Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Being Employed in Transition

Reposted from the Transition Network Transition Stories Blog. It is an introduction to me, my initiative and what it is like working in Transition.

My initiative is a wee bit different. It isn’t even officially a Transition Initiative and it’s definitely not a town.

For the past four months I have been working for Transition University West of Scotland. It is a Scottish Government funded project to deliver five environmental initatives before the end of March next year and to try and make UWS into a Transition University. So as I said a wee bit different. There are some specific features and challenges that are different to more conventional Transition Towns.

1. It is in three separate locations
Yes that’s right, we are trying to inspire a movement based on localism and community across three geographically disparate locations. There is one campus at Hamilton (just south east of Glasgow), one at Paisley (just south west of Glasgow) and one at Ayr (on the west coast). I am personally based on the Hamilton campus, delivering the five projects there.

It is definitely going to be challenging to foster a sense of community across all of the campuses as well as just within them. This is not helped by the next difference…

2. It is a work and study community, people do not necessarily live there
Generally people invest more time and energy in initiatives where they live rather than where they work. Trying to encourage staff and students to engage in activities outside of their job descriptions and courses is going to be one of our biggest challenges.

3. Low engagement and top down
The University of West Scotland has a very high proportion of home students (80%) so students do not feel the need to join in with social activities at the university as they would if they were moving there from a different area of the country. So the number of students actively involved with the students union is a lot lower than at universities like Edinburgh. This means that we do not have a pool of already involved students who we can ask to join in, we have to inspire the unengaged. Now that isn’t necessarily any different to a conventional Transition Town, but the fact that we are essentially outsiders trying to inspire the Transition movement at the university, rather than an established part of the community wanting to make a change, could put us at a disadvantage in terms of credibility and knowing how things work at the moment. This links in with the final difference…

4. Five full time staff
One on each campus and two project co-ordinators. This means that a lot of time can potentially be invested into getting the Transition Community started - promoting it, supporting it, doing the admin etc. Although there are five specific projects that we need to deliver, which take up quite a lot of our time. These are:

Green Impact Awards – staff get into teams and complete as many of the environmental criteria in the online workbooks as possible. They can get bronze and silver awards after completing a certain number of criteria and then the team with the most points at the end of the year gets the gold award.

Greener Homes – We can give free home energy audits and follow up advice to any staff, student or relatives and we will also be holding home energy advice clinics on the campuses.

Student Switch Off – a competition between the different halls of residence. The hall that reduces their energy use the most by the end of the year gets a massive party and monthly prizes are also available for posting pictures of themselves doing energy saving actions on Facebook!

Journeyshare – there is an online website where anyone can register their car, bike or walking journey and find someone travelling their way to share with. This should encourage new cyclists and walkers and reduce car usage – hopefully!

Waste Me Not – At the end of the last academic year we collected everything that the students who were leaving the halls of residence didn’t want (rather than it going in landfill) and having sorted and cleaned it we are now going to give it away at the Freshers Fayres this week.

So we have a lot to be getting on with and as our funding runs out at the end of March we are also on a bit of a tight schedule!

Transition UWS and Kerry

Having moved up from Norwich where I was actively involved with the Transition movement I found it quite difficult to get my head around how such a different set up could possibly be classed as a Transition Community. However, I spent my time at the Transition Conference considering this and did manage to square the two.

The view that I came to was of me, my colleagues and the five projects we have to deliver as part of our funding as the inspiration and catalysts for the grassroots transition movement that will hopefully follow. So we are a slightly more extreme take on the core group before the unleashing! At least this is my vision. We are hoping to get a People and Planet society set up to start the grassroots process, but this week is going to be the first indication of how that is going to go.

Personally I have found working in Transition – specifically an unconventional, not community based one – fairly hard going. It is hard to hold on to your enthusiasm when you have to do something rather than because you want to. Also the funding means that you do not have the freedom to go where the rich pickings are, we can not be as lean and flexible and resilient as we should be. I also miss all of the friendly, inclusive, feel-good processes that I associate with Transition, such as shared meals and consensus style decision making – these unfortunately do not translate so easily into a conventional workplace. It is also less rewarding to put all of your energy into a Transition community that you are not intrinsically part of. I do not feel that I will necessary reap the benefits of what I sow.

However, the potential for change is huge (over 23000 staff and students) and working in a transition context is what I want to be doing, so it is a challenge I am willing to face. It is a big experiment in the name of Transition and hopefully we can make it work.

Photos: The Transition UWS logo, me at an energy advice clinic and all of the stuff that we collected from the halls

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