Friday 4 November 2011

More News From The Engine Room - Transition Network Social Reporters

I first published the post below, News from the Engine Room, on the Transition Network Social Reporting blog.

This nationwide blog, created by Ed Mitchell and Charlotte Du Cann during the summer and launched in September is based on our own This Low Carbon Life. Like the Norwich blog, there is a daily post - today will be the 49th - and like ours too it's full of great writing, variety, poignancy and humour. It's the place to read firsthand experiences of transitioners from all over the UK.

From Omagh (Northern Ireland) to Heathrow, Artist's Valley (Wales) to Glasgow and the Black Isle, Lewes to Bungay and Norwich, Totnes to Lancaster to Dursley near Bristol to Finsbury Park, we're talking from behind the transition scenes about what it's like to be in the thick of it, full-on, night and day. We're talking about:

So here's mine from the Communicating Transition theme week:

When I signed up to contribute to the Communicating Transition theme this week, I thought writing it would be a cinch. I should know by now after years of 5am starts (with prep beforehand) and hours wondering whether I'll be able to string more than one intelligible sentence next to another, that cinch doesn't come into it.

But hey Transition is just about getting together with others within the context of global peaking fossil fuels, climate change and economic downturn/ instability/crisis/chaos and systems meltdown and building community resilience, isn’t it? About responding to these things as individuals and as social and planetary beings. About working together on parallel infrastructures whilst the present dominant global industrial one breaks up. About finding alternative ways of inhabiting the planet to the business-as-usual one. And having some fun (hopefully) at the same time. What's so hard to communicate about that? We all GET IT, don't we?

The problem comes when you start trying to define communications or transition as one thing (or when I do). They are such multi-dimensional affairs. They are ten thousand things.

Today I'm going focus on practical communications and talk about the blogs and websites we've developed in Transition Norwich and Sustainable Bungay as part of creating the alternative media Joe was writing about on Monday.

Communications are the flyers Marella wrote about yesterday, the visits Charlotte spoke about the day before, the phone conversation I had with a farmer’s wife recently who told me top-down agricultural bureaucracy ignores the actual lived experience of people, like herself, who have lived on the land all their lives and know it intimately.

Providing an outlet to give voice to our experiences of being in (and going through!) transition as it happened was what originally inspired This Low Carbon Life. This was a Transition first.

Charlotte, together with Andy, a graphic designer and Jon, also an ex-journalist, pooled their editorial experience and created this community blog (on Blogger) in October 2009. Since then about twenty bloggers, of all different backgrounds and ages, have written between us more than 650 posts on everything from the low carbon growing, cooking and sharing of food to downshifting in style to reducing fossil fuel usage to half the national average. Many posts take a good, considered look at the bigger picture: reconnection with nature, politics, the industrial food system and inner resilience, whilst others explore the kinds of people we are becoming/need to become as we navigate the times. We also take our own photographs.

As well as the regular writers we feature crossposts from fellow transitioners in other initiatives and guest slots on transition-related themes. We meet every three months, sort out the rota and decide the topic and theme weeks for the coming quarter. We keep in touch with each other via a googlegroup in case someone wants to swap days or forgets to post. Charlotte and I both look at the blog daily to check photo and text alignment and I proof the copy. But we don't edit the content, it's a no censorship blog. Everyone’s voice remains free to be what it is. It’s a bit like a feral choir.

The structure of This Low Carbon Life is also what Ed and Charlotte have used to develop this very social reporting project we're all now engaged in.

As I write this I feel like a Transition Communications maintenance engineer: I spend a lot of time caretaking! As well as This Low Carbon Life, I co-produce the monthly Transition Norwich News bulletin and the quarterly Sustainable Bungay newsletter. I use the word co-produce because none of us do any of these things on our own (even though it sometimes feels like that at 5 in the morning, or when someone who's NOT DOING THE WORK dismissively remarks "you missed a comma there" or "you need to get your marketing sorted. I've never heard of...")

Transition Norwich News is also a community Blogger-based website. A crew of 15 people from the various groups and projects in the initiative upload their copy each month and we organise it and make sure the calendar is up-to-date. The bulletin is edited and sent out to all TN subscribers (yes, I know Network, we call it that too) with links to the news items and latest This Low Carbon Life posts.

Sustainable Bungay's newsletter is likewise a collaborative publication with people from the theme groups sending in copy to Charlotte (editor), Kris (designer) and myself (sub) which we then collate, typeset and publish both online and in a printed version. The latter we distribute to Bungay library and local shops and services. This works well for people who do not have internet access and adds a physical dimension to SB’s presence in the town.

In early 2010 Josiah set up Sustainable Bungay's website using Wordpress and showed us how to publish posts about SB’s activities - both announcements and write-ups of our events. It's a shared thing. We each have a password and we write when there’s news to report, whether it’s about Give and Take Day, Happy Mondays, Bungay Community Bees, Film Nights, the Library Courtyard Garden or the Give and Grow and Abundance events. The great thing about it is you can see the thumbnails for the recent posts on the home page so all the projects and events are displayed.

For intergroup communication we have a googlegroup and speak to each other on the phone when the emails just get too much. Never underestimate the power of giving good phone!

I realise there is so much more to say about how we communicate transition: by word of mouth, by tweeting, by meeting, by Green Drinks, at community events (our own and others)... Here's a picture of Lesley and Kris arranging the new SB display boards at the All Under One Roof event this July.

Down in the engine room it's sometimes hard to see where all this is going. Is anybody out there reading me? Is the message getting through? I can't tell. But I think it's key in transition that we're as consistent as the mainstream. That we keep the rhythm going. That we keep writing, reporting and photographing. Every quarter, every month, every day.

Pics: Preparing the Transition Norwich monthly bulletin down at the community centre; Transition Norwich Bloggers on the Bench August 2011; Transition Norwich 2nd birthday poster October 2010 by Andy Croft; Notebook from The Sea Kale Project by Charlotte Du Cann; Josiah holds his daughter Iris AND shows me how to upload posts on SB's website; Lesley and Kris arrange the new SB display boards, July 2011

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