Friday 28 September 2012

Humans Flying, Walking Backwards into the Future and Dipping Our Feet in the Lido

The Transition Network annual conference was held earlier this month in Battersea Arts Centre in London.  The Network's Social Reporting team, including myself, were there covering the week before, the week after and the event itself. Here are some of my experiences and reflections. Mark Watson

The conference was intense. Ongoing formal and informal meetings, workshops, Open Space sessions and group processes with almost three hundred transitioners together for the weekend. So after my rush hour post of yesterday, I've decided to take a more mellow approach today with some abiding images of the event.

On Saturday morning I walked backwards into the future whilst looking at the past in front of me at Lucy Neal's Playing for Time 2013 Arts and Culture workshop and joined in with the Transition Free Press open space session after lunch. By four o' clock I was wondering whether I'd be able to keep my eyes open, let alone go out.

But after a small group of us dipped our feet in the Lido on the Treasuring Tooting Well-Being Walk, and spent a few minutes in silence, I stood up and felt totally relaxed and revitalised. This lasted for the whole of the walk and right into the evening.

Thanks to Charles, Hilary, Alison and Belinda for taking us through Tooting Bec Common to plant elephant garlic in the community garden and think about big time with the Stone Age flint tool found there; for the history of the lido and the common land it sits in; for the story of Ahmed the salvage collector and how his beautiful daughter Jasmina must liberate herself from her imprisoning father. And for providing a counterbalance to the intense activity inside Battersea Arts Centre. As a direct experience of connecting with the living fabric of place, it was superb. Truly a well-being walk to be treasured.

At the cabaret on Saturday night hosted by Totnes poet Matt Harvey, we created a collective composite compost toilet poem. Those of us inspired wrote a line on a strip of paper which some very dedicated people strung together to make this poem. To read it click on the image at the bottom of this piece.

The band who were meant to appear at the Cabaret didn't get there. They were replaced by the fabulous Flanagan Collective, who really are folk you can dance to. The whole room was up on the floor. One slower piece that made my skin tingle with the harmonies and Jim Harbourne's amazing falsetto was called Humans Flying from the Collective's musical 'Beulah'.

On Sunday at the 'group process' of building Transition Town Anywhere, I set up a garden of wild plants and 'cultivated friends' behind the 'Yeast Collective' brewery and bakery. The plan was to use the run-off water from the brewery as irrigation and provide some herbs for the beer and bread.

Having actually curated a Plant Medicine garden this year with Sustainable Bungay made the exercise feel very grounded and at the same time freed my imagination for new possibilities. Other townspeople from Anywhere came to speak to me and several asked whether I'd be willing to visit and speak to their actual initiatives in Somewhere. 

The answer is YES by the way.

At some point I realised I needed to get out more and not just spend the whole time being the man with the wild plants out the back.
"I'll do barmaid for a bit at the brewery," I said to Rob.
"That'll be lovely, dear," he replied.

Some reflections
So what was the weekend about for me? What moves did I make? Well, I came to the Conference for a start. I usually stay behind whilst Charlotte goes to various festivals and Transition events outside our local area.

And I love staying at home and keeping house and going to Darsham station late at night to pick Charlotte up. I love to hear about all the people she’s met and the experiences she’s had as we eat tortilla and salad and have a glass of wine.

So just attending the conference meant I had to LET GO OF MY CONTROL as we entrusted our house to a new friend and her boyfriend (whom we hadn’t met) for the weekend. What about those dodgy taps? What if the septic tank backs up?!? And won’t the 100 plants in the conservatory dry out?

Letting go of control and joining in were my two main moves during the Conference. Whether it was going on the Tooting walk despite starting out exhausted, and dismayed that we wouldn’t be back until a quarter to 8, or getting over my initial resistance to the Conference facilitation, or looking into the eyes of people I’d only just met, I found if I just let go, I started to enjoy it all and appreciate the amount of work that went into organising everything.

On Sunday morning I woke up and SO didn't want to do the group process. I'm not very good with all those visioningy things. Maybe I'll get out of it by doing my blogposts, I thought.

I don’t know what made me do it but I’m glad I did. I met new people I got on with, including my ‘next door neighbour' Claudia from Sweden, who helps communities set up Transition initiatives wherever she goes. And I bumped into Hilary from the well-being walk, who agreed to write a Me and My Initiative post on the Social reporting Project.

And having decided not to go with the usual choice of well being or working with wild and medicinal plants as my specific Transition Town Anywhere activity, I made my way to the Goods and Services section to find something I knew nothing about to throw myself into. As if by magic though, staring me right in the face on the 'blackboard' where I least expected it was written: A Wild, Wild Garden. I had to do it. That was a letting go too.

So in a couple of weeks it’ll be me going to the Transition Camp in Sussex and running a workshop on Plants for Life, whilst Charlotte stays behind to look after the house!

Pics: Abiding image: Dipping our feet in the Lido at Tooting (me reporting) by Charles Whitehead; Wild plants and cultivated friends garden behind the Yeast Collective of Transition Town Anywhere (MW); Compost toilet poem - great crap! (MW) Walking Through Woods on a Warm September Evening (MW)

First published on 21st September on Transition Network Social Reporting Project

Thursday 27 September 2012

Integrating our cities' functions

I've always been a fan of things with multiple functions.  I take great pleasure in the fact that the tree which I've been building a treehouse in with and for my niece and nephew is not just a place of recreation for them, but is also contributing to the air we breathe, supporting various forms of wildlife, and providing a visual and physical barrier at the edge of a field.

But this is a trivial example in comparison to many others.  Cities, one could argue, are the ultimate in providing multiple functions in one space. Within one city block, there will be housing, entertainment venues, cafés, shops, public buildings, transportation hubs.

Within each of those, many human needs may be served at once. The best cafés, in my opinion, are ones which provide good food, a calm environment and wifi access so that I can work on my own, as well as a nice space to meet with friends or colleagues. Even better if the café has a community noticeboard, outdoor seating, enriching art on the walls and a few plants around.

It troubles me that some areas of cities have lost touch with what makes them great - this multiplicity of functions - and have been compartmentalising themselves.  In Norwich, the city centre is a place to shop, but with relatively so little residential property, it becomes dead at night, and seems cold and unfriendly. The suburban housing estates, meanwhile, lay empty in the middle of the day whilst everyone is at work in the city centre, but become active once again in the evenings when residents get back from work.

Flats in the city centre of Freiburg, Germany
OK, some would argue that that's just how cities work. But you only have to cross the channel to see that that isn't entirely true. Cities such as Amsterdam, Netherlands or Frieburg, Germany (above) enrich their city centres with multiple functions, with housing right in the centre, greenery on the rooftops, and plenty of multiple function public spaces and shops, serving shoppers during the day, and residents in the evenings.

Food From The Sky on the roof of Budgens, Crouch End, London
Transition, I feel, is all about this integration of functions in local communities, serving local needs locally.  Why ship food from across the world, when it could be grown on our rooftops? Why get contractors in from London when we could be giving Norwich people jobs, keeping money in the local economy?  Why separate work and living zones when integrating them together will reduce need for transportation and make places more vibrant places to live?

Whilst we operate as individuals, or as single organisations serving their own needs, it is easy to lose sight of how what we're doing might be affecting the things that are going on within our communities and cities.  That's why this Friday's meeting, "What's Happening in Transition Norwich", was organised. It's a chance for us to learn about what is going on in Norwich, and how collaboration can lead to the enriching of community, each action serving multiple human needs at once.

Images: all by Simeon Jackson

Tuesday 25 September 2012

The Lavender Hill Mob

It's 9am and there is no one on the beach. I'm about to set out by foot, bus, train and tube to the Battersea Arts Centre on Lavender Hill and I have leapt into the sea spontaneously for a last-minute dip. I have been swimming in this sea all summer long and can hardly bear to part with this feeling of fluidity, this physical immersion in the wild elemental world. The swells are long and slow and I am floating, gazing up at the sky and clouds. The sea town bobbing in front of me.

What's the word, I ask the morning, that I should take to the conference?

Open, the day replies mildly, as the horizon stretches in all directions and the clouds move with the wind ever westwards.

Afterwards I cycle down the sleepy high street, towards the farmer's market, where Brian has four kinds of home-grown chilli waiting for our next Happy Mondays Community Kitchen meal - a Mexican fiesta. I sing as I go up the hill:

Porque cantando se alegran cielito lindo los corazones
Because, sweet sky, singing gladdens the heart.
key one: finding the key
Vilcabamba, Ecuador, 1992. She was Night and I was Dawn. I was deliberating. We were enacting a drama, induced by the cactus, known as San Pedro, the keeper of keys.

"You can have it like this," she said and wrapped me in a big black cloak. "Or you can have it like this" and she opened the cloak and there in front of me were the shiny faces of my friends, laughing. It felt as though that decision was the simplest and the most profound thing I could make in my life. It felt as if it could turn the destiny of the whole planet around.

"I'll have it like this," I declared.
"Bring it on," she said.

Battersea, London, 2012  He is feeling and I am thinking. We are enacting a drama in a workshop on creating happy and healthy human cultures. Sophie Banks is asking us to express the extremes of opposite states and then to let them go.

"What did you experience?" he asked me afterwards. They are the same, I replied. I looked at you and I saw me. Thinking and feeling make the same shape. They are either closed down, or they are open.

The opposites are not feeling or thinking, or male or female, or action and reflection, but the state in which we operate. When we rush around the room, heads down, closed, defensive, self-obsessed, we live in a restrictive world where time is running out; when we slow down, get in pace with our hearts and the natural rhythms of the earth, looking at each other, related, connected, open, we find ourselves in another world. We are open to possibility, we are open to change.

That was a small key moment at the Transition Network UK confererence 2012 on Lavender Hill. And it gnawed at my heart all weekend, like a little mouse.
key two: set and setting
During this last fortnight the Social Reporting crew has been covering the Conference in all its aspects. We decided to preview, report and reflect on the areas that we were involved in and some of those that surprised us. During the break on Saturday morning, we met at the media hub and decided which workshops we were going to attend, so we could report back on as many as possible. As well as Sophy's workshop I put my hand up for When Transition Says No, facilitated by Ben Brangwyn, which featured the real-life stories of Transition Heathrow and their squatted community (Grow Heathrow), Transition Town Totnes with the local No to Costa Coffee campagin and Transition Cowbridge with anti-fracking activisim in Wales. In between I'm looking after the Transition Free Press stall, running an editorial session at Open Space, talking with all the people I now know in the movement and on the lookout for this year's surprise theme.

Two years ago at Seale Hayne it was the Stoneleigh Lecture which rocked the halls and woke everyone up to the economic crisis; last year in Liverpool it was the tale about los indignados, told to us by Transition Barcelona, which presaged the global Occupy movement a couple of months later. Here in Battersea I'm missing the kickback time and outdoor spaces afforded by both those residential events. This year the main conference is almost a day shorter, and we do not breakfast or have supper together. I'm aware however that it has a different set and setting, where instead of feeling like an outsider, I feel completely at home.

We  are not in an agricultural college or an ex-Catholic seminary teaching college on a campus, but an arts centre on a high street in my home city, that once housed official Council offices. It's not an academic but an ex-civic space that now resounds with music and dance. We're singing and dancing too on land that was once lavender fields. We're singing with Ines, we're watching a caberet, put on by poets, journalists and film makers and we're dancing wildly to the band. We're writing a poem together and laughing. I've written the first line:

By the composting toilet I sat down and wept
key three: layers
I'm looking for the story in amongst the noticeboards and conversations, the shafts of sunlight filtering through the coloured glass roof. The title of the conference however is not about narrative, a fluid and linear sequence in time. It's about a vertical shape contructed in space. We are building resilience in extraordinary times - a resilience, I'm discovering, that is constructed in layers. Strips of meaning laid on top of one another.

In Sophy's workshop we begin with a traditional milling exercise: walking around the room slowly and deliberately, looking each other in the eye, then fast as if we were late for a meeting. Eyes down, locked into ourselves, pushing everyone out of the way. Then she outlines a Native American teaching about coming from upright or deteriorating mind. This is a teaching from the Six Nations confederacy, which gives us a blueprint of how to shift from a warmongering mindset to one of inter-tribal co-operation. Layer three comes from psychological work with trauma, where it's recognised that in extreme circumstances human beings split into two parts - an outer part that deals with survival (gotta do, gotta get on) and an Other inner part, which holds the traumatic experience and all the feelings it engendered.

The first part is always in control, and the second lurks underfoot, threatening to upset the apple cart at all turns. In order to avoid re-experiencing the initial trauma the controller projects all the dark and dangerous stuff onto other people. That's the black sheep in our families, our disloyal friend, whole sections of society in the down-there place, those "difficult" people in our Transition initiatives.

Me and you.

Layer four is our challenge: how do we move from Dominator Culture towards Partnership Culture? How do we take the good things from our deeply felt experiences and our smart, outgoing, pioneering selves, and join those fragments together?
key four: the talking shop
The Sunday High Street group process, devised by artist Ruth Ben-Tovim, starts with a word we write on a small blackboard and place in a chalk circle we have drawn around ourselves. What makes you joyful? she asks (communication and the earth I write). The exploration then opens out to a storytelling exchange with our immediate neighbour (about a white lion who find his home in the Arctic, about a community meal cooked for fifty people each month), followed by a discussion with eight people in our neighbourhood about mapping our street (leafy, friendly, sharing and interconnected), then finding partnerships in the Transition Town Anywhere, based on eight categories (communications), setting up a business in our High Street of Dreams.

Teen and I teamed up in the Communications corner. We were the first shop to open (No 19), and Teen was one of the torch bearers who ran down the High Street to declare it open. The Talking Shop was a media hub and literary cafe downstairs, wth an office for the Transition Free Press upstairs.

"We'll be too busy to do food," advised Teen as my plans for the cafe extended wildly. As it happened however we found ourselves next to a Community Kitchen and we soon knocked a door through our adjoining walls, so we could share custom. Sorted swiftly, with a minimal shop front, Teen went out to have a cigarette and I went to the media hub (real one), to send my menu notes for Monday's Mexican fiesta. When I returned the High Street was in full swing and I walked around the cardboard town, talking to people, asking questions, listening to their set-up tales. For a moment it was like being a kid again at the seaside, building sandcastles and spaceships that take you all the way into the future.

"Would you like an ale?" asked a familiar voice.
"Do you have cider?" I asked. "I can't drink beer."
"Oh, yes," Rob replied, and handed me a cup. I laughed as I peered inside and found it was empty. For moment I thought it was real. I had forgotten the joy of imaginary games. It's not often you get the chance to let go and be in play with 300 people. I loved the inventive things everyone was doing with all that newspaper and bamboo sticks, all those joyful exchanges of which I was a part. But inside I was troubled too.

"Gisse job," I said to Fiona from REConomy, standing next door at the Town's Job Centre.
"This is for people with skills," she explained.
"Communications is a skill," I replied. "We're setting up a media hub and a local newspaper."
"You need to go to the Bank," she said.

I went back to mind the shop. Communications is a skill, but in the imaginary and the real job centre there is no paid work for communicators. There were only two of us in the room who were doing the job. We were skilled journalists, social reporters, and already had a national Transition paper for sale. "Comms" in the conference was represented by the workshop on Spiral Dynamics given by Nick Osborne, but there was no formal focus on our relationship with the media, or indeed becoming the media. Even though the mainstream and alternative press have a key role in shaping the mindset of the collective there was no place for those of us telling the story of our extraordinary times.

This post has taken a long time to be published. Partly because my fellow reporters have already written so clearly and comprehensively about the event. But partly because something happened there I didn't really want to look at. I wanted to write how wonderful the conference was. Because it was. There was a high octane buzz and an ace feeling afterwards that we were a network of people throughout the world, working towards a future that had nobility, meaning and heart. But there was this other feeling I found as I stood at The Talking Shop I couldn't ignore - a feeling of redundancy.

I am not a builder. I am a storyteller who makes meaning in time. I go where the story takes me. I go where I am welcomed and where I am valued. It's not an individual decision, it's a group decision.

In my Transition initiatives I organise community blogs, press releases, newsletters, bulletins, speakers and sometimes am that speaker myself. I am the one who asks awkward questions in meetings, keeps a record, relates the bigger picture - from the Network to climate change - that frames all our small local moves. For the past five years I have written hundreds of blogs in praise of everything I see and experience in this extraordinary movement. I have found the words - all the words, the bitter, the joyful and the true. I have given them freely. In one initiative, I am excluded, in the other I am welcomed. Communications is understood as vital to our resilience and has helped keep us together where the other has fallen apart. It's not because I am a wonderful and important individual, it's because I'm working with a crew that knows the work of communications is vital if we want to create a partnership culture. Communication is what brings those fragmented parts of ourselves and our world back together. A key that opens the door.

Because, sweet sky, singing gladdens the heart.
Because, dear readers, I sat down by the rivers of Babylon and wept.

Pictures: words and people from the project In Your Own Skin, showcased at the Cabaret and being crowd-funded this month (Katheryne Trenshaw),; mosiac bee on the floor of the Battersea Arts Centre (Laura Whitehead); writing up a blog at the media hub (LW); communications board at the High Street group process (LW); our sunflower-shaped neighbourhood (Mark Watson); Martin from Asda with the pre-processed carboard (Ruth Ben-Tovim); newly minted Bristol Pounds, our Transition Free Press front story, launched on 19 September.

Monday 24 September 2012

things fall apart the centre cannot hold - communications and resilience at #tnconf2012

Last night I got an email from the Arctic. It was from our fellow social reporter, Sara Ayech, who is on the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise, as it cuts through swathes of melting sea ice and where Shell are planning to drill for oil this month. This is the story that encapsulates all the drivers of Transition -  peak oil, climate change, economic retraction. It's the story that should be rocking the world, but isn't.

We reached the ice a couple of days ago and it's incredible, although in a far worse state than the scientists thought it would be, or satellite pictures show. Yesterday we were at 83 degrees North (420 miles from the North Pole) and we didn't see any large ice floes, everything was a lot smaller and thinner than we expected.
This morning, a bit further west, it was mostly slush in the water - we're seeing more now but it feels like it's melting before our eyes.Right now it's the lowest sea ice surface extent ever recorded - just below 3.5 million sq. km. Trying not to be depressed though - it's still amazing and beautiful. We have seen some polar bears though - yesterday a mother and her cub were pretty close to the ship, jumping between ice floes - wonderful! 
"Comms" in Transition is often understood as a persuasion tool: we have marketing and "communication skills" so we make people join our initiative, downshift, wake up to the effects of melting ice on our small lives. But editorial is not in the persuasion business, it is in the reality business. As the corporate media distracts everyone with parliamentary debates, game shows and celebrity parades, it is our work as communicators to report what we see happening all around us, to frame our community moves within the bigger picture. We are in search of a narrative, as individuals, as Transitioners, as planetary beings at this moment in time. What we value is a media that reflects what is going on from the ground -the gritty, the beautiful, the profound and intelligent. But most of all, the true.
Building resilience in extraordinary times is a buzzy headline, but what does it mean as far as our communications at this conference are concerned? The principle definition of resilience is the ability of eco-systems to hold together when the whole is challenged. Our challenge as Transitioners is to hold the core within ourselves and our communities, and not to fragment. Eco-systems do this by being connected, by a web of communication exchange and feedback. When threatened what matters most is that the fire of a body, what keeps it alive, is preserved, in the same way the bees in a colony cluster around the queen to keep her warm as winter sets in.

What keeps people together is the spirit of the enterprise, its heart. That's something we share together, what we hold in common. Look at it as a story we tell each other around a fire. What is the narrative we are creating? What really matters when the chips are down, and the world is falling apart, and it feels as though everyone around us is sleepwalking? In extraordinary times, when the wild fires are raging and harvests are failing, can we tell another story that wll feel like the warmth of a fire? And who among us is going to tell it?

crew one: social reporters at large
It has been my great joy to have been a co-founder of two national comm -unication projects in Transition, which I feel are a fundamental part of our collective resilience, keeping us intact and integral in tough times. The first is this blog (celebrating its first birthday next week) and the second is the newspaper, Transition Free Press, both based on small local initiatives: Transition Norwich's This Low Carbon Life blog and Sustainable Bungay's quarterly newsletter. As we plough through those dark waters, with the menace of corporate media at our tail, we are secure insofar as we have ace crews on board. None of us are expecting an easy ride. And all of us are keen to the beauty and fellow feeling that appears even in times of difficulty and loss.

For this weekend's conference six of our reporters (that's Ann, Caroline, Charlotte, Jay, Kerry and Mark) will be setting sail within the crowd, with our ears alert and our eyes sharp, our pencils at the ready. If you find us do tell us your story and let us know any feedback or suggestions about the blog. In the next two days we'll be writing short reports from the different events and workshops, and the following week we will be reflecting on our experiences at both the main conference and all of the four sister strands (including International Hubs on Monday). You are welcome to contribute guest blogs at the media hub (we'll have two computers there at the ready).

Oh, and we'll be communicating and networking like mad. For me, the best part of the conference is meeting and speaking with everyone in real time and space. That starts with the reporters themselves, who normally only communicate via computer or telephone. And we're all very happy to welcome back our producer, Ed Mitchell, who is returning to Transition comms from his year's voyage out. Come and find us.
launch of the transition free press
Tonight we'll also be launching our new national paper the Transition Free Press. We published our preview edition in June and since then have been distributing our 2000 print run in different regions of the UK and at summer gatherings from Permaculture convergences to Sunrise and Uncivilisation festivals. There will be a copy for everyone at the Conference, so if you haven't already seen a copy do take one home. It is our intention to publish four editions through 2013, beginning this winter, and in order to fund this venture, including printing, payment for editors and contributors - we need your help and contributions, and most of all your loyal readership.

Becoming the Media is one of the principal tools in the Connecting chapter in The Transition Companion. This includes YouTubes, social media, blogs and Twitter feeds. But nothing has impact like the printed page. Newspapers publish many stories on line but only certain ones make it into the paper "proper". Physical print, like everything else built in material form, has a strength and a baraka like nothing else. We are aware as communicators that the print holds knowledge and goes places that computers can never go - no matter how swanky the tech.

Moreover the discipline of writing news stories requires a totally different attention than writing blogs or emails. It demands far more work and time and dedication. It requires skilled designers and editors. For us, the paper is a bridge that crosses boundaries, it connects all the different strands that make up an alternative vision for the planet from anti-fracking campaigns to land rights movements to food co-ops, it connects initiatives around the country and around the world, and communicates and celebrates what we do. It is a tool that is integral to the core we are holding, and lets people who might never have heard about Transition know that it is not all business-as-usual out there.

At the conference we are looking for 35 initiatives to sign up as distributors for our paper - that's all of us in the room and in Transition. Having dedicated people around the country is what will make this enterprise possible. We will have a map of Britain up behind our stall in the Octagonal Hall and distrbution forms, so do come up and talk with us and ask questions about what this might entail. We will also have a flat plan for future issues and we're looking for contributors and any stories or ideas you might have for the different sections fo the paper. On Saturday we will be running an open editorial meeting during the Open Space session (4.15-6pm). All are welcome.

The TFP crew will all be at the launch party: that's me (ed), Alexis Rowell (news ed), Mike Grenville (production and distribution), Tamzin Pinkerton (food); Mark Watson (subeditor); Trucie Mitchell and Mihnea Damian (designers), as well as many of our wonderful contributors. We're really looking forward to meeting you and declaring this paper an "official" voice of Transition. We're starting at 7pm for 7.15 and will be toasting and launching our vessel at 7.30pm in the Main Hall. See you there!

Images: Sara Ayech and the Arctic Sunrise on the Arctic sea ice (look out for Sara's story next week!); Charlotte from interview with Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture; map of Britain we hope to cover with map pins indicating distribution points for the Transition Free Press.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Nature strikes back

 Every morning, I run a mile up and down this road and the other day I realized that the wet summer has provided the moisture for the trees to grow at an unprecedented rate. Without my noticing, the road has become a tunnel!  (That is the moon at the top of the picture, not an aphid on the lens).   Before the bypass was built this used to be the main road out of the village but the brambles have reclaimed the verges and now it is only wide enough for one car.  

There are steps leading to the crossing of the A47 - which is not for the faint hearted - but the nettles provide a stinging reminder of how quickly plants can recolonize when humans leave them to it.
 On the other side of the A47, the road is now a cycle track but there are barely enough cyclists to keep it open.  A tree has grown up through the tarmac and the brambles threaten my inner tubes.   Rabbits make suicidal dashes in front of my wheels and deer are occasionally seen at the edge of the woods.

Unfortunately, at the junction with the Watton Road there is a rude awakening as the piles of fly tipping force me to carry my bike over the broken glass before I make a speedy dash along the road to reach the saftey of the cycle path through the UEA and on into Norwich.

Thursday 20 September 2012

Talking Rubbish

This Saturday Sustainable Bungay's Give and Take Day at the Community Centre has a different "take" from previous events. As well as the main hall for swapping free stuff and enjoying refreshments at their Happy Mondays cafe,  the local Transition crew have an additional “info room” where you can find out about all aspects of waste management. There will be several stalls  run by “rubbish” organisations from Freegle to Waveney District Council. We are also delighted to welcome Karen Cannard of The Rubbish Diet and Jake Kerr from Canarchy who will instruct us all in the key essentials of personal and community recycling.

Jake Kerr explains how his crew tackle producer responsibility, but also show consumers how much waste we create and make us face our responsibility:

"Canarchy is direct action recycling. It couples many years of experience in the recycling industry with a long history of environmental activism. If you think the story is over when you shut your wheelie bin then think again. The multi billion pound waste industry and local and national government are only interested in the money this industry generates, not how the final destination of the waste stream impacts on the environment. In fact you are paying them to take away valuable resources and then pollute the environment with them. With the building of the new incinerators it’s becoming more profitable for councils to actually recycle less.  

Canarchy runs recycling schemes at festivals where we are given groups of young volunteers to work with. We try and use recycling and the politics of waste to educate them into environmentalism and to inspire them to do something about it themselves. We also run the recycling at local community events. We find that people are much more open to our message after they have seen us in action. We walk the walk and then we talk the talk.

We also are planning to use recycling and other practical green skills, i.e. compost toilets, alternative power etc, to promote the Transition message into local government agendas via their own Community Resilience initiatives. This is emergency planning that utilises community skills."

If you want to find out what happens to your rubbish after it leaves your bin and what you can do about it, don’t miss Jake’s talk with Q&A session afterwards. See you there!

Give and Take Day, Bungay Community Centre, Upper Olland Street, Bungay, Suffolk is on Saturday, 22 September, 10am-1pm. (bus from Norwich about 30 mins). Further details here. Talk by Jake Kerr is at 11.30am.

Images: processed and unprocessed cans; 18-point recycling at Sunrise Off-grid Festival, 2012

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Synchronised (or was that Synchronicitous) Sweeping at the Transition Conference 2012

The Transition Network UK Conference 2012 took place this weekend at the Battersea Arts Centre in London. Three Low Carbon Life bloggers were there and will be reflecting on the event during the next week. First here is a sweeping statement by Mark:

It is 9pm. I am typing this on fellow social reporter Jo Homan's (Transition Finsbury Park) laptop at her flat, where we have been staying for this Transition Conference weekend. Charlotte is preparing some pasta and Jo is about to return from forest gardening in Devon.

Ann (Transition Bro Dyfi) and Kerry (Transient Transitioners) have also been staying here, as well as Josiah (Sustainable Bungay) on Friday night, but they've gone home now and it is almost strangely quiet with just the two of us after such an intense, full-on, extraordinary weekend of meetings, conversations, laughter, cabaret, singing, dancing, collaborative compost toilet poems, Well-being walks in Tooting, the Transition Free Press launch, creating a Transition Town Anywhere and synchronicitously synchronised sweeping!

This is the first time I've been able to sit down and type anything, it comes just after the Conference has finished and I'll need a bit of time to decompress and let it all fall into place. So I'm really glad I put myself down to write a blogpost called Transition Network Conference - The Week After, coming next Saturday.

Jo's just walked through the door, so time to say hi and have a bite to eat, but I will just say that this was the first conference I'd been to since I entered Transition over four years ago. And it was amazing. More to follow. Mark Watson

Synchronised Sweeping, Dancing and Twirling in a Synchronicitous Way at the Transition Network Conference 2012 (by Charlotte Du Cann)

Friday 14 September 2012

Low Carbon Cookbook - Down Mexico Way 1

We're just about to head off to London to the Transition Conference and the launch party of the Transition Free Press (herbal refresher in hand), but all this week my heart has been in Mexico. Because next (Happy) Monday we're throwing a Mexican fiesta down at the Bungay Community Centre and I've been helping direct and organise the menu.

The main attraction of these community meals is their convivial and celebratory nature. It's not often you can cook for and sit down with 50 people for supper, and food with its provenance, memory and rich flavours brings us all together in a way that dry discussions about climate and cultural change can never do.

But still there is a deep Transition frame in which these monthly meals take place. All its drivers, including peak oil and the gift economy, are on the table, among the flowers and the leaves. Even though some of our dishes are global (Greek, Moroccan, Indian), nearly all the ingredients are local and seasonal. We are deliberately vegetarian to show how meals do not have to rely on resource-heavy meat or fish to be delicious and nutritious.

Everthing is cooked from scratch (in three hours flat) and so free from industrial processing. At the planning meeting earlier this month the recipes and ingredients were discussed in detail from the use of "dry" Italian rice (traditional paddy-grown wet rice creates extremely high methane emissions) to whether Nick's allotment maize would be ready in time for the Seared Corn with Coriander and Lime. I have spent a very happy fortnight sourcing local chillies (though most Suffolk growers who make their own sauces report very poor yields due to the wet and dark summer) and the house has been resounding with Mark singing old mariachi standards. Is he practising for something?

I'll be writing in more detail about the food and the gathering after the meal (happening just after Mexican independence Day). Needless to say beans, the staple of all Latin American meals, will be our cornerstone, followed by a classic-with-a-twist pudding made with late raspberries and blackberries.

Here is one of the side dishes to whet your appetitie. Sweet potatoes are sold ready-cooked from a barrel of honey in Mexican markets and this recipe by the wonderful Rick Bayless from his book, Mexican Kitchen, is full of all those sweet, warm and spicy tones of Indian summer.

Chilli-glazed sweet potatoes with cinnamon and orange
Serves 50 (with luck!)

20 garlic cloves
10 dried red chillies (Ring of Fire) or preferably 30 small anchos. stemmed and seeded
3 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cloves (best freshly ground)
800ml water

For dish:
8 kg or 25 medium sweet potatoes
14 organic oranges, zested (7 juiced)
14 tbsp honey
Olive oil for the pan

Garnish (optional)
Crème fraiche or sour cream
Chopped coriander

Orange zest

Time: 30 mins to prep paste; 1 hour to cook

Method: Paste: Dry roast garlic cloves (15 mins), cool and peel. Toast chillies (in same pan), cover in hot water and leave for 30 mins, stirring occasionally. Drain and discard water.
Combine oregano, black pepper, cinnamon and cloves, along with chillies, garlic and water in a blender or pestle and mortar to make a puree. Strain through sieve into bowl.
Potatoes: scrub and cut into wedges (4 per medium potato, 6 large). Lightly oil baking dish and lay them in a single layer. Combine paste with orange zest, juice and honey in the bowl. Spoon evenly over pototoes.
Preheat oven to 180 deg. Cover potatoes with foil and bake for 45 mins or they are almost tender. Raise temp of oven, uncover, baste and bake until they are glazed (10 mins). Garnish and serve con much gusto!

Huichol maize mother and her five daughters from Lore and History of Maize; home-grown epazote, the key ingredient in black beans; candy-floss stall in Mexico City (by Mark Watson); sunflower.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

What is a resilient livelihood anyway?

The current job market is not particularly enticing for young, enthusiastic, inexperienced and transition-minded individuals. Young people across the country are struggling to get any kind of job, let alone a meaningful one, and once you do get a job there are no guarantees you are going to get to keep it. Having qualifications no longer guarantees you work, indeed you are often expected to put in vast quantities (sometimes several years) of unwaged volunteering to gain experience before any one will consider employing you. This is not only highly demoralising for young enthusiastic people, it is tantamount to slave labour in some cases and it is a ridiculous situation for society as a whole when so many of its young, capable, hard-working members are sitting around with nothing to do. This situation is clearly not very sustainable.

This coming Friday, for a day before the 2012 Transition Conference there is going to be a Youth Symposium looking at the topic of creating meaningful livelihoods for young people. It is going to be an exploration by young people into the barriers, opportunities and ways forward for young people to find resilient livelihoods. There will be a few elders there to hold the space and to offer the wisdom of experience. Rob Hopkins and Mark Boyle (the moneyless man) are just a couple of the elders who are going to be there. But the main focus is letting us explore the situation and work things out ourselves.

So what is a resilient livelihood anyway?
I think there are two aspects to a resilient livelihood. One is being beneficial and sustainable for the individual and the other is a livelihood that is good for the earth. These two aspects have slightly different requirements.

Me at an Energy Advice ClinicSo what does an individual need for a resilient livelihood? One word in particular springs to mind - nurturing. Not a word that can be applied to most peoples livelihoods at the moment! This encompasses feeling that you are achieving worthwhile things with your life and that your efforts are appreciated; being part of a community and positively contributing to it; having the flexibility to allow you to live your life as you need to and having the variety to keep you engaged and to exercise all of your abilities. I am sure there are other things that could be added too.

Personally I have tried working in 'Transition' and I found that it often involves project management, it feels quite top down, it is quite office based and you end up doing all the hard bits so others can enjoy the fun stuff! I have written about it a bit before here and here. I am sure there are other ways of working in transition that are different, but I've decided it is probably not for me. I want to be part of the sustainable new society not just a catalyst that gets us there and then is useless!

So another option is to learn a trade and to be part of a thriving local economy, which trade to learn is another matter! Another possibility is working in sustainability education, with organisations such as Forest Schools and the Otesha Project. Also making your livelihood from living on the land in a sustainable manner could in some circumstances fulfill the requirements for me. Everyone is going to have a slightly different list and I would be interested to hear what other people would put on theirs.

The Planet
I think that this needs to not only be a livelihood that doesn't cause environmental destruction, but one that also moves us towards the resilient society that we are trying to manifest. So I suppose this encompasses working in the environmental and sustainability movement, working in an 'industry' that produces goods locally and sustainably, working in renewable energy, working on the land and working in sustianabililty education. As well as others I haven't thought of.

Thankfully there is a fair amount of cross over between the two different aspects!

Jack who was involved in Otesha's Gear Up programmeThere are some inspiring projects going on at the moment to help create resilient, meaningful livelihoods for young people. The Otesha Projects Green Jobs Programme is helping young people into 'green jobs' and is campaigning for the creation of more. At the other end of the scale Sustaining Dunbar have three local young people working as apprentices in their community bakery.

So there will be a lot to talk about on Friday! And I am looking forward to some really interesting ideas emerging. The Transition Network will also be launching their 'One Year in Transition' programme, which aims to provide all of the training and experience for young people to become leaders towards a resilient society in whichever manner they choose. It is also expected that the Youth symposium will result in a network of young people who want to stay in touch and share experiences, ideas and their journeys around this subject.

Whatever the outcome I have no doubt that this is going to be a really interesting day and I look forward to reporting back on what occured on the Friday after the conference. So stay tuned folks. Kerry Lane

Photos: Me giving out Home Energy Advice (Emily Speck) and one of the guys who was involved with Otesha's Gear Up Programme learning to be a bike mechanic (

Monday 10 September 2012

when the left hand knows what the right hand is doing

Welcome to the third in our series based on The Transition Companion where the crew look at different Ingredients and Tools. This week we are considering Chapter 3: Connecting, which contains some of the themes we have focused on this year, including Working with the Council. Forming Local Networks has also inspired a regional series, which this autumn will see reports from working initiatives in London and Scotland. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, I was planning to write about communication today, which forms the main strand of this chapter (hard to connect without communication!). But reading the entries for Oral Histories and The Role of Storytelling, I realise these are very precise exercises which I know little about. Both the initiatives I have been in have been more on the ground than teaching or workshop-based. I do know about writing stories that are embedded in the future, which was the basis for a real newspaper, the Transition Free Press. And I know about speaking with older people about the neighbourhood and getting a deeper sense in time, a sense of a culture and economy based on life without fossil fuels - though only in a non-structured context.

I could write about how hard it is to break the spell of the media, and how listening to people is key to breaking out of our chronic individualism, but to be fair to the book these ingredients are not ones that we have used in our Transition kitchens in Norwich and Bungay. The tool I know however like the back of my hand is Street-by-street behaviour change, which we called Transition Circles. I would say that this was perhaps the most influential and essential enterprise I have taken part in (apart from Working in Groups). Here's our precis in the Companion:

There are other approaches similar to Transition Streets that have also proved to be very effective. Transition Norwich started a less formal approach called ‘Transition Circles’. In this model, small groups of people meet, usually over a meal, and start with looking at individual actions, creating a space in which people can talk in a real way about lifestyle changes, and are able to support and encourage each other to take the first steps.
The Circles came out of a second wave in the initiative, called Transition Norwich 2.0 (TN2) in 2009, in which a core group of Transitioners made a decision to cut their carbon emissions by half the national average in the key areas of home energy, transport, food and ‘stuff’. The second motivation for TN2 was to start up intentional communities in different neighbourhoods, to bring people together to create and celebrate a low-carbon culture.
The groups have been meeting regularly, and have since broadened their focus to look at larger practical initiatives, e.g. wholefood-buying co-ops. For Transition Norwich, personal carbon reduction is a defining element of what Transition looks like in an urban context. 

To bring personal carbon reduction changed the dance completely because it challenged us to be real about the changes required to downshift. It changed the conversations between us. Transition groups sometimes meet with the understanding that somewhere in the woolly future "the community" will engage in energy descent. However when you put your own highly consumptive lives under the microscope, the kind of double think and denial that allows Transitioners to talk passionately, for example, about peak oil but still take planes, could no longer happen.

In Norwich we ran a series of Carbon Conversations alongside the Transition Circles during 2009-11 and personal downshift became something most of the movers and shakers were engaged in. It formed the basis for our discussion, our measure and a way of life that we celebrated in all its rich detail. It inspired our Low-Carbon Life blog (now in its third year), and the Low Carbon Cookbook. We didn't see it as behaviour change, we saw it as culture change, something we were creating together. It was another story about the world we could tell. And we told everyone we met. Look here we are in old coats, on the bus, eating beetroot, chopping firewood!

I was in the Strangers' Circle for about six months and in that time radically reduced the energy I used, the waste I produced, relocalised my larder, joined a wholefood coop, learned to share a car, stopped buying stuff apart from essentials. Two years later those decisions carry on being made: reduce, reuse, recycle, repair. We have not put the heating back on. We eat almost entirely seasonally. This year I haven't bought any clothes. I'm not thinking about "carbon reduction" anymore, or even writing about it: it's become embedded in the everyday fabric of my life and continues to affect everything I do and every conversation I have.

The high aims that we had for the Circles to spread around the city did not happen, but as speakers for Transition we became real about what we were saying. That has its own homeopathic effect within the living breathing world. We live in a mind-based culture which is happy with the abstract, with words rather than actions. We can dismiss billions of strangers by talking blithely about "too many people on the planet" and yet be unable to face the real-life death of a close friend. We are happy with the theories of Transition but do not necessarily engage in what it takes.

One of the functions of communication is to allow people to speak from their true beings and from their experience and to find a common ground, and for that we have to listen. We spent those winter months 2009-10 when the four pioneer Circles were up and running, talking in a small group about our everyday struggles to live a more frugal and respectful life-style, one that was kinder to the planet and to the people we would never meet who made it possible. It was hard going because we had to face our own denial in each other's front rooms, or around the kitchen table. We had to listen to difficult things and not shut down. Allow our resistances and resentments to be there in the alchemical space of the room. We had to know that this was everyone's shared experience, one way or another. We didn't talk in the abstract: we looked at electricity bills, car logs and shopping lists. We confessed to supermarket habits, having hot baths, driving too much. And then we acted on our findings and feeling during the following months.

Maybe one of the stories we need to tell each other is that everything in Transition goes through a process. Stories allow you to look back and treasure everything with what Roberto Calasso calls the "douceur of time". Just because a project isn't still current, or established, or a social enterprise, or famous in some way, doesn't mean it was a failure. The Circles were a huge success in that they broke a pattern, taught us clarity and generosity and endurance, and opened a rich seam of stories that enabled, for example, the Social Reporting Project to come into being and gave Norwich FarmShare its cultural backing. For Transition to work there have to be stories - real stories, real experiences - heart-warming testimonies about the struggles and rewards of doing downshift, not scientific graphs and behaviour mananagment. For that as we need real storytellers, people who are prepared to stand by the words they speak and write, and tell it how it is right now - not how it should be or was once long ago.

We had a lot of fun too especially sharing the meals (we were all cooks) and there was this sense that we were not engaged in a programme or teaching, but pioneering something that people hadn't done before. No one was in charge. We were all of us in the dark. No one knew anymore than anyone else and that made our moves exciting and real. It connected us in a way that still, years later, makes sense of what we do, even though most of us no longer see each other and the initiative is no longer up and running as it once was. The Circles were a way-though. I don't think I would be where I am now without having take part in them. So this is a recognition of that and a thank you too, to all the people I sailed with on that powerdown journey.

Because those storytellers are not the oral historians in our community, or the journalists in the conventional media. They are us.

Images: all banners from reports on Transition Circles and Carbon Conversations 200-2011 in Transition Norwich News; Hold the Front Page, Transition Culture; colleciting apple grafts and fingerless gloves and the Stranger's Circles discussion on Resilience in This Low Carbon Life.