Thursday 9 February 2012

Skill Sharing as a Way of Life in Norwich and Bungay

I didn't really notice it at first. There I was in the early days (2008-9) at Sustainable Bungay meetings saying 'Oh a local food conference, how brilliant, I'll help out with that, I can do front-of-house, dish out some soup, help wash dishes, learn something about food systems'.

Or spending the day learning to graft and plant fruit trees and use a sledgehammer for the first time (to secure the stakes) at growers' co-operative Greengrow down the road.

Or speaking about Deep Ecology with Transition Norwich, though I hadn't spoken in public for years.
And that was just in the first six months of being in Transition. I was responding at a deep level to what Ann Owen described last Monday as
being open to learning anything from anybody, anywhere. No need for teachers or schools, just the willingness to share what you know and can do, with others, who will likewise share their skills with you.
Coming away from that grafting and planting session on Valentine's Day 2009, I was in love with digging and sledgehammering and delighted to have learned the names of three varieties of apple I'd never heard of: Ashmeads, Kernel and Suntan.

And so when, over two and a half years later, Gemma (co-chairman of Sustainable Bungay) rang up to say someone she knew had moved and left a young orchard behind which the new owners were planning to JUST DIG UP and THROW AWAY!!! (excuse CAPS of frustration here - that kind of thing really gets on my nerves!) would anyone like some apple trees, I (along with almost everyone in SB) said YES PLEASE!

And even though it was August and hot and dry and traditionally a dreadful time to uproot and replant the trees, I took a Katy and a James Grieve, dug two large holes, made sure there was no strong grass there and planted them. But not before speaking to three fruit tree growers I've got to know since being in Transition. They varied in their optimism as to the trees' survival prospects but they were all unanimous on one issue: WATER, WATER, WATER. Soak those trees! At least once a day, twice even.

And even though I'm not religious, I watered them religiously. I spoke to them, 'that's right fellows, you can do it!' Right now they have healthy looking buds all over them. So we have lovely replacements for the trees we've lost over the years.

Engaging in the reskilling/skillsharing aspect of transition has revolutionised my whole attitude towards life. As I say, I didn't really notice it at first. It's been cumulative and all-pervasive. Paying attention to my own skills and those of fellows-in-transition, which are dismissed or ignored in the mainstream discourse: the ability to hold a meeting where everyone's included; communicating the experience of downshifting; learning to cook, eat and shop for food differently as part of the Low Carbon Cookbook crew; making space so solutions can emerge in the face of energy and financial constraints, using a chainsaw, making a rocket stove at the Transition Camp!

Here are some more skill share examples from Sustainable Bungay and Transition Norwich: In the picture on the left Josiah shows me how to navigate the new Sustainable Bungay (Wordpress) website in May 2010, (along with his daughter Iris) in the kitchen. This picture was included in the Transition Companion for the ingredient: Transition Towers - having an office or not.

I learned to bake sourdough bread from Jane in Transition Norwich, who always arrived at meetings with a delicious freshly-baked loaf. She visited us one November day in 2009 to pass on her skill and the gift of a leaven she'd originally been given by Andrew Whitley at a breadbaking course.

And what of some of the skills I'm sharing? Having worked in what I call the Transition Engine Room in the Norwich and Bungay initiatives over these years, guiding Gemma to set up her own twitter account over the phone last month was peanuts (or maybe cobnuts!). Never mind that I didn't even know what Twitter was until a year ago - and I was quite snooty about it at first!

And in December I spent one Sunday afternoon in Elinor's kitchen teaching fellow Bungay Community Bees to make a Yarrow salve with our very own beeswax.

Of course it's not just about me. Eloise has led a series of sewing groups in Bungay library on winter Sundays, where anyone could turn up (sic) from complete beginners to experienced sewers and make curtains, learn how to hem or use a sewing machine. Rose is organising a Skill Share, Knowledge and Resources Directory (also the subject of our next Green Drinks).

Kerry and Helenofnorwich have been reskilling in Transition Norwich in all the colours of the rainbow since the beginning. Talking of rainbows, click here and then again on the video in the post (I'm unable to embed it directly)... And there are all kinds of practical tips and hints in the posts on This Low Carbon Life on everything from insulating priest holes to accepting feedback and the basics of permaculture to communicating and forging alliances with other groups.

As Kerry said in I love Reskilling last week, every time you learn something new (or teach something you know), you get more confident, you feel life is much more in your own hands. And it's enjoyable to share knowledge with other people.

It's as if skill sharing works its way into the fabric of who we are. And becomes a way of life.

Photos: Preparing the Ground at Greengrow Feb 2009; Growing Local Conference poster, Sustainable Bungay November 2008 (Josiah Meldrum); Website skill sharing Transition in the Kitchen Office, May 2010 (Charlotte Du Cann); Sourdough breadbaking November 2009 (MW); Twitter pic, January 2012; The Colours of the Rainbow knitting with pride, 2010 (helenofnorwich)
This post (amended slightly) was originally published as part of the Social Reporters' Skill Sharing topic week on the Transition Network site.

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