Friday, 2 December 2011

Transition Is The People

I first published this piece on Monday 28th November as part of the week's People and Connections theme for the Social Reporting project on the Transition Network website.

"Your beetroot is on the Low Carbon Cookbook table," said John, who had brought the giant vegetable from his home four miles away. I went to have a look. Bee had arranged a smashing display of locally grown vegetables, cooking utensils and a fresh salad. But that beetroot took the biscuit (sic).

"I've brought those seeds," said Cathy, and handed me a small white envelope. I’d forgotten about the cigar plants I found so exciting in her garden a few months back.

"Here's that Echinacea plant," said Lesley, handing me a small pot with wilting leaves. We both laughed. "It'll be fine for the medicine plant bed next year," she said.

This all happened within ten minutes of my arriving at the Transition Norwich 3rd birthday celebrations on 15th November. I felt like it was my birthday with all those gifts. Throughout the evening I talked and laughed with over thirty people I knew from both Transition Norwich and Sustainable Bungay, and several others I hadn’t met before, including Rob Hopkins who’d come up from Totnes to speak about Transition and The Transition Companion.

I’m not saying this to let you all know what a socialite I am, though I love a good party (probably more than a protest march!). It’s just that I wouldn’t be having any of these conversations if Transition had not entered my life in the summer of 2008 in the form of Sustainable Bungay. Before then I was living in increasingly unsplendid isolation down a country lane in Suffolk, immersed in plants and places but with little human contact. And it wasn't like the world (or my own prospects) were getting any better. Maybe I needed to join in with others. A community-led response to Peak Oil and Climate Change? It wasn't environmental activism or a religious group or anything like anything else. After a major attack of resistance to DOING ANYTHING I decided to give it a go.

And three and a half years further down the peak oil path, I can say that for me Transition is the People. Whether it's being part of the Transition Norwich bloggers group, This Low Carbon Life, since it began in 2009, co-producing the Norwich and Bungay newsletters and bulletins, communicating with people by email or phone, or meeting up at Sustainable Bungay's yearly summer and Christmas parties, it's us, the people that make it happen. No people, no transition.

The movement is like a great social network bringing people together to build resilience in the face of global and local energy depletion, climate change and economic meltdown. These are the common threads and they affect all of us. Transition connects a huge diversity of people and we would probably never otherwise have met in the dominant, conventional money-driven, class-obsessed, hierarchical and compartmentalised culture. It encourages us to develop a different, more equable system of values. It opens things out.

It also challenges all those in-built structures inside oneself. Replacing the lifelong held idea of limitless energy with the fact of finite resources can lead to tension between people who accept the latter and those who don't. And that's just one shift. Sometimes you fall out with people. Sometimes, as Ann said Saturday, you hold events where only "three people and a horse's head attended". Some meetings go smoothly and are joyful and some really don't. It gets on my nerves when people talk about transition as if it has to be perfectly formed and presented (mostly by you, with no effort on their part), when it really is a work-in-progress. And a lot of it is about holding on in there and learning to be and work with people in harmony and co-operation and with no hierarchy.

Yesterday morning the phone rang. It was Lesley from Sustainable Bungay. Would we like to go for a walk by the sea? She arrived bearing two huge and delicious pears from the tree in her garden and after the walk we sat round the fire at dusk with hot tea and talked about everything from autism to growing food to the difficulty of finding decent work and navigating the benefits system, which we're all on.

Lesley told us about her Open University degree in Environmental Studies (Hons), and how she had been gardening and growing plants since she was a child. And about how bringing up an autistic son made you tolerant and open-minded about the differences between people.

We told her about our neighbours who gave us a laptop and access to their studio to do our Transition communications work last year. And how those same neighbours, Philip and Irene, now share their second car with us after our old one took its final trip to the scrapyard. (And I'm talking from within the context of an isolated and underpopulated rural area where whole bus routes have been scrapped over the past year). It's a happy arrangement, we share the running costs and take care of the plants and birds when they are away. Philip and Irene are not in transition themselves, but they were motivated by our involvement to give us a hand.

Lesley said she’d be happy to grow more plants for the Medicine Plant Bed at Bungay Library next year, as well as an amazing tri-coloured amaranth called Chinese spinach. I'm really looking forward to the project.

I was really struck by the human warmth in Sarah's introductory post about her friendship with the late David Fleming, its feeling for relationship. I asked Lesley yesterday did she feel her life had changed since she got involved with Sustainable Bungay.

"It's great that there are other people who feel like I do about the planet and want to do something about it together. You don't feel so on your own."

I know just what she means.

John Heaser is a Transition Norwich blogger, caretaker of the local toad population and advocate of cycle paths and has been growing organic food at home since the 70s

Cathy Proudlove is Sustainable Bungay’s treasurer and leads SB’s Abundance project, giving freely from her garden and orchard all kinds of produce from chard to Norfolk Biffin apples (to cigar plant seeds!)

Lesley Hartley is a gardener and food grower with a degree in Sustainable Technology who is actively involved in several Sustainable Bungay projects including Happy Mondays.

Pics: Bee and Charlotte with Giant Beetroot at the Low Carbon Cookbook table, Transition Norwich 3rd Birthday celebrations; Transition Norwich Bloggers meeting at The Greenhouse, clockwise from left: Simeon, Jon, Charlotte, Chris, John, Helen and me; Lesley, me, Charlotte, Rita at Happy Mondays, Bungay, November 2011

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