the idea of testing people!). It focuses on the core areas that help Transition to be successful, such as Group development, community engagement, Inner Transition and much more. Even though it is aimed at Transition groups it can be used by any group to see how they are doing.
Deb Pepper from Transition Penwith used the Health Check to look at two groups she was involved in, focusing on community engagement. She found that the group that had been going for a long time was really embedded in the local community and the newer group was less engaged – helping her to see that it takes a long time to engage a community. An also that there was a lot that could be learned from what the more established group had done. The Health Check is freely available if you want to try it out with your group you download it here.
Finally, we ran an Open space session focusing on “How do you grow Transition in an area like Cornwall which is dispersed and suffers from a range of social problems”. Open space is a process that allows people to come up with the topics they wish to discuss based on general question. Topics for discussion ranged from how to maintain momentum, how to include arts, sustainable energy production and much more. People who put the ideas forward, then host a space based on their question and invite people to come and meet with them to discuss it. The law of two feet means at any time you can move from one group to another,so you stay engaged, and can be part of several conversations. People from each group then feedback to the whole group and we had a brief discussion. Several people commented on the fact that the sessions were really inclusive and supportive of people and their ideas.
The final event of the day was a gig with bands the Super 8’s and Clayton Blizzard, which was really good.
A great event
Overall the ‘Rethinking our Economic Future’ event was great. Transition Penwith put in a huge amount of work, and it was a really enjoyable event. They engaged so many people in the local community in so many ways, which was inspiring. The event has opened up a lot of opportunities for Transition to develop and already there are conversations happening as Lesley from Transition Penwith stated:
“There has been press coverage, letters and many positive comments following the event so we know that the new thinking you helped us start will continue to grow.”