Monday 28 January 2013

Snow report

Suffolk, Reydon. It came like a fox at night, stealthily, and left noisily in a rainstorm at full moon. Today I woke up and missed the soft quiet white blanket that has covered the land for the last two weeks. Life at sub-zero is a tough one in a low carbon household (5 degrees in our living room most days) and down a narrow ice-rink lane, especially when you have to travel all over the country for meetings and get a new newspaper out. But there is something very intense and creative about this weather that brings you closer to people and life. It's been full on during this time here at the depot, so there is just time for a few snapshots this week (normal service will be resumed shortly).

Hampshire, Petersfield Here I am sitting with the organising crew of this year's Dark Mountain festival, Uncivilisation 2013, We're huddled round a roaring wood fire in the Woodland Stage, which I am co-curating with the poet Susan Richardson in August. Fuelled by generous nips of island malt (Jura and Orkney) and travelling dishes (Galaway stew, Northern wild rabbit and East Anglia beans), we're cross referencing the speakers and writers, activists and workshop leaders, who will appear on the three stages amongst the beech woods. In spite of snow drifts and ice, we've converged from the four corners of Britain: from Wales, Scotland, Newcastle, Cumbria, Doncaster and London. It's seems crazy that we didn't stay home and talk on the internet. But you can't reccy a site, or work together virtually: it has to be real. Like the food and the fire.

Coming back to Suffolk, Mark picked me up at the station in a blizzard and we crawled home along the A12 in a white and whirling world. Scary, exciting, primal, unexpected . . . very uncivilised. Just how the stage should be, I thought.

Berkshire, Reading I'm travelling on the train with Lucy through the unknown birch woods and frozen ponds of Berkshire. We're on our way to Reading Museum, one of the Happy Museums you will be reading about in the upcoming Transition Free Press out this Friday.

We're off to meet Gilly Adams, one of the tutors for our 'write in' at the Arvon Foundation's creative writing centre at Lumb Bank in March. Lucy has organised for the central contributors to her book, Playing for Time to meet here and we are deciding on the the convergence's key elements. It's an adventurous task for all of us (I'm helping edit the book) as twelve artists will be sharing their community practices from all fields in the arts - from crafts to festivals to food growing projects. We're aiming to share our voices, stories and our methods and capture them on the page by the end of week.

Middlesex, Grow Heathrow Later that day in the kitchen at Grow Heathrow I'm drinking one of the best cups of tea I have had in a long time. It's a wild midsummer yarrow tea, collected by their foraging Fridays group. Rose (who also helped found Transition Tufnell Park) is showing us around the main buildings and workshops, gardens and individual houses. I visited the co-op before on a balmy September afternoon, and it's even more striking in winter how many ingenious ways the collective have found to build all the conveniences you need and power them entirely off-grid: a wood-fired shower, a straw bale, a hot tub, a kiln, compost toilets.

This is my favourite house with its geodesic dome built around a spinney of elder trees. Grow Heathrow are at present waiting for the verdict on their recent court case in London and we're all keeping our fingers crossed this extraordinary work of restoration and urban living won't end in their eviction.  

Suffolk, East Bergholt Back in Suffolk we're off to Bungay to edit this quarter's Sustainable Bungay newsletter ready to be distributed alongside the national paper with its suitable icy front cover. The roads are clear but it's still well below freezing and all the apple orchards and hedgerows in the Waveney Valley are covered in sparkling hoar frost. Very happy that Josiah is serving up some of his famous British bean and parsnip soup before we get down to the design board in his equally unheated house.

The next day, in spite of the threat of more snow, it's suddenly a beautiful morning and we are headed back down the A12 to meet up with 40 plus Transitioners and co-operative house dwellers from Cambridge, London and Ipswich. It's the Living Together gathering organised by the wonderful Gemma Sayers (Random Camel co-op) and Jon Halls (Lodge Farm). I'm giving a workshop on how to run new groups along creative lines called the Ideal Home Exhbition. I've never lived in a housing co-op, but I have worked cooperatively on many projects and have learned things the hard way. One of these is that selecting roles that you love and stick to are key: somehow that enables everyone else to share the best of themselves - their gifts. When we held a plenary and our four "editors" (Well-being, Practical Skills. Stuff and Resources, Social Pressure) fed back everything 25 of us had written on large sheets of paper, we found we had over 30 practical skills amongst us. That's how you know that when push comes to shove, we'll be just fine, even when it snows for days on end.

Just so long as We (and the enterprise) doesn't get stuck in Me.

View outside my window, Suffolk; woodland stage, Sustainability Centre: allotments outside Reading; Oscar's house and kale, Grow Heathrow; workshop on consensus-decision making (or how not to get stuck in Me) at Old Hall, East Bergholt; our lane.

Friday 25 January 2013

30 Miles for 30 Days - The Story of an East Anglian Diet

Last September Transition Ipswich and Woodbridge launched a challenge to themselves and local groups -  could they source everything we eat locally? Lucy Drake writes about their experiences on a seriously low-carbon diet:
Like most Transition projects, it started with a ‘Why don’t we … ?’ conversation. This one during a tea break at The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm, the CSA on the edge of Ipswich, which itself grew from a similar conversation.  Inspired by the efforts of Greener Framlingham] another Suffolk Transition group who had organised a Local Food Challenge the year before, and others such as in Fife, Tweed Green and the New Forest, a small group of us started planning in the autumn of 2011. Almost immediately we were joined by Transition Woodbridge, our nearest neighbours. Both realised the benefits of working together – especially as numbers in our original organising group shrank as the months went by.

’30 Miles for 30 Days’ had a nice ring to it, but we had no idea how feasible it would be or how much interest we would generate. We decided early on that we should try to appeal to as many people as possible, use the Challenge as an awareness raising exercise (both for local food and Transition Ipswich) but above all make it do-able and fun. For many people even one local meal would be a challenge, though we allowed everyone 3 Wildcard foods. Even so, we would need to put together enough easily accessible information to make it easy for people.  We set up a Challenge website with our news, events, blogs and an interactive directory of local retailers, producers and places to eat out.  We see this as an on-going resource, and one that can grow to include much more information.

We also wanted to get the Challenge ‘out on the streets’ with an eye-catching, good quality information leaflet. Lack of money delayed things initially but a grant from The East of England Co-op and a generous private donation covered the design costs – a reduced rate was offered by a member of Greener Fram – and then the pressure was on to raise enough money by the end of July through sponsorship from the businesses listed to cover the print costs of 6,000 folded A3-sized leaflets.

Fortunately the fact that about 40% of our circle was in the North Sea was more than made up for by enough ‘local food businesses’ in the remaining area willing to part with £25 each. We raised the required sum in 6 weeks and had enough money over to print some Local Food Champion window stickers to present to them along with the leaflets. Making contact with the businesses in this way – and all of the other Transition Groups within our 30-mile radius -was a really positive part of the exercise and forged some good bonds for the future.  The leaflets got distributed far and wide. Someone even reported overhearing a conversation about it in a hospital waiting room.
At the same time we were firming up on a programme of events for September. These were a mix of things we were organising ourselves, such as building a clay oven [Image2], using it to have a pizza party, a showing of the In Transition 2.0 movie, a food foraging walk and local food cookery evenings; events we persuaded others to put on as part of our Challenge such as a veg growing course at Ipswich’s Peoples' Community Garden, farm walks and open days; and things that were already happening locally that month such as a farm shop Food Tasting weekend and a talk to Ipswich Organic Gardeners. Altogether it looked an impressive programme.

Throwing ourselves into publicity, and using all the contacts we had, we secured four appearances on local radio, including an on-air munch of local produce, and a 3-page colour spread in the county daily newspaper.  I never knew so many of my friends read it!

Probably our most successful events, in terms of people clamouring for more, were four Cook Local evenings, held at the WI demonstration kitchen in Ipswich. This was a well-equipped venue with space for 12 people to cook and eat together. The first, pasta-making, gave everyone a chance to discover how easy it was with local flour, eggs and rape seed oil, especially if instructed by someone who knew what they were doing! [Image 3] An old-fashioned clothes airer proved perfect for drying the strips of pasta while we cooked up 5 or 6 sauces from local ingredients, then somehow found space for a damson and plum desserts.  Vegetarian, beef and game evenings were on successive weeks.

We are lucky in Suffolk to have a lot of excellent local food suppliers and almost everything we needed could be sourced within 10 miles, but for some things, and certainly for the best quality and choice, we had to drive out of Ipswich to get it. Most notably for butter – we were determined to make an apple pie! We really appreciated Marybelle at Halesworth as one of the very few remaining local suppliers of milk, cream and yoghurt.  They do doorstep deliveries in Ipswich but they didn’t do butter.  Through the wonders of the web we tracked down Domini Dairy a small family business, just over 30 miles away in Norfolk. Kirsty and I were heading north to pick up a selection of traditional apples from a grower and attend Sustainable Bungay’s Happy Mondays meal. A few phone calls led to an assignation on a village green in N Suffolk where blocks of frozen butter were transferred from one cool-bag to another. It certainly felt like precious contraband - and a lot of other people had put in orders once they had heard where we were going.

Access to local food was perhaps the biggest challenge, as well as accepting a different and more time consuming way of shopping, visiting several small outlets.  But if you had the time it was more fun, and more people-centred.  And if you were cooking for large numbers it became more manageable, suggesting that group or community buying and eating makes sense as resources become scarcer – and certainly more enjoyable.

On a personal level, I ate extremely well with lots of fresh foods and very little waste. For the first couple of weeks I struggled without my breakfast banana, but the craving disappeared when I made a chewy museli bake (one of my wild cards) to substitute: scarcity leading to invention! In many ways shopping became easier. As almost all supermarket food was excluded there was no point in going into them and getting tempted by things I didn’t need so I definitely saved money this way. Some basics, such as cheese, butter and meat were more expensive so I either did without, used less or bulked them out with other things. Doing the Challenge in September meant there were plenty of alternatives if you knew where to find them, and doing it with other people meant that we were sharing tips and sources.

It is difficult to say how ‘successful’ it was. But we certainly got our message out there, ate well, had fun and created enough momentum for most of the Suffolk Transition Groups to say ‘Let’s work together on a County-wide Challenge for 2013’.  We’ve started planning!  

Lucy Drake (Transition Ipswich)

Originally posted during a week about Transition initiatives in East Anglia on the Social Reporting Project (edited Mark Watson)

Images: Our Leaflet by Sally & Jem at www.wearedrab.netClay oven building and Pasta making by Lucy Drake

Monday 21 January 2013

Some Winter Dispatches from East Anglia in Transition

First published on the Transition Network Social Reporting Project 21 Jan 2013, introducing a regional week on Transition in East Anglia

It’s early January and I’m sitting in the Green Dragon pub at Sustainable Bungay’s first event of the year, a Green Drinks session on the theme of Well-Being and the Community. The room is packed, the discussion is lively, and a new Arts, Culture and Well-Being group is formed with monthly events already being planned and put into diaries. Everything from mapping the areas in town where people experience well-being (or not), to teaching each other skills in communications, living together, growing food, meditation and even body drumming (I’m going to have a go at that one).

This post is not (for once) just about Sustainable Bungay (“You don’t really need to speak about us this time Mark,” laughed Josiah on the phone the other day. “We’ve been very well represented, after all!”). I did want to mention that meeting though, because of the connections I perceive between the local initiative I’m in and what people are saying and hinting at in their pieces for this week on other Transition initiatives in East Anglia.

The two main things I notice at this point five years down the Transition line are: one, a strong feeling that we actually have been building community over this time with all our meetings and events and discussions. People really wanted to be in the pub looking at ways, often quite simple ways, to maintain well-being, and hence resilience, by doing things together. This is reflected in Carol Hunter's piece (this coming Thursday) about Downham and Villages in Transition in west Norfolk.

The other is an awareness of how many people are in our lives who weren’t there before Transition began. And how diverse we all are. Even in a rural market town like Bungay (sorry, I’ll try not to say it again) where the population is less obviously diverse than in a city, say, our transition group has (and welcomes) a large variety of people. Everyone was aware it couldn’t be done on our own. And even within the group itself, there is a greater awareness of the challenges we face both locally and globally, certainly in terms of financial and climate instability, than there was in the early days.

Out in the East
East Anglia has hosted three Transition in the East gatherings since 2009, in Downham Market and Diss (Norfolk) and East Bergholt on the Suffolk-Essex border, as well as a large Transition Suffolk meeting in 2011. The Diss gathering in November 2009 coincided with the publication of a document “Transition in the East: co-operation, collaboration, support and influence” produced by Charlotte Du Cann and Josiah Meldrum and based on telephone communications with twenty nine initiatives over the course of several weeks.

These events catalysed vital discussions and were key in forming and strengthening the transition networks in Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. Many of the people and groups involved are still in touch with each other within the region.

We often attend each other's events to share experience and best practice. And sometimes to give each other a boost.

In November a quartet of us set off from a previously mentioned Transition Initiaitve in north-east Suffolk to see the folks at the recently revived Sustainable Bury at Bury St. Edmunds Green Fair. This was in exchange for the visits to B**G*Y from Karen Cannard of The Rubbish Diet fame, who had come to talk all things bin-slimming at our Give and Take Day in September and led a Green Drinks session earlier in the year on domestic waste. See Karen Cannard's blogpost on how these exchanges provide fertile cross-pollination.

Sustainable Bury is not the only initiative to re-emerge. Transition Woodbridge has recently started to organise again following the collapse of the original group.

Wivenhoe, a university town of 10,000 people on the River Colne in north Essex, is home to Transition Town Wivenhoe, now over four years old. The initiative recently celebrated the New Year with a cycle-powered showing of the film Chasing Icea climate change documentary about photographer James Balog's Extreme Ice Survey, which recorded Arctic ice melt over a period of three years.

I bumped into an acquaintance the other day I hadn't seen for ages and started talking to her about Transition, had she heard of it? "Oh yes," she said, "I'm part of GreenerSax's foodgrowing group" (in Saxmundham, Suffolk).

Nearby GreenerFram in Framlingham have just published their report on last year's Suffolk pilot of Transition Streets, based in and around the village of Cransford and have set up a meeting to take it further. And Stowmarket Transition formed last summer, recently appearing in the local paper talking about their "new "green project" aimed at reducing the town's carbon use.

As I said on the front page introduction to this East Anglia in Transition week, this post is the tip of the iceberg as far as Transition activity in this region is concerned. I haven't mentioned Transition Norwich, for example, whose original food group turned into the CSA Norwich FarmShare, now in its third year, and whose NR3 neighbourhood group created the annual Magdalen-Augustine Festival in one of the city's so-called deprived areas.

The Transition Norwich blog, This Low Carbon Lifewas the inspiration and model for this very Social Reporting project you are now reading. The voices of Norwich transitioners and guests are there to be read and enjoyed in the more than a thousand posts on the blog since its inception in October 2009. That's an archive if ever there was one!

If you are reading this and are part of a Transition initiative in East Anglia, do feel free to make yourself known in the comments box below and put a link to your website or Facebook page. And if you'd like to join the Transition Circle East community blog and upload posts about your transition group and events, email Charlotte at for an invitation.

And me, I'll be getting on with helping to organise our new Arts, Culture and Well-Being group in SssshYouKnowWhere. And reporting on our activities here on the Social Reporting project and elsewhere throughout the year. Though talking of icebergs, I might not actually be able to get to Happy Mondays tonight for the South Indian themed meal. Bah!

Meanwhile, you'll find plenty of good nutritious fare here this week from fellow transitioners reporting from the east.

Pics: Poster for Living Together, a day about co-housing and intentional communities, organised by transitioners in Suffolk, January 2013; Happy talking rubbish with Karen Cannard, Sustainable Bungay's Give and Take Day, September 2012; Transition Town Wivenhoe's Chasing Ice poster; Transition Norwich 2nd birthday poster 2010; Transition East Gathering organised by Downham and Villages in Transition, March 2009

Thursday 17 January 2013

Slow train to Hebden Bridge

This month is all about time. I have been running up against a major deadline with the new edition of the Transition Free Press and haven't had a minute spare to write any posts yet in 2013, Ironic then that this week's report should be an introduction to Playing for Time - a collaborative handbook about Transition and the Arts, authored by Lucy Neal. Last year we set off to Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire to visit the house where the main part of the book will be created.

Heading North
The North is different my mother would say. People are more friendly and direct. She was from Yorkshire and would fiercely defend the wild moors and noble market towns of her youth. Heathen Southerners, as we were, we sided with our father (from the Sussex Downs), as they fought an ancient battle over the dinner table.  She was outnumbered.

Sometimes, however, roots go deeper than history.

And the North is different. You feel it coming out of Peterborough. some kind of barrier slipping away between people, some rugged shift in the texture of place, stone and brick. The influence of an industrial past. We only went for a day, but it struck me each time I changed trains or breathed in the air. I hardly travel outside East Anglia, so perhaps I have become more finely-tuned to the shifts and changes in landscape and atmosphere. Paying attention and celebrating diversity of places and people lies at the heart of this new work we are embarking on in 2013. It has been a project that Lucy has been focusing on for many years, a culmination of a lifetime collaborating with artists and performers (running the theatre festival, LIFT) and her pioneer work with Transition Town Tooting.

The book will document the practices of creators and makers and directors who are working with communities within the context of Transition. It encompasses many disciplines - from theatre to writing to crafts, and also those that may not traditionally be considered "art", such as community food-growing or street festivals and pop-up shops. In fact the book questions deeply what the use and function of art is in times of planetary shift and social change. Is creativity there to further entrench a hierarchical, business-as-usual culture, to uphold an Empire which sees Art in terms of commodity or entertainment? Or do artists serve a primary function, as agents of change and cohesion within the collective, moving us from one kind of world to the next? A reminder of all that is possible, and how we can activate the power of our imaginations and deep memory, not only to face the challenges ahead, but to create a future we actually want to live in?

We met at Leeds and took a little train down the Calder Valley. I am exhilarated by the sight of hills with their moorland tops and the rushing rivers (O so flat and slow in Suffolk!) and we alight in Todmorden to meet Estelle and Mary, two of the movers and shakers behind the Incredible Edible project. This food-growing "campaign" began here in Todmorden in 2005 at the same time as Transition, and shares many of its principles. Like Transition it has spread to countries all over the world, and there are Incredible Edible towns from Lambeth to Brazil.

The group began by "propaganda" aka guerrilla gardening, where pieces of unloved land around the town were planted up with fruit and vegetables for everyone to pick for free. The project has expanded to include school gardens, local food markets, chicken clubs, bee parades, community orchards and growing spaces in public places throughout the town, and even along this railway line.

"When Tim the ticket collector died we planted his favourite veg as a memorial," explained Estelle (he didn't want flowers). "You've heard of the Bluebell Line, well we have the Broccoli Line." Would we still be here on Saturday when there was a Festival of Lights, they asked, where three towns have a great parade of lanterns and huge puppets, and there is a bike ride all along the valley at night?

We wished we were, but already we are back on the road to Heptonstall, above Hebden Bridge, to find our tiny stone cottage, and meet Mark Simmonds of Co-operatives UK. Over a powerful pint of local cider, we discuss the extraordinary amount of community projects that are happening in the area, from workshops in Sheffield to the renovation of some of the "Tops" above the village, to manage the land for wood fuel and berry picking.

Co-operative societies have always flourished in the North, and so it feels right that we begin this co-operative project here among these wild hills and close valley communities. And right too, for writing - for this is the place where the poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath once lived and, beyond the ridge, where the Brontes wrote their novels. If set and setting are the prerequisites for all good creative ventures, we are in the perfect place. The next morning we set off on the windiest day of the year to walk to the poets' former house at Lumb Bank. We head up the road, I anticipate a coach and four coming round the brow of the hill, to leave a young women in bonnet and cloak to face her emergent destiny. But she does not come.

We are living in a different time. To discover the enduring images of our time is the task ahead. 

Lumb Bank

This is the table where the main material will be forged. It's the dining room of Lumb Bank, home to a former mill owner, and briefly to Ted Hughes (who was from Heptonstall) and Sylvia Plath (now buried in the churchyard). The house now belongs to the Arvon Foundation, who run writing courses throughout the year. The foundation is an integral part of this project and something of a new venture for them as well, as most of their courses focus on individual creative writing of plays, poetry and prose. In early March 12 of us will sit around this table and, guided by two tutors, start exploring and putting together a collective vision for the future of the arts. For the past two months Lucy and I have been holding conversations with many of the people on the project (mostly via Skype). Some will come up here and we'll pull together ways of presenting their work.

The book is in three parts. The first part frames the book and will include essential "big picture" introductions, from Paul Allen of CAT on the history of energy, to Rob Hopkins on Transition. The second main section is a showcase of the different arts practices and people involved, and the third a methodology or roadmap of their practices, so that people in initiatives and communities everywhere can be inspired to do similar work. In the way, for example, that Anne-Marie Culhane of Grow Sheffield, inspired many of us to run Abundance projects, sharing unwanted fruit from our neighbourhood trees and gardens. Everyone taking part in Playing for Time is a story in their own right and it is my intention this year to write these stories, and give my own take of the process it will take to create a work-in-community, that is the traditional preserve of individuals.

Meanwhile after discussion with the Foundation organisers and an exploration of the house with its barn and gardens and wonderful airy rooms overlooking the valley, we headed back to our separate destinations: Lucy travelling to meet one of her daughters in Sheffield, my four-train journey south and east of the country, with the timetable Mark made for all the arrivals and departures in my hand.

Right now at 10am I am about to talk with Lucy and our next practitioner and producer, Ruth Nutter, and then it's back to the paper. "I think twenty to eleven is a good time," said Lucy, as she sent me the top picture of the clock at Lumb Bank. "So long as it's not High Noon," I said. "Or as my friend and fierce doorkeeper, Karen Binns used to say: Two minutes to 12 people - time to wake up."

Clock at Lumb Bank; outside Hebden Bridge station; view from Lumb Bank; Charlotte on the road outside Heptonstall; working table; Lucy in Heptonstall high street.  Photos by Lucy Neal and CDC.

Monday 14 January 2013

Funding Change

There are several reasons why I want to write about funding today.

One is my current circumstance. I find myself sans job and without a place to call my own. I have ambition to do social good in this world, but need some way to make it pay!

Another is that I've recently been reading some books which talk about the problems of funding and costs, and had some thoughts of my own off the back of that that I want to share.

Here's another: funding social change is something that it's easy to shy away from, to let someone else take up the slack, or not to look at realistically. achieve

So over the next few paragraphs, I'll ask why funding for social and environmental change can be a problem and how our culture has influenced how money moves about, both negatively and positively. Then I'll suggest one way through which we might be able to fund the changes that we need, and what a sustainable economy ought to look like.

"This is so obviously a good thing for society, so why will no one pay me to do it?!"

It's difficult being a young unemployed person these days, especially one who is determined that whatever they do must contribute positively to the world.  Those who speak up against our societal system are frequently told to "get a job" and those who are trying get accused of sponging off the state or not having the right skills for industry.  But no matter how hard jobseekers try, its impossible to fill more jobs than businesses create. And where there are skill shortages, isn't it the industry's responsibility, for the sake of the long-term viability of their industry, to train inexperienced workers?

"I want social change, but I can't pay for it!"

There seems to be a mismatch between what people require, and where the money is that might pay for it.  We desperately need to improve the efficiency of our housing stock.  We need tools and appliances that last a long time, to conserve limited natural resources.  We need value creation that improves human well-being, not the bank balances of the few.

But those who need these things just don't have the financial resources to invest in this way, or are under too much pressure from their investors to divert money to these areas of their business.  Local councils' budgets are being cut.  Businesses, meanwhile, are under intense pressure from all sides.  Shareholders want to maximise profit, whilst customers want prices ever lower and lower.  Anything that can be squeezed out of their costs, is.  Even socially responsible companies must compete just to stay in the game, and have to cut down their own profits if they choose to invest in the future or in better business practice, possibly to the point where their business ceases to be viable.

"Let's forget money and just share our skills and resources!"

The first argument which seems to pop up in Transition circles is to remove money from the equation.  To establish the "gift economy".

It all sounds very noble.  It all sounds very nice for society. It sounds like it will increase peace and goodwill to all.  I thought the whole concept sounded pretty attractive myself... until I read two books that give quite substantial evidence for a wealth [sic] of unintended consequences.

In You Are Not A Gadget (which I recently reviewed on my blog), Jaron Lanier criticises aspects of technology culture, particularly the Web 2.0 attitude, where everything should be free and available to all.  Eduardo Porter makes a similar criticism of "free" culture in his book The Price of Everything.  Both give very convincing arguments of how this attitude has diminished our society's cultural advancements and exalted the "Lords of the Clouds" (Lanier) that control the social networks and information aggregating websites. Producers of content (such as musicians and journalists) largely go unrewarded, even when the value of their content is indisputable (like when a YouTube video has several thousand or even million views). I won't describe these arguments in detail here, but if you're not convinced, I can recommend these books, and you're welcome to borrow them off me if you're around the Norwich area.

"Let's print our own money, then!"

So if those who would get the benefit of new economy activity don't have cash reserves to pay for it themselves, how do we create the mechanism for these value creators to be rewarded for that work? Another of Transition's popular policies comes into play here - local currencies.

Why don't we create the money we need ourselves to trade the services which local people need.  It's another of those ideas that seems very attractive at first.  When money is essentially just a social contract, why shouldn't we be allowed to make our own, and determine how it will be used, rather than commercial banks?

It's a good argument, and I'm all for local currencies.  It is important to be aware of some of their shortcomings though. It's often hard to convince businesses of their value, especially when a large proportion of a business's expenses are, by necessity, outside of the local community. As much effort must go into convincing people (mostly business owners) about why the use of a local currency is beneficial to them as the actual infrastructure used to implement it.

Now, this isn't an argument against local currencies, but I am convinced that we can do much of what local currencies aim to do without the need for an actual local currency, at least until we get to the point where we can afford the infrastructure of a local currency.

"So, what can we do now to fund the change we need?"

So another model, which I'm a big fan of, is crowd-funding. Under this funding mechanism, those who want a particular product or service can invest in it before it even exists. Return on their investment is then often in receiving the product or service they want, rather than in financial terms. It is, I suppose, a little like pre-ordering something before it's made.

There are various crowd-funding websites, and they all work in different ways. Some give primarily financial returns (like, which is crowd-funding for renewable energy projects), whilst others focus mainly, or exclusively, on the social and product returns that they provide.

The Transition Free Press is using one such service to raise funds for the launch of their newspaper at Please do follow this link, fund the project, and benefit from a year's subscription and more! Crowd-funding websites often do a lot to ensure that investments with them are risk-free, by only releasing funding once the project reaches its funding target, and requiring business plans or financial projections to ensure that projects are viable.

I think it's important to be imaginative about crowd-funding though.  This applies not just to creative artsy projects (like those on, nor the very businessy "maximum returns" world of crowdcube, but even co-operative housing projects could be classed as crowd-funding. Any point where we can cut out the banks and those with a little cash to spare can invest it directly in business is good, as far as I'm concerned.

"So what does our future model actually look like?"

I envision a world where local sustainable resources, whether they are land, businesses or tools, are owned collectively by the people who use them.  This IS possible. It will take a lot of work, since it does require changing our attitude to money, savings, investment, ownership, sharing and our lifestyles.  It will also require us to claw back, collectively, all those things which we have slowly allowed the very rich to commandeer.

But as long as we look at each other as human beings, co-habiting this planet with the limited resources that it has to offer, rather than statistical consumers or welfare scroungers, we will get there!

P.S.  There's a lot more that I wanted to put in this article that I've had to leave out, so perhaps I'll get round to that in another post, so if bits of it don't fully tie together, that's why! Please leave a comment if you have questions or comments though!

Images: Hire me! (the author); Book cover of "You Are Not A Gadget"; Brixton Pounds; Mika from Japan reading TFP preview issue on a train in Suffolk Photograph of sign at Occupy Norwich.

Saturday 12 January 2013

ARCHIVE: The Tale of a Radical Greenhouse

Next week the Transition initiative, GrowHeathrow, go back to court to defend their "Squatopia" in the village of Sipson. Here is a video about how the group converted a derelict site into a community garden and meeting place, by Dean Puckett, director of 2012's year's key documentary, The Crisis of Civilisation (wait ten seconds for video to appear!)

On March 1st 2010 I had the pleasure of filming Transition Heathrow members swoop on an abandoned market garden site in Sipson; one of the villages to be completely tarmacced to make way for a third runway at Heathrow.

2 years later I returned to the site which has been transformed from a derelict mess into a beacon of community strength and a great example of how to live sustainably on this planet.

Keep Grow Heathrow Alive!!

Grow Heathrow is under threat of eviction and will be appearing at Central London County Court on 18th & 19th June 2012

Dean Puckett

Grow Heathrow - "Everything's Changing" from thecrisisofcivilization on Vimeo.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Most Of It We Don't See

What connects us and makes us resilient in the face of collapse, are the things you cannot ordinarily measure or see. Charlotte Du Cann
A year ago I felled a dead elm and sawed much of the first two trunks into logs by hand. These logs burned okay, but everyone said splitting the wood was better. Yesterday I split wood for the first time.
So here I am in heroic mode, spltting the wood. I did a pretty good job, was surprised it came so easily and felt very satisfied at the end.
But no one is a hero in isolation, not even a humble woodsplitting one. In fact, I think the whole hero thing reflects the hyper-individualism of our culture.
And there is always what you don’t see in the picture. And not just the photographer. In this picture you also don’t see Nick who lent me the maul you don’t see (very well) either. Nick helped me cut down the last of the dead elm trunks last year and sawed it into logs. Charlotte sawed another dead elm by hand on her own whilst I was out a couple of weeks ago, so even I didn’t see that.
Also remaining unseen are the people and the materials that made the maul, and all the actions and connections that led to our being here and to Nick coming over on Wednesday on his way to drop his daughter off at her boyfriend’s nearby.
All those transition meetings in Bungay and Norwich and skill shares and learning about global markets and industrialisation and wanting to be less dependent on them and get to know people and places closer to home. Wanting to chop firewood with my own hands, to work with the grain, the material.
And all the conversations over the years I was listening to without even knowing I was listening to them, about how to let the woodsplitting axe fall by its own weight and how to stand properly and not twist your back.
In fact a thousand words wouldn’t be enough for all the connections making up what lies behind and beneath this simple photo.
Golden Chilli Tree 2Or indeed this one. I don’t celebrate Christmas. This year, however, we found a broken bough of pine in the local wood and brought it home for the living room. On Christmas night something got into me and I cut into strips the gold paper Dano had given me at Sustainable Bungay’s Solstice/Christmas party and tied chillis to the bottom of them reusing ties from plants that had died down. The chillis were a gift from Malcolm and Eileen where we get our weekly veg box, a mix of the formidable Ring of Fire and the fragrant serrano.
We’re taking down the bough and chilli decorations tomorrow and so I wanted to share it here.
Though this piece is mostly about some of the things we don’t see.
Photographer unseen, Splitting wood for the first time 4 Jan 2013, by Charlotte Du Cann; Chilli, gold paper, use garden tie decoration on salvaged pine bough from nearby wood (MW)
This post originally appeared on the blog Mark in Flowers on 5th January 2013

Sunday 6 January 2013

Green shoots

Meteor peas
Most people know that the shortest day is the 21st December but not many people realize why it is well into January before they feel that the days are getting longer.   The reason is that only now is sunrise beginning to get earlier.  The evenings have actually been getting lighter since the middle of December - before the Solstice but the latest sunrise continues through to the new year and today it was a full 2 minutes earlier!

 We may still be struggling to get up in the cold and dark but the plants are quick to sense the lengthening days and my peas and broad beans are now getting going - helped by some mild weather.   I had my annual seed planning meeting with my friend Jane last night and we dined on the beans that had been hulled by the bucket load whilst we watched Wimbledon on the TV.   It was good to know that this years crop is already growing. 
Broad beans

The first onion
The autumn sown onions are also putting in an appearance - the chicken wire is to stop the birds pulling them out to investigate! 

Unfortunately the lengthening days also mean that the moles' thoughts turn to breeding and some have decided that my nicely dug veg patch is the perfect place to excavate a family sized underground nest!

Friday 4 January 2013

ARCHIVE: Mapping the Future 2012

Today's archive post was originally from a week last January about Looking Forward, outlining plans and visions as Transitioners in our initiatives, neighbourhoods and the world. Looking back today in 2013, though some of these projects and initatives are no longer the shape they once were (including this blog), what has endured is this low-carbon life we have been cataloguing during these years and the creativity and holding power of its networks.

Visioning is one of the Tools and Ingredients in The Transition Companion. It states that not being able to imagine a low-carbon world is a huge impediment to designing and realising it.
Transition suggests we start by creating a positive vision of a future. It asks:
If you woke up in, say, 2030, and the transition had been successfully managed, what would it look, feel, smell and sound like? What would you have for breakfast? What would you see when walking down the street?
If you woke up in 2012 what would you see?

OK. I'm kidding. But visioning for a future we want, or don't want, is not the same as visioning for a future that might actually happen.

Transitioner. In spite of having an active imagination I am not great at looking ahead. I am more of a dreamer at heart, which means I see things within the complexity of the present moment, rather than in linear time. When Transition Norwich launched their Transition 2.0 personal carbon reduction initiative, in response to the imminence of climate change, fifty of us engaged in a long group visioning process. Afterwards everyone began talking animatedly about community and food projects, about getting in touch with neighbours, sharing stuff. I closed my eyes and I saw myself in the garden and everything appeared the same as it is now. It was perhaps quieter, as if the world beyond the garden had stopped running around chasing its own tail.

The ingredient advises us to imagine a future in the context of a world
that has responded to climate change, has far less net energy than today, has moved beyond economic growth, and has adapted creatively and purposefully.

Listening to everyone speak, I realised I was already living in that future. I no longer had the means to fly around the world and had already rooted myself in the neighbourhood. Most of this had happened by circumstance, rather than design. At the time I felt like a ninny but now, thanks to the Transition Circles that emerged from this meeting and the two projects that came out of them, I have forged some valuable tools for downshifting and am now able to articulate and share these with others as a Transition communicator. The individual moves you need to make with those key drivers - home energy, transport, waste, water, food.

Step one: walk your low-carbon talk

Projects The two projects that came of our Transition Circles were the Low Carbon Cookbook and This Low Carbon Life, a community blog that has been running daily for over two years, and provided the structure for the Social Reporters project. This year, after tracking the growing and harvesting cycles in our gardens and kitchens in 2011, the Cookbook will start taking its written form and the blogs will continue to reporting and reflecting on that future way of being on earth.

One of the blogs' greatest strengths is showing what a low-carbon culture looks and feels like, showing all its relationships with people and with the planet in a vibrant, intelligent and colourful way. This gives heart and strength and meaning to all ventures within the initiative. We inherit a world that is all creation and destruction, in which our presence is arbitrary. Two vital components that make these projects work come between these two states: 1) maintenance and stability and 2) valuing everyone who takes part.

Step 2: commit to projects and people come what may

Initiative In 2010 a group of Transitioners met in the Norwich Arts Centre and engaged in a day of creative visioning. We were improvising on the theme of Future Beings, preparing for a performance that would happen on Earth Hour outside the Forum on the Spring Equinox. We chose cards that imagined different scenarios and then spoke to each other as if we came from those futures: steady state, techno-fix, paradigm shift, Mad Max . . . During our performance we would speak with the audience as those future beings and they could ask us questions.

I spoke from an unexpected future. It was marked, like my vision, by its remarkable stillness. One day I said, everyone just stopped what they were doing up to then, and began something completely different. The change was absolute and sudden.

One thing I have learned about creativity in Transition: when you provide the space and the opportunity extraordinary things can emerge from people. Everyone that day was an actor, a performer, a speaker, a creator. When you experience those untapped capacities, you can then seize the day and appear in your true colours. You are in this venture, not on your own. You are acting in an ensemble company, backed by all the ancestors and future beings who are yet to come to this earth. When you step out you realise the audience is with you every step of the way.

Step Three: be bold, be on show

World What does it mean to be a dreamer? It means you hold within yourself a vision for the whole earth, not just how your community can feed and clothe itself, but how we need to be as a collective, aligned with the living systems. It means seeing in big time, considering all peoples, all creatures, all lands. You don't do this in linear time, mapping things step by step, but in a present moment in which the past and the future are contained. Where everything that is going down in the room, the neighbourhood, is going down in the world, what some call hologrammic perception.

It means when we meet we are all meeting as a council of all beings deciding on how the future will go. It's an attitude, a frame that brings depth and intregrity and a sense of play into everything we do.

Step Four: live every encounter as if it really matters

This is a small map, drawn up without any previous planning. As I put my attention on each section the material presented itself. All I had to do write everything down. As I sketched its contours, I realised that most of its elements, explored in previous years, were now coming into play. Even though at the time they didn't seem to "go" anywhere, now they were making sense. That is the value of visioning. You plot the map and one day you find yourself in the territory, and because you have drawn the map you know what to do.

Last week five of us met up at Jo Homan's Edible Landscapes nursery garden in London, and then decided on our future weekly topics for 2012 (read all about it here). We're starting in February with a full-on month of skill-share, energy, ingredients and tools, the international Transition 2.0 film and national REconomy project. Meanwhile my fellow reporters have been outlining what will be happening in 2012 elsewhere in the UK . . do check us out!

Photos: still from 2012, the movie; visioning for Transition Norwich 2.0; taiko drummers announcing Earth Hour, 2010; visioning the future, Catton Grove Primary School (with Transition Cambridge); It takes a Billion, Billion Years to Burn Out the Energy I Have in Me by Mark Watson; five meet up in Finsbury Park