Transition Town Brixton’s Shared Space: the story of an event
By rob hopkins 14th February 2014
Today we have a guest post from Transition Town Brixton’s Sibylle Mansour.
Reused and remade – values and ideas for engaging and connecting
Blessed be serendipity! Upon starting to write the opening paragraph to this article, I read Rob’s Resourcing your Initiative blog post and was pleased to find that in the first few sentences he mentioned the key element of the story that I am going to tell. It is about the fact that the success of a group is much more about knowing how to connect people with one another and help them keep the connections dynamic and alive rather then being able to attract funding. We had many discussions about how to attract more funding at Transition Town Brixton (TTB) and I am not saying that we should stop looking for and finding it. However I wholeheartedly like to believe that in essence any creative success story is a story about continuity, consistency and authentic presence; it also is about trust, it’s about sharing and giving.
TTB – Urban transition in progress
We had a big birthday bash for TTB’s 5th birthday in October last year. It’s been an adventurous journey to grow the movement and I enjoy being part of it since February 2010. Many stories could be told, some more humorous and positive than others of course. And this one is about how we manage to continue our efforts to connect to the core transition values while working on TTB’s future and considering the aspirations of the people who come to our events.
Sharing space, sharing food – for thought
Our secret here is called SHARED SPACE; it is a monthly event that we first started in April 2010. The original idea came from the wish to open up the working/steering group forum to a wider audience. So we started to hire a hall in a community centre on a council estate. We offered the venue to our groups to utilise the space for open meetings while we organised short-film screenings, themed discussion groups and practice sessions in swapping and sowing seeds, draught proofing, introduction into carpentry and sewing, and we asked people to bring a home-made dish to share.
Well, now this is a concept that worked in the beginning because it offered something new to people, and Transition was quite new to Brixton in 2010 and it was also the time when we had a pop-up community shop in Brixton Village market. Shared Space was handy because when we started a conversation with people in the shop and they wanted to know how to do transition and how to get actively involved we directed them to Shared Space, ‘We’re always there on Loughborough Estate, every second Monday of the month from 6-9pm.’
Building social capital
We had very lively and buzzing events but there were also evenings when hardly anyone came. With our limited capacity we simply could not come up with a diverse and engaging programme every month. Let alone putting the necessary effort into publicizing it. So we sometimes ended there were maybe less than 10 of us; some were sewing, some were knitting, sharing food and thought enjoying the informal quality of the evening. No meeting aims, no formal outcomes, no feed back forms, no time keeping, no agenda. And we have patrons from the estate we could – and still can! – count on. Persevere.
Certainly it was not always easy to stick to it and on more than one occasion we discussed cancelling the event altogether. What kept us going though was that we were intuitively aware that this was the only thing we offered that had this kind of quality and consistency; and so we continued to be present!
Over the course of the last 6 months we were incredibly successful in theming our events. And what was the best thing was that we just had to contact the key stakeholders in the existing food, energy and enterprise project groups around our Borough to join in on the night. A lot of footwork towards creating connections had been done by working on the REconomy project over many months in 2013.
TTB plays a central role in a very strong urban community where people, organisations and enterprises support and act on building resilient alternatives and develop sustainable systems. Years ago we identified the need to facilitate exchange among these groups and signpost people to create useful links to grow their social capital. So in some way it seems as if recently Shared Space has started to reach its next potential.
Make a life – make a living
It was a decision made years ago to bring livelihoods and business to the centre of attention. We knew from hands- and heads-on practice that no one was going to be able to continue to make transition their life without constructing ways of making a living out of it.
So we called for a Shared Space solely dedicated to livelihoods and scheduled it right in the beginning of the year when people are keen and inspired to make a change. – And honestly for one reason or another we certainly touched on a hot subject: we never had more people attend until that day a few weeks ago. The burning question of how to live within the boundaries of our urban built, social and natural environment and make a living by doing exactly that without having to ‘go and get a job’ is central to the transition theme. Over the course of the last few years many at and around TTB have started to grow a small local business, gone self employed and do things differently in the face of a changing economy; and led by one’s own desire to do what they wanted to do. But was it going to be sustainable?
The overarching theme of the evening was to explore the questions
- What is a Transition livelihood?
- What is our understanding of making a living?
- How does transition livelihoods affect existing systems and how do we create new ones?
- How do these changes impact on my life?
- What is the implication to work with the planet?
To get people into the right set of mind we started the programme with the premiere screening of the short film ‘Make a Life – Make a Living’ (it’s open source please use it!). After the 4min film we had a number of 4min short talks where people described their experiences and journeys in building their ‘Transition livelihood’. Here’s that film:
Finally we asked everybody to join the sector based discussion groups. It was intriguing that quite a few people said that they wanted to join more than one group. The presence of so many interesting and interested people had created an amazing energy. People came with mixed expectations and especially in order to meet the needs of people who were new to TTB more guidance and signposting would have helped direct them. The atmosphere was vibrant and it was not easy to get people to stop talking. During the sector based group discussions more facilitating and guidance may have helped to minimise the chaos that was created by the wealth of human resources and initiatives that were available that night.
Conclusively it is probably hard to capture what will happen with this energy in the future. We will keep it present at next Shared Space events and include the issues brought up. We will see how it flows and continue the conversations to find out what wants to happen and hear what people are doing with the focus of the event.
It’s time to continue – ‘Make a Life – Make a Living part 2’. Soon to follow!