I knew that’d grab your attention! What’s this all about then? What have I been up to with my newfound Transition Lancaster friends?
Well, you see yesterday I couldn’t quite walk the 20+ miles from Kendal into Lancaster so I had caught a bus in from Carnforth to stay with Samagita already, in Lancaster, and today we returned to Carnforth together on the bus to be met by fellow transitioner Frank, for me to complete the remaining walk into Lancaster along the canal tow path. Samagita has arranged for us to meet at the Canal Turn, a pub between the A6 and the canal; I am tickled by the instruction given to the bus driver!
We thankfully go nowhere near Tesco’s which can be seen in the distance as we cross the road to the pub. We are on the canal already! I find it unbelievable that directly behind this busy road is a gorgeous water way teeming with beautifully coloured barges. Frank comes along with his bicycle, recognises us by my red flip flops, and off we set for what has to be one of the very nicest stretches of my walk so far. I am thrilled to find that this stretch, started yesterday, from Cumbria to Lancashire, is so beautiful.
The sun is pouring down on us; the water is sparkling, the tow path easy on our feet, and the remaining 6 or 7 miles of my walk to Lancaster are eaten up in a delightful stroll amongst good company. We talk about everything under the sun; from education to economics; planting food to solar panel making. We discover that Frank can make solar panels and Samagita is quick to get a skill share workshop organised.
We learn that photo voltaics are perhaps not the solution the government would like to have us believe; they are cheap compared to what they should cost because they are being subsidized; and here we should look to what subsidies have done to our farming, and maybe just be a little discerning; are they just another quick fix solution? What happens in the future? They might earn us money now through feed in tariffs, if we can afford them, but what of the resources needed to make them; they are not like solar panels that can be made from old radiators and hose pipes, things readily available and in abundance; they could prove difficult to maintain in the future. Food for thought.
We talk about Samagita’s dream to bring fruit and veg into Lancaster by horse drawn barge. Freight, she has learnt to call it, by her discussions with barge owners; but what excites her is the vision; of barge loads full of carrots, potatoes, the root vegetables that grow so well in Southern Lancashire, coming up the water and being picked up in abundance by folk with wheelbarrows. She is aware of the arguments against; would too much freight slow down the access for the tourist trade that the canal currently brings in, and what of the effect of more traffic on the waterside wildlife? Still her vision and passion is strong; and I suggest that it might actually be good for tourism; after all how many of us have been wowed by experiences abroad in South America, Africa, and Asia of fruit and vegetables being brought by river to market and have holiday snaps of the brightly coloured spectacle?
As to horse drawn barges being bad for wildlife; I cannot see it. The challenge might come from our old acquaintance Greed, and too much traffic. We will do well to remember as we execute our transition plans the modern fable Samagita recounts of the white business man on holiday in some far flung uncapitalist location who encounters a fisherman catching a fish for his family’s evening meal. The business man suggests the fisherman catch 2 fish; one for tomorrow to save him a job.
“Why would I do that” replies the fisherman; “my family only need one fish for supper tonight.”
“ Why yes,” says the business man “but if you catch more you could sell some, then you wouldn’t need to fish so often, you could make lots of money and then one day when you retire you could relax and sit on a bank…and catch fish and relax…”
“I am sitting on the bank, catching fish and relaxing” replies the fisherman…
Are we able, I wonder, to have enough trust in the law of abundance to not worry about food tomorrow but concentrate instead on supper tonight?
We enjoy the others enjoying the canal; the moor hens and their chicks, the pair of watchful parent swans and their incredibly cuddly looking large fluffy grey cygnets, and the family with a grass roofed barge sitting out on a grassy canal side bank, kids swinging in a hammock slung between 2 trees, toys spread haphazardly in a brightly coloured tapestry across the green. It feels good to be alive; and a privilege to be walking this way.
We meet Caroline who has walked out to meet us; I learn she was responsible for making the great Unleashing of Transition Lancaster happen earlier this summer. She was until then a headteacher of a tiny village high school with capacity for just 250 children, many sent with learning difficulties that soon disappeared once in the small school and receiving sufficient attention. I am horrified to discover that she was made redundant; the school not considered big enough to be viable; and yet this freed up this incredibly dynamic lady to be there just when Transition Lancaster were making plans for their great launch party.
They had great ideas and Caroline made them all happen. The Unleashing attracted 600 people and was a huge success, greatly enjoyed by all.
We arrive in Lancaster, my head full of Samagita’s compelling images of sailing boats coming in from the sea with their cargo of spices, bananas and coffee for the city that is not too big and not too small with a river running through it and a castle on the top.
In the evening we go to the Quaker Friends’ Meeting house and I tell my tales. Dominic Kelly, storyteller I have heard tell of all along my walk from Cambridge, has come out to meet me, and there is a lovely gathering of transitioners too; Alison and Chris Hart, Samagita, Frank, Caroline, Pamela, Margaret, Janine, and Louisa.
I hear the tales of Transition Lancaster; the polar bear that accompanies them on their awareness raising activities you can see on the photos. Chris says it is the companion of choice when out leafleting.
I present “How Bad are Bananas” to the group and they present me with a rare and precious copy of the Lancaster Transition Times to take onwards with me. I hear the tale of this precious edition with its headline news the Halton Weir energy company project. The group raised funding to pay for the printing of the paper which was written by all of them and looks and reads like it was written by professionals. They edited themselves and paid a company to deliver it to all the households in the city as a way of letting everyone know about the unleashing. Unfortunatley the company did not deliver the papers as promised and now Transition Lancaster are in a legal case to try and recoup their money. They were left with only the copies they had kept back to deliver themselves and had people calling them asking where their much awaited paper was. Next time the group will be out on their bicycles delivering the product of their hard work themselves. They are very proud of their beautiful creation and in spite of their disappointment with the delivery they will continue with this project.
They now have a media group as a result of the project and Caroline tells the group the exciting news that they have been given slots on local radio and asks for volunteers to speak on the first shows. Lots of anxious excitement; no one feels quite ready to take on a media front line role.
I hear of “Preserving the Future”, a fabulous scheme that takes a homemade jams and chutneys stall out to markets, fairs and fetes, offers tasters, and teaches people how to make their own. This is not the only food project the group are involved with; there has been a planting of local traditional varieties of apple trees all around the city and existing local community groups have taken on the guardianship of them, replanting any that get pulled up by miscreant teenagers. I hear also of the awareness raising films nights they have had, and admire their leaflet of events, which is really eye catching and easy to read, produced by Janine, who also manages the website. Samagita tells me of an exercise they did recently to map all they had so far achieved in transition; you can see the list attached below along with their latest programme of events
Transition Lancaster see themselves as fortunate because there are many community groups, green activism, and environmental groups in the city, many of which have been active for years. They see one of their roles as networking and bringing the work of these groups to the attention of everybody. Lancaster activists have successfully campaigned in the past, and continue to work hard, to keep big supermarkets and by passes out of their city, which has positive implications for work now as they look for land for growing and developing eco homes and there is land to be had. Many of the group have been activists themselves and acknowedge this role is needed though it isnt the focus of transition efforts.
I am told about MiddleWoods, a permaculture centre that has been run by Rod Everrett (http://www.middlewood.org.uk/middlewood.html)quietly for 15 and more years – walking the talk away in the background, and producing the most amazing produce including a delicious sultana chutney I have tasted at Samagit’s house.
I hear about the Lancaster University Transition group and their campaign for local food on their campus, rather than the fast food monopoly that currently exists. We hear an impassioned tale from young PhD student, Louisa, about the plight of those criminalised by our system and their struggle against the tide to re enter it against all odds and her desire to find a way to bring these people in to the fold and involve them in local food growing projects and other community projects where they could feel and show their worth.
We finish the evening by playing the Quest and enjoy a great outcome as the two communities end up deciding to come together in celebration and then decide they should stay together. The group transfer this outcome to real life and wonder if they should be exploring the possibilities of working more closely with adjoining seaside resort Morecambe.
We discuss game playing and how much the agenda of the devisors influences the outcomes. Various members of the group have played games before like the Trading game produced by Oxfam (http://www.oxfam.org.uk/coolplanet/teachers/downloads/SimulationGamesFlyer.pdf) which highlights what happens when richer countries trade with poorer countries. The outcome of the Quest is always positive if played for long enough and I have to admit that I have the belief that people are inherently good and want the best for one another, and it is invariably what I find in life, and in the Quest. We talk about how the change from any tensions raised in the game, which provokes discussion at every stage, emerges when the groups decide to celebrate something; the positive feelings aroused by having fun usually lead to an expansiveness that allows our feelings of generosity to flow and once on group show generosity it isn’t long before the other/s do too.
We sing “Make it, Mend it, Wear it out” and I leave totally inspired and refreshed and nourished by this vibrant group of transitioners. My storytellers’ bag is full to overflowing! I could easily be inspired to live here and hope I get invited back to hear more tales one day!