TRANSITION www.transitionfreepress.org Issue No. 2 Summer 2013
Stratford Transforming finance Page 3
NEWS: Greek crisis Hope rises from the ruins Page 7
Thackara Re-wilding the city Page 14
water swimming; Scuba wombles Page 23
Gas bubble coal trouble by Jason Heppenstall With the coalition government ready to allow fracking companies to quite literally blow up Britain’s countryside in search of a replacement for dwindling North Sea resources, the evidence from the US is increasingly that shale gas is a bubble about to burst rather than a magic bullet. The first comprehensive study of US shale gas production, Drill Baby Drill by the Post Carbon Institute, appears to lay to rest the notion that shale gas and other unconventional fossil fuels will solve the world’s energy problems. “The best fields have already been tapped,” says report author, David Hughes, “and no major new field discoveries are expected.” “At best,” Hughes concludes, “shale gas, tight oil, tar sands and other unconventional resources provide a temporary reprieve from having to deal with the real problems.” The report argues that three factors make it highly unlikely that shale gas will be anything more than a short interlude in the hydrocarbon era. First, is the rate of flow. Unlike the monster oil fields of Saudi Arabia, which
have gushed under their own pressure for decades, shale gas fields require a huge technological effort to bring up a relatively small amount of usable fossil fuels. Second, the depletion rate of those shale fields is extremely high, with up to 80% of the ‘prize’ remaining in any given well. This means that thousands of new
“Put simply, the shale gas frenzy is a pyramid scheme“ wells are being drilled all the time in order to maintain production levels. Finally, the net energy return from shale gas – energy recovered minus energy extracted – is tiny. The report comments: “Shale gas production has been on a plateau since December 2011 – 80% comes from five wells, several of which are in decline. The very high decline rates of shale gas wells require continuous inputs of capital – estimated at $42 billion per year to drill more than 7,000 wells – in order to maintain production. In comparison, the
Coﬀee grounds are gourmet fungi gold by Alexis Rowell It’s a grubby business hunting around behind cafes for coffee waste, but Fungi Futures, a social enterprise in Totnes, have struck gold in the search for a sustainable economic future. The company turns waste into
food by using coffee grounds as a growing medium for gourmet mushrooms. And they have ambitious plans to set up the UK’s first urban mushroom farm in Exeter, and to involve Transition Initiatives around
India is the third largest producer of coal in the world. Contract workers face appalling conditions. Photo by Srinivas Kuruganti
value of shale gas produced in 2012 was just $32.5 billion.” Wall Street valuations of fracking companies appear to be based on the quantity of shale gas being extracted right now – 40% of US domestic gas supply – rather than looking at the huge number of wells being drilled, the high depletion rates and the vertiginous cost per unit of
energy recovered. “Put simply,” says Richard Heinberg, author of Peak Everything, “the shale gas frenzy is a pyramid scheme. It’s a mark of desperation, not the sign of new dawn of hydrocarbon-fuelled economic growth. Far from being a ‘fuel of the future’, shale is already looking like a fuel that is nearing its use-by date.”
Ironically, the US shale gas bubble has depressed the price of coal, the original fossil fuel that powered the industrial revolution and launched humankind on an arc of development unparalleled in history. Because shale gas is being used in US power stations, cheap US coal has been flooding on to world markets. Coal is one CONT. PAGE 3
the UK in the coffee-waste-togourmet-mushrooms trade. The founder of Fungi Futures, Adam Sayner, left Sussex University with a degree in ecology and conservation, determined not to join the rat race. He moved to Totnes because of the Transition movement and, within days of arriving in Devon, took part in an event called ‘Can Totnes Feed Itself?’. “I was so inspired to be around a group of people who were asking the sorts of questions I’d been pondering,”
he says. “But they weren’t just thinking about them; they were really looking in detail at the practicalities of how a proper localised food system could work, and drawing up plans to go about making it happen. After all the talking, reading and theorising of university, I was so pleased to be in a movement that valued getting on and making things happen.” At university a corner of his room had been given over to a makeshift laboratory with strange looking petri dishes and bags
of mushroom spawn growing on shelves and under his bed. A passion for foraging had become an obsession about fungi. Little did he know then that his obsession would become a career. “Fungi are the great recyclers of the earth,” Sayner enthuses. “They recycle waste. They take it in its complex form and break it down into more simple forms. Some even produce delicious gourmet fruits along the way. Morel, Shiitake, Wine Cap, Oyster CONT. PAGE 2
NEWS pages 3-7 PEOPLE page 12 REVIEWS page 13 ARTS page 16 FOOD pages 18-19 WELLBEING page 21 PRACTICAL page 22 SPORT back page
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Energy underpins everything we do in our industrialised societies. The high demand for gas, oil, coal or bio-fuels, as our front page story shows, is now costing the earth on which we depend for life. How we face this dilemma and reduce our need for power is the work of the Transition movement and thousands of community activists around the world. Most of us are invisible. But, like myrchorrizal fungi in the living soil, we are connecting and communicating across the globe, working to bring about a future where people can live fairly within ecological limits. In our summer edition we publish stories you might not ordinarily see – actions communities undertake to bring back life into neighbourhoods, to activate soils that have been deadened and contaminated, to create new networks that can hold us together in challenging times. An infrastructure you can feel but
2 WELCOME 3-4 NEWS 5 RECONOMY 6-7 NEWS 8 ENERGY 9 HOUSING 10 EDUCATION 11 PROFILE - Portalegre, Portugal and Coín, Spain
12 PEOPLE - Anne Marie Culhane 13 REVIEWS 14-15 TALKBACK 16 ARTS 17 COMMUNITY & MEDIA 18-19 FOOD - Foraging For A Year 20 LIVING EARTH 21 WELLBEING - & marketplace 22 PRACTICAL 23 PHYSICAL 24 SPORT
not always see. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline threatens to bring toxic crude oil through the heartland of America. Ancient trees fall to make a by-pass in a peaceful valley in Sussex. In response people rise up and take on mighty corporations and rapacious stakeholders. Sometimes that might is challenged. We won! wrote TFP columnist, Shaun Chamberlin, as the Ecological Land Cooperative finally secured planning permission for a smallholding. For a Goliath culture whose topdown business-as-usual worldview requires everyone’s assent, this may appear a small victory. But each time we voice our dissent, each time we reclaim our fields, we realise we are not alone in our task. Why do we tell these stories? Because they are sparks that light a great fire inside us. Because another culture is being forged. In an abandoned warehouse in
Doncaster people gather on a freezing night by a furnace to listen to a new narrative being told, along the River Dart a group of children and elders go on a story walk in search of the future. A sunflower garden appears in a neighbourhood in Portalegre. An artist plants 100 fruit trees in a university in Loughborough. In the cities everywhere, leaves appear through the cracks and are gathered by foragers. A dominant worldview does not mean we do not have agency. What we are not told is that there
is an emergent world inside us. You can find it everywhere where there is warmth and generosity and a co-operative spirit: in community cafes, park libraries, pop-up shops, trade schools, abundance projects, repair cafes, people’s kitchens. It comes in all the colours of the rainbow, it sounds like the nightingale singing in the dark in May. For all people who sing in the dark, who stand by the land, the bird and the tree, who hold the fire until the dawn comes, this paper is for you. Charlotte Du Cann, Editor
That fact, coupled with research into the amount of coffee waste there is, made me realise I could grow a genuine low energy, low waste business out of my twin passions for coffee and fungi!” Adam hit on the idea of creating mushroom-growing kits to sell to the public and started collecting coffee grounds from cafes and restaurants in Devon.
by community groups. From 1st May we’re offering a GroCycle kit that contains everything a Transition group would need to grow mushrooms except the coffee grounds, which they’ll have to collect locally.” Each GroCycle kit will recycle 10kg of coffee grounds into 3kg of mushrooms. Sayner’s vision is of Transition groups up and down the country sitting down together for a communal meal conjured up from local food waste. Sayner thinks his business fits perfectly with Transition economics in terms of localisation, removing carbon from business processes, working with nature and promoting wellbeing. “Our expansion will be about getting people to grow mushrooms where the waste is,” he says. “We’re mopping up waste from the coffee industry, which uses a huge amount of energy and water, quite a lot of it in the throwing away of grounds. We work with nature, using fungi to break down waste. We’re all about wellbeing – healthy food, communities growing mushrooms and eating them.” I can’t let Adam go without reminding him that Totnes is famous as the town that stopped Costa Coffee from opening. Sayner doesn’t miss a beat. “It’s ironic,” he chortles. “We were probably the only people in Totnes who’d have been happy to see Costa come because of the volume of coffee they get through!” But I know he doesn’t mean it; his principles are far too strong.
“We’re mopping up waste from the coffee industry”
Editor Charlotte Du Cann News & Sports Alexis Rowell Food editor Tamzin Pinkerton Design Trucie Mitchell Proofreader Marion McCartney Publicity Mike Grenville Distribution Mark Watson Business manager Jay Tompt
Contributors Joseph Blake, Steph Bradley, Isabel Carlisle, Patrick Chalmers, Hannah Davey, Jan and Chris Dyer, Phillip Evans, Philip French, Jeppe D Graugaard, Jason Heppenstall, Jim Hindle, Shane Hughes, Rob Hopkins, Diana Korchien, Kerry Lane, Dorothea Leber, Oliver Lowenstein, Elinor McDowall, Helen Moore, Lucy Neal, Catriona Ross, Deepak Rughani, Gemma Sayers, Dr Christopher Shaw, Beth Stratford, John Thackera, Nic Tigg, Beth Tilston, Ugo Vallauri, Biff Vernon, Chas Warlow, Lia Zorzou.
Campaign Against Climate Change activists under Blackfriars Bridge. The third edition of Zero Carbon Britain 2030 out this summer. Photo by P Nutt/Demotix
Eric Jong (left) and Adam Sayner (right) are the brains behind Fungi Futures Photo by Zoe Jong
Coﬀee grounds to gourmet fungi Continued from front page mushrooms – in the wild they all live on dead organic matter, on waste. They’ve evolved incredible enzymes which break down the complex bonds in dead wood or leaf litter to make use of them as their food, and ultimately to produce mushrooms. In doing so, they also recycle these materials back into the soil for trees and plants to make use of again.”
Adam’s only proper job since college has been growing and selling mushrooms. He started in 2009 by supplying fungi to restaurants and fine food stores. But his Eureka moment came, he says, “when I remembered that Paul Stamets, (author of Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms), had recommended growing mushrooms on coffee grounds.
“When a cup of coffee is made, less than 1% of the coffee beans end up in the cup,” he explains. “The spent grounds are still packed with nutrients which the mushrooms can make use of. Traditional methods of growing mushrooms also require sterilisation of the growing medium, usually straw. That’s an expensive and energy-intensive process. The beauty of growing on coffee waste is that sterilisation occurs in the espresso machine.” The coffee waste is then impregnated with mushroom spores and turned into simple kits which, if they’re occasionally sprayed with water, give two half kilogram crops of oyster mushrooms. In their first year of business Fungi Futures recycled 5,000kg of grounds. This year Sayner and his new business partner, Eric Jong, want to recycle 25,000kg of coffee nationwide, but they need some help. “We’re aiming for 5,000kg of that to be recycled
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Transforming finance Amid warnings of a triple dip recession in the UK and bank runs across Europe, even some establishment figures have begun to call for fresh thinking on money and banking.
Break up RBS into a network of locally headquartered banks? Use Quantitative Easing (QE) to fund a massive green investment programme? Cut out the middle men? Some of these unorthodox proposals could hold the key to financing a more resilient, relocalised and fossil-free economy. For example, Adair Turner, who was Chairman of the Financial Services Authority until it was split up last year, has been helpfully laying the intellectual groundwork for what environmental campaigners have termed “Green Quantitative Easing”. Traditional Quantitative Easing (QE) failed to stimulate the economy because it distributed newly-created central bank money to bondholders and banks. They then used the new money to shore up their balance sheets or to speculate, rather than to increase lending to the real economy. Turner argues that it would be far more effective to directly fund a government stimulus programme. With the economy operating so far below full capacity, he insists it would “absolutely, definitively not” lead to inflation. Ann Pettifor of the Green New Deal pressure group argues that politicians have “no excuse” to postpone green infrastructural spending: “We have a banking and monetary system that can create the necessary finance without the need to cut spending elsewhere or wait for tax receipts,” she says. “The government, the Bank of England and other central banks were quick to mobilise $29 trillion or so to bail out the banking system. We demand a similar political and financial commitment to bailing out the climate.” Another proposal gathering mainstream support is a breakup of the banking cartel. Andy Haldane, Head of Financial Stability at the Bank of England, has suggested hard limits on bank size. In a series of speeches late last year, he showed that many of our biggest banks would barely be in business
without the implicit promise of a bail-out. Because the market knows that the state will come to their rescue, our ‘too big to fail’ banks benefited from lower borrowing costs worth $70 billion a year between 2002 and 2007 (or roughly half of their average post-tax profits). Removing this subsidy is vital if smaller banks and new entrants are to compete. “This matters for Transition,” explains Bristol Pound Director, Ciaran Mundy, “because if we want vibrant local economies, with goods that are produced
“That means notfor-profit banking services run and owned by the people using them” and consumed in the same bioregions, then we need a banking system that understands the local context, can take the long view and can properly assess loan applications from small and medium-sized companies. Unfortunately our banks have become too big, and the shareholders too remote, to play this role. No wonder only around 8% of bank lending goes to productive businesses.” Of course it doesn’t have to be this way. “The UK banking system is highly unusual in consisting of a small number of very large banks listed on the stock-market,” says Lydia Preig of the New Economics Foundation. “Many other countries have a diverse range of successful financial
institutions in their economies. The UK’s model leads to financial instability, regional inequality and lacklustre competition. We should be pushing for the government to break RBS up into a series of local banks with a mandate to focus on traditional highstreet business. This would hand power back to local branch managers, who know their area so much better than either credit-scoring computers or remote Head Office managers.” Citizens have a vital role to play in driving this change. According to the campaign group Move Your Money, more than half a million customers quit the big banks in the first half of 2012. Spokeswoman Laura Willoughby says: “With regulatory changes coming this September it will soon be even easier for customers to change who they bank with.” A banking system consisting of hundreds of locally headquartered banks? A government willing to use central bank financing for urgent public investment? Until recently both suggestions could have been dismissed as pipe dreams. Now they are firmly within the mainstream discourse about how to kickstart a more resilient and sustainable economy. But with sufficient DIY spirit and imagination, an even more exciting shake-up of the monetary and banking system is within reach: “A truly democratic society requires people to participate and help decide the rules around using money - how much and to whom money flows. In time that determines the kind of economy, the type of society we all live in,” argues Ciaran Mundy, “To me that means not-for-profit banking services run and owned by the people using them. In Bristol we have teamed up with the Bristol Credit Union to provide industry leading online and text payment services to our members, showing it can be done.” Beth Stratford is a Sustainable Finance Consultant for Friends of the Earth, and Convener of the Transforming Finance conference which takes place on May 10th at the Chartered Accountants’ Hall, London. For more information see www.transformingfinance.org.uk
Artist Matthew Price with his design for the Bristol £10 note and the colourful harbourside houses that were his inspiration. Photo by Laura Márquez Perez
The poster for a Scott ish anti open cast co al demo in 2012.
by Beth Stratford
Gas bubble coal trouble Continued from front page of the reasons why the UK’s CO2 emissions went up 4.5% last year – despite the double-dip recession. According to the International Energy Agency, there are 948 billion tons of economically recoverable coal reserves in the world, enough for at least 100 years at current consumption rates. However in 2010 the science journal Energy published a study pointing out that net energy from coal (energy recovered minus energy extracted) had been falling in the US since the 1990s and suggesting that Peak Coal, the point of maximum global production, was close. In other words, we’ve burned all the high energy coal. What’s left is lower quality and harder to dig up. Then there are the other costs. Digging for coal kills miners and devastates landscapes. Burning coal turns buildings black, causes acid rain and heats up the atmosphere. Coal is radioactive when set alight and the fumes from burning it are toxic when inhaled. Third generation US coal miner, Carl Shoupe, has become an outspoken critic of the coal industry that he says is killing his native Appalachian landscape. “When I was a kid we could camp out in the forests and drink fresh water from the streams,” he says. “That was before mountaintop removal and strip-mining flattened the landscape and bulldozed the mountains into the rivers, destroying much of it.” Carrie Ray of Appalachian Transition says: “We’re trying to get folks to think differently about what Appalachia is and can be in the future. The transition from a coal-
based economy is an opportunity to shape our own economic future, one that’s home-grown, built on our strengths and benefits as many people as possible.” One way to turn our backs on shale gas, coal and other dirty fossil fuels is to switch energy supplier and support renewables companies like Ecotricity or Good Energy. In the US, community groups, churches, colleges and local government are going one step further – they’re dumping shares of fossil fuel extraction companies and carbon-intensive industries. One of the leading proponents of divestment, Bill McKibben, of US climate campaign group 350.org, says: “Our job is to help people understand that these are now rogue industries – that, quite literally, if their business plans are followed, the planet tanks.” In the Transition movement the emphasis is on planning for a world where there’s less usable energy of any sort, but also on seeing energy descent as a positive thing. As Rob Hopkins says in his recent book Transition Companion: “If we plan and act early enough, and use our creativity and cooperation to unleash the genius within our local communities, we can build a future far more fulfilling and enriching, more connected to and more gentle on the Earth, than the life we have today.” Jason Heppenstall used to be a gas analyst for a big UK energy firm. He blogs at www.22BillionEnergySlaves. blogspot.com and is learning to be a woodlander in Cornwall.
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n e w s Can communities build infrastructure? Flood defences, High Speed Two, road building – after three years of budget cuts, the brunt of which have mostly been borne by the poor, the UK coalition government is now hunting for resources to fuel the illusion of economic growth. The mainstream vision is of large-scale, centralised, hard infrastructure based on limitless energy. But what does the Transition movement - with its rather different assumptions about energy and economics – think? Oliver Lowenstein reports: Transition is all about decentralisation, localisation, community: a focus on soft rather than hard infrastructure. The difference can be vividly illustrated with flood defences. A hard approach could be a wall which keeps water out until it pours over the top. With soft infrastructure, the water is allowed in, but it seeps away through the landscape, a process of working with, rather than against, the surrounding environment. In dramatic contrast to the mainstream, the Transition Network also believes there’s an urgent need to change the deeply
engrained cultural stories which define how society works. “Get past that,” says Peter Lipman, Chair of the Transition Network, “so that there’s a conscious understanding of the energy that will be available in a post-fossil fuel future, and a discussion could begin on how we arrange our society, and what kind of infrastructure we invest in.” Lipman highlights the recently launched Totnes Economic Blueprint as evidence that the groundwork is being laid. One of Transition’s founders, Rob Hopkins, cites a project in Totnes as an example of how local communities could start to develop their own infrastructure. The Atmos Centre is a community hub for eco business start-ups. It includes a project aimed at providing locally sourced building materials. This, Hopkins believes, could be the basis for a countrywide network of community-run local materials hubs, which could support a very different kind of building industry.
Another relevant example is that of BioRegional, a social enterprise which has developed networks for goods like recycled building materials or charcoal. For charcoal, this involves the central coordination of a group of woodland workers that allows them to act as a single supplier. The network supplies major
“A National Energy Plan would be very timely” retailers using the most local producer to each store. Distributed networks, where resilience is provided by having no single point of failure, are also at the heart of community energy infrastructure projects such as those run by Bath and West Community Energy (BWCE). BWCE are currently producing energy from photovoltaic (PV) panels on a variety of sites, including schools and community buildings. They have
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persuaded many from their community to invest in local energy in return for payment for the surplus electricity being fed into the grid. Capener envisages community energy networks in every city and town by 2020. “I don’t see it as either/or, big energy or community,” he says. “At this early stage the Transition movement needs to engage with the wider energy suppliers. We can’t only operate in a ‘pure’ world; if we do, community energy will only ever be a niche activity.” But inputs like renewable energy or local building materials are only part of the picture. There are bigger questions that require answers. For instance, how can Transition technology businesses establish themselves in the UK’s regions and compete with German manufacturers of super-insulated Passivhaus windows or Chinese producers of solar panels? What will the NHS look like? Will there be hospitals? What about the rail network? Who will build new rolling stock? “Energy demand will have to
come down,” responds Capener. “We will need to make decisions about priorities and for myself the NHS would be a priority.” Peter Lipman says there have been exploratory talks between the Transition Network and health practitioners in Bristol. Rob Hopkins says that a National Energy Plan would be “very timely.” Step by youthful step, the jigsaw of an alternative infrastructure landscape is slotting into place from the bottom up. The Transition movement was born a mere seven years ago so it’s understandable that, as yet, not every answer has been set in concrete (or hempcrete!). But one day those big questions - like how to create regional green tech companies, what the NHS would look like or how to maintain a railway network - will need to be addressed if Transition is to be seen as a credible alternative to business as usual. Oliver Lowenstein runs the green cultural review, Fourth Door Review www.fourthdoor.co.uk.
Whether it’s Cornish sunshine, Scottish wind or Welsh rain, all our electricity comes from certified renewable sources that can be harnessed forever. It’s produced locally by homes, small businesses and communities across Britain making the most of the natural elements that surround them. And we usually cost less than the Big Six’s standard dual fuel tariffs. Cleaner, greener, secure and stable. It’s Good Energy. Switch your home to our green electricity supply quoting ‘In Transition’ and we’ll give you £25 off your first bill. We’ll give the Transition Network £25 too. goodenergy.co.uk/in-transition
Image: Delabole Wind Farm Three 2.3MW turbines, Delabole, Cornwall
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The Totnes Economic Blueprint Transition Town Totnes in Devon have published a Local Economic Blueprint which puts an initial value of £5m on the potential to the town of local businesses producing locally made goods and services. Totnes is one of three Transition Initiatives, along with Herefordshire and Brixton in London, which have been working on economic plans for their areas, as part of a national project by the Transition REconomy team. The pilot areas – a market town, a county and an inner-city area – were chosen to provide as much variety as possible.
“The Local Economic Blueprint identifies ‘the size of the prize’ of Transition” Rob Hopkins, one of the founders of Transition, said: “It may well turn out that the Totnes Economic Blueprint is one of the most important documents yet produced by a Transition initiative. It’s the first attempt that I am aware of to map in detail a local economy and to put a value on the potential benefits of an increased degree of localisation. If you like, it identifies ‘the size of the prize’ of Transition.” Transition Town Totnes (TTT) started the Local Economic Blueprint process
Installing the new economy on the rooftops of Totnes. Photo by Beco Solar by bringing together their local district and town councils, development trust, chamber of commerce, colleges and secondary school to discuss the challenges the community was facing from the economic downturn, and how they might respond. Project leader, Fiona Ward, says: “We were all united in agreement that rather than sacrifice this small level of resilience by pursuing growth at any cost, it’s in protecting and enhancing this independent economy that our best future lies.” The project looked at four key sectors and used publicly available data to compile a picture of what each sector could be worth to the local economy if there was
more demand for local products and services delivered by local independent businesses. According to Fiona, “Just developing 10% of this potential could contribute over £5m to our local economy within the next 12-24 months and much more over time.” “Caring for those that need extra help in our community will bring some economic benefit to local enterprises too,” she went on to say, “but more importantly, we can find new ways to use other means of exchange and the ‘gift economy’ to look after each other better, especially the most vulnerable.” Richard Sheard, the Chief Executive of South Hams District Council and West
A recipe for shift change REconomy requires changing the way we think about economics. To understand the new recipe you have to expel from the store cupboard of your mind that old, polarised socialism-versus-capitalism debate. Those ‘isms’ are so last century; they’re outdated and outmoded in the age of internet-enabled collaboration. But hang on - don’t throw everything away. There are some essential nutrients that can be recycled into our new economic pie. First, you need the open source and online collaboration movement to make the base. Think Wikipedia, think Mozilla Firefox, think Linux. Then there’s the co-operative movement, founded in the 1840s, which will be our staple filling. The old school protest-come-change-maker movement will give the dish some flavour. Throw in a healthy dose of the disenfranchised the rebellious citizens of Barcelona, Detroit and Athens, who’ve lost faith in the old economy. Then sprinkle in the best of your leftovers from the old ways of cooking the books and there you have it, a credible, yet irresistible mix. Trying to keep up with the diversity of new economic tools that appear daily is like watching the new economy emerging before your eyes. Co-operative tools have always been strong in areas such as farming, energy, retail and finance, but now what was once a traditional model is seeing a kind of renaissance. At the
Devon District Council, said: “This work is genuinely leading edge and I’m glad to have supported it.” In their joint introduction to the report, Stewart Wallis, Executive Director of the new economics foundation (nef) and Dr Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes and District, say: “This project demonstrates that by taking action to promote local enterprise, and finding a healthier balance between local, national and international trade, local economic groups can take their destiny into their own hands and tap into a multi-million pound opportunity on their own doorstep.” Fiona Ward added: “This Local Economic Blueprint tells the story of a new kind of local economy, one based around people, their wellbeing, and their livelihoods, and which better respects resource limits. It calls to action more of our local organisations and businesses, and invites them to work with us to shape this story and turn it into reality.” The Totnes Economic Blueprint does not suggest that all of the town’s needs could be met by the local area, but it proposes that what can be grown and produced here, should be - where there are net benefits to doing so. The rest will have to be met by trade, both national and global, as has always been the case. To download the reports from all the pilot places, find out more about the national Economic Evaluation work (including what support is offered to help you run a similar process where you live), or find out more about the over-arching national REconomy Project, visit www.reconomy.org.
by Shane Hughes
same time, new collaborative tools, such as open source software like Wordpress, peer-to-peer technologies like Kickstarter, collaborative consumption like Liftshare, are disrupting old markets, where scarcity and competition were the norm. Sharing adds value in the new world: scarcity added value in the old world. Airbnb run a couch surfing website. After just six years, they now house more people than the largest hotel group in the world – Hilton – who took 100 years to get to the top of the pile. And people are waking up to the fact that these are economic giants in their own right. Co-operatives employ more than a billion people worldwide – that’s 20% more people working for coops than multinationals. And enterprises linked to open source and open content contribute a sixth of US GDP. Environmentalism ‘as usual’ appears to be failing against a self-correcting economic system. As such, many are moving their focus from ‘saving the planet’ to finding a credible alternative to our destructive economy. This includes a fundamental rebalancing from competition and collaboration towards a kind of ‘collaborism’. Given that the co-operative and collaborative economies are already economic giants and offer a vast ecosystem of approaches, change-maker groups like Transition need to evolve their stories and myths. We are no longer niche groups that use collaborative tools. We are members of a giant collaborative community that collectively holds the ingredients needed for the new economy: a co-operative company structure built on nearly
Shane Hughes stirs ingredients into his recipe for change at TEDxLausanne. Photo © TEDxLausanne 200 years of experience; an open source approach – collaboration not competition; and a clear sense of ethics. Shane Hughes is an entrepreneur, environmentalist, dreamer and REconomist on the Transition Network’s REconomy Project. Watch his recent TED talk on REconomy on You Tube (search TEDXLausanne).
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News in brief BBC admits video on money was wrong
The BBC has admitted that a video it posted about the principles of banking and the role played by banking in relation to the global financial crisis “left a misleading impression of how banks in fact work, and of the impact of the working of banks on the economy at large.” The video, by the BBC’s Business Editor, Robert Peston, made absolutely no reference to the fact that private banks create money out of thin air. A supporter of the Positive Money campaign complained to the BBC, the Bank of England and his MP, and, eventually, after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, the BBC apologised and removed the video from their website. To see the full Alice-inWonderland-esque correspondence, and lots of useful facts about our precarious banking system, go to: www.positivemoney.org.
Fossil Free campaign spreads to UK
Climate activists in the US began a campaign in 2012 to persuade universities to sever their links with the fossil fuel industry. This July will see the launch of a similar movement in the UK. People and Planet, the student eco activist group, are planning to launch the Fossil Free UK campaign at their Summer Gathering (1-5 July), which is being held on an eco campsite in Oxford. For more details see: www.peopleandplanet.org.
Revolutionary Devon farming innovation in the battle against extreme rain: Crop Ducks
No.03 Transitional thoughts By Simon French www.simonfrench.com
Scotland on target to generate 50% renewables by 2015
Despite the overall rise in UK emissions in 2012, Scotland produced enough green energy from hydro and wind to power every home in the country. The Scots are on track to meet 50% of their energy needs from renewable power by 2015. Their ambitious target for 2020 is 100% renewables.
Local economies with small businesses perform better
New research from Localise West Midlands has found that local economies with higher levels of small businesses and local ownership perform better in terms of job creation, social inclusion, fair pay structure, employee wellbeing and workforce diversity.
Farmer considers more perennial crops After a terrible year for annual crops on UK farms because of the rain, at least one farmer is thinking of planting more perennials. Guy Watson, the owner of Riverford Farm, the organic fruit and vegetable box company, says: “Walking around the farm, I am struck by how resilient perennial plants are in this dreadful year, especially the natives that are happy in our cool and damp climate.” He goes on to say: “Temperate agriculture is 99% dependent on annual crops (sown and harvested in the same year and not regenerating from roots). In nature, annuals are relatively rare, thriving on disturbed ground where they grow and bear seed quickly before being forced out by perennials, which take their time and prefer more stable conditions.” “An oak tree may take 20 years to produce acorns,” adds Watson, “but is still producing them 200 years later. The result is that as farmers, we are constantly creating the instability that favours our annual crops; ploughing is costly in energy, CO2 emissions from oxidation of soil organic matter, erosion and loss of biodiversity. I would dearly love to ditch the plough, grow perennials and create stability but then we would all have to live on hazelnuts, lamb and rhubarb washed down with cider. It could be worse!”
RESURGENCE SUMMER GATHERING 25 – 28 July 2013 Enjoy four days of talks, music, dance, crafts & walks hosted by Satish Kumar at Green and Away. Off Grid, sustainable living in action! Book today to ensure your place! SPECIAL OFFER: Adults: £180 inc all meals (til 31 May) After 31 May: £195
inc all meals
Reduced rate for children and low income
For programme details and bookings: www.resurgence.org/summergathering Email: email@example.com Tel: 01237 441293
Natalie Bennett – Green Party Leader Satish Kumar – Resurgence & Ecologist Donnachadh McCarthy – Eco-campaigner Shantena Augusto Sabbadini – physicist and taoist Workshops: Botany & wild flowers, Earth law, green woodworking & crafts, community action, meditation, movement & voice, performance poetry Music with Caitlin and Sophie Stammers, plus an open mic evening hosted by Helen and Niall
This event will raise money for The Resurgence Trust, an educational charity (No.1120414)
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The dangerous myth of the two degrees mantra by Dr Christopher Shaw
Some scientists have linked recent extreme weather events in the US and Europe to the melting of the Arctic sea ice. If true, we could be witnessing the end of the seasonal weather patterns upon which our lives have hitherto been built. The failure to prevent the unravelling of our climate is a damning indictment of climate policy and a compelling, if bittersweet, vindication of the Transition vision. While the latter is building resilience from the ground up, rooted in the experience and values of local communities, the climate legislation strung together behind the locked doors of powerful Western institutions remains a hostage to the utterly hopeless fiction that, as long as the world doesn’t warm by an average of more than 2°C, everything will be all right. Given what is happening to our weather after only 0.8°C of warming, we must reject this two degrees myth as a matter of urgency. The 2009 Copenhagen Summit produced an accord signed by 114 countries, including the UK and the US, which said the prevailing scientific view was that warming should be limited to 2°C above the pre-industrial average. But there is no such scientific view and there never was. Climate science does not give us perfect knowledge of the future and, even if it did, it would still not be possible for science to define a dangerous limit because what counts as dangerous is subjective.
“We must reject this two degrees myth as a matter of urgency” Additionally, the rate of warming and vulnerability to the impacts of warming are not the same the world over and so dangerous climate change cannot be reduced to a single number. It wasn’t climate scientists but social scientists, working closely with the German government in the early 1990’s, who got the 2°C limit idea onto the EU policy table. The key architect of the concept was Professor Joachim Schellnhuber who, speaking at an international
climate science conference in 2009, was forced to admit he had got it wrong, noting with bleak irony: “2°C is certainly not a very good line - it’s a compromise. We will lose all the coral reefs if we go up 2°C, or most of them, but who needs coral reefs anyway?” If the 2°C limit is indeed a ‘compromise’, between on the one hand demand for endless economic growth and on the other avoidance of dangerous climate change, it is difficult to see exactly
“We have to keep demonstrating that there are alternative ways to talk about and respond to climate change” what compromises have been made by those on the economic growth side of the equation. In fact, the 2°C dangerous limit is defined as a scientific fact in order to shut down democratic debate about how we might live in a world of climate change, reducing our options to simply choosing between different high tech means of maintaining the status quo. We are now in the situation where it seems increasingly unlikely that warming will be kept below 2°C. However, rather than being a reason to give up, the failure to keep warming below 2°C just makes the work of the Transition movement and groups like it even more important. We have to keep demonstrating that there are alternative ways to talk about and respond to climate change, especially as currently policy makers are responding to the receding chances of limiting warming to 2°C by proposing a 4°C limit for the world. They are defining our future as one of survival in a world of quite unimaginable climate chaos. More than ever we need an alternative, positive, achievable vision. Dr Christopher Shaw is Visiting Fellow, Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex. His speciality is climate policy and public engagement. He has recently begun to explore the issues of defining dangerous climate change on his blog. www.dangerouslimits.org
From the ruins of Greece hope emerges. Photo by Lia Zourzou
Greeks find new solutions by Lia Zourzou
While austerity measures are now an everyday reality for most Greeks, for an increasing number of people resourcefulness, problem solving and action have replaced anger and frustration. Two years ago people were walking the streets of Athens with long faces and eyes full of despair. Today many are giving their time to help and support others in need, but most importantly to help themselves: to talk, to laugh, to feel useful and to live differently, focusing on what is most needed to make them happy instead of being seduced by corporations and advertisers who create desires rather than fulfilling needs.
There are many initiatives in Greece where you can now buy food directly from the producers at fair prices. You can use local currencies to exchange food or services. Park spaces that were unused and sites that were abandoned have been transformed into useful play areas and gardens. Roof and balcony vegetable gardens are appearing on blocks of flats. Initiatives that support homeless people and others that offer food regularly to the most needy have flourished. People are giving space in their own houses to help people and families in need. For example, a group called There Is Love, which helps families in need, has been operating in the Moschato area of Athens since 2003, but, according to the organisation’s president, Eleni Manolaki: “We’ve done far more work in the last two years because there is so much need now. “In 2012 we helped a number of single parent families that lost their homes and all their possessions to find clothes, food and a place to live,” she added. “Residents of the Moschato area offered their empty flats which
were renovated with the help of volunteers and the support of the local council. The bills of these houses are being paid by our members.” Mrs Manolaki acknowledges that this can not be done for all, or for a long time, but she’s happy that it has saved some families for now: “By changing these people’s lives for the better you gain more caring people; the people who have been helped in the past are the ones who come back to support the others who need help now.” The Metropolitan Community Clinic in the Hellinikon district of Athens provides free medical assistance to the unemployed and those who have no social security or very little income. Seven pharmacists,
“The people who have been helped in the past are the ones who come back to support the others now” 40 doctors and 150 volunteers have, over the last 10 months, taken care of more than 1,500 citizens in need. The clinic is supported by volunteers from the Sotiria state hospital. But the work of the clinic doesn’t stop with the provision of care. Staff assess each case and will provide support to patients who have ended up ill due to a lack of medical care and who want to take legal action against the government. Clinic staff also seek to publicise the true current situation of the Greek health service so the world can understand how the austerity measures are affecting human life. Georgios Vihas, the chief cardiologist of the clinic, is also keen to stress that: “This clinic offers a way to deal with the health care problem at the current moment in Greece, but we are not by any means trying to replace a much needed national health service.” New thinking is flourishing everywhere. Theodosis Boudisimo runs a not-for-profit organisation
called ‘i.d.e.a.’, which uses volunteers to help anyone with an idea turn it into reality. “Corruption was a major defect of the Greek government and public sector,” says Theodosis, “so we set up i.d.e.a to be as transparent as possible.” There are different code numbers to match each activity and different bank accounts to differentiate between the daily expenses of the organisation and the expenses of each activity; everything is publicly available for anyone who wishes to check. Regular actions by i.d.e.a. include: food handouts to the homeless every Friday and Sunday in the centre of Athens; clothing giveaways every second Saturday; and food support direct to the homes of families whose situation is particularly desperate. Meanwhile, Transition Moschato Town is developing a reskilling service for the unemployed and for those who want to learn a new skill. The long term aim to create a skills exchange or time bank. At first glance all these groups seem to be offering temporary assistance rather than long-term transformation. As the crisis and the effects of it touch more and more people, the groups will need to find mechanisms to stay alive and working. At the same time, a new phenomenon is emerging - Greeks are now offering their time to support others. A culture of volunteering is emerging in Greece which has already transformed our communities and which will hopefully transform the economy as well by finding new ways to exchange goods and skills that are good for the many rather than the few. Lia Zorzou is an environmentalist and academic whose work includes ﬂood river management and renewable energy projects. Lia is also a founder member of Transition Town Moschato in Athens and is working to promote Transition in Greece.
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e n e r g y
Big Biomass doesn’t stack up by Deepak Rughani
Renewable energy sits at the centre of the Transition model. However not all that’s touted as ‘green energy’ stands up to scrutiny.
The current rush to use wood in power stations - Big Biomass - is gaining so much momentum that it’s poised to compete with industrial agriculture as one of the key drivers of global ecosystem loss and climate change. Big Biomass is quite different from biomass burnt in rural homes. For a start home-scale burning can involve wood grown and produced as part of a local biodiverse woodland or coppice. When burnt in an efficient stove, up to 90% of the energy in well seasoned wood can be used productively. Big Biomass is the exact opposite of sustainable. It’s invariably the product of deforestation or industrial plantations. It’s usually transported vast distances and burned to produce electricity at 25% to 35% efficiency. The focus on Big Biomass is
Piles of logs at the world’s largest woodchip biomass plant in Waycross, Georgia, USA, which exports to the UK and Europe. Photo © Georgia Biomass all part of the government’s new ‘green energy’ drive. By 2020, the UK is committed to providing 15% of our energy consumption from renewable sources, mostly from biomass. Biofuelwatch estimate that this will require 50-60 million tonnes (mt) of wood per annum (pa). In addition, five UK power stations are slated for conversion to biomass by 2016 to meet air quality regulations, which will require another 25 mt of wood pa. But the UK produces less than 10 mt pa. Biomass is already being imported to the UK from biodiverse forests in North America, Scandinavia and Russia.
Energy companies are now setting up bilateral agreements to ensure future supplies from southern nations like Ghana and Brazil. In October the UK will publish the world’s first sustainability standard for biomass, but when there’s not enough wood, sustainability criteria are irrelevant and, as we’ve seen with biofuels, almost impossible to police. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) assume that burning wood is carbon neutral because it’s offset by the carbon captured by trees as they grow. But this is a dangerous fallacy. The Royal Society for
a day. The water is deep enough for a tidal-powered device, which wouldn’t obstruct boats, to be installed on the riverbed. But as Tresoc Director, Jane Brady, freely admits: “We’re at the beginning of the process and we know we’re looking at years of hard work.”
of Halton Lune Hydro in Lancashire, developing a community energy scheme is like “playing a game of 3D chess”. Licensing, planning, fundraising, angler opposition publicity, volunteer burnout, consultation – the list is endless. Some aspects are dependent on each other, some need to be completed in a particular order, others feel like they were simply put there to trip you up. Dave Holt of Goring and Streatley Sustainability Group describes the nearly eight years it has taken to develop their hydro scheme as “a laborious learning process”. Yet community-owned hydro projects have the potential to be highly visible examples of action being taken by local people to combat the twin problems of climate change and the end of cheap fossil fuels. And they’re popular. Shrewsbury Hydro (part of Transition Shrewsbury) ran an exhibition of their plans, which was attended by 1,500 local people. We at Ham Hydro have on occasion attracted 100 people to our meetings. The BBC
the Protection of Birds, in its report “Dirtier Than Coal,” quotes research which suggests that, even before you account for transportation, burning 20 year old conifers is 80% worse than coal because you forgo the potential carbon capture of future tree growth. Only when conifers have been locking carbon up for 100 years is burning wood better than coal. But whether you grow the trees for 20 years or 100 years, burning them leads to emissions figures that are 3-6 times higher than the DECC sustainability standard for biomass. Collectively this amounts to: a new assault on ecosystems, human
rights and climate; more land grabs from communities and indigenous peoples; and, ironically, increased health impacts. Tell your neighbour, tell your MP, tell anyone you know in the venture capital business: we have more than enough true renewables in the UK to power our energy needs – we just need to invest in them and not in Big Biomass. Deepak Rughani is Co-director of Biofuelwatch. You can sign the petition on their website challenging the funding of wood-fired power stations by the new ‘Green’ Investment Bank. www.biofuelwatch.org.uk.
Th e t ur n of the s c rew by Chas Warlow
There are perhaps a dozen river-based community energy schemes in the pipeline around the UK, all of them set up by volunteers, (extra)ordinary members of the community whose goals include combating climate change, improving energy security and ploughing back some of the proceeds into the community to fund more sustainability initiatives.
The introduction of the FeedIn Tariff (FIT) in 2009 gave hydro schemes a boost because it guarantees a decent return on investment. But river-based renewables can be incredibly complicated and take a long time to realise. Tresoc, the Transition Town Totnes community energy company, have sponsored research into the flow of the River Dart to ascertain the potential for energy production. At one point, there’s a deep, narrow part called the Anchor Stone, which channels the full 8 tidal flow of the river twice
“developing a hydro scheme is like playing a game of 3D chess” Ham Hydro, which involves the installation of hydro power turbines on the River Thames at Teddington Weir, could generate electricity to power the equivalent of 600 homes and generate an income of over £250,000 annually. But this is a huge project for a community to take on. We’ve already been working on it for four years and we still aren’t close to installing our Archimedes Screws. Most community hydro schemes are smaller than the Ham Hydro and Tresoc schemes, but they can still be quite daunting for volunteers. According to John Blowes
Stream water turns an Archimedes Screw, generating electricity on the river Bain in Yorkshire. Photo by Anthony Harrison filmed a news item about the Tresoc proposal for the Dart. It sometimes feels like a hydro revolution is underway. But then, all too often, we snag a line and the optimism fades. It’s never quite clear which way the screw will turn, or indeed whether our Archimedes Screws will ever turn. Organisations like Energy Share, Energy4All and Carbon Leapfrog have been helpful for some branches of the labyrinth, but there needs to be much more sharing of experiences, both
good and bad, by community energy groups. As Chris Rowland of the Lewes energy company, Ovesco, says: “There’s a wealth of knowledge about renewables in communities all over the UK. Now it’s time for a national conference to kickstart a community energy revolution.” Chas Warlow is a translator by day and a director of Ham Hydro by night. If you might like to take part in a national community energy conference, please email Chris Rowland via firstname.lastname@example.org
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Squatting and the
Under one roof by Gemma Sayers
by Joseph Blake
In the UK we are currently facing the worst housing crisis this country has ever seen.
The statistics show there are approximately 1.8 million households currently on social housing waiting lists. Disguised as the Localism Act, the Conservative flagship policy has allowed councils to neglect their duty to house people, as more and more of the country’s housing stock enters the rental market, where rents are currently unaffordable for many. It is therefore no surprise that homelessness rates have also risen. Government figures record a 30% increase in rough sleeping since 2010. In addition to this, hostels across the country have seen a 28% increase in demand, meaning that there are few options left. Perhaps more shockingly, research published in January shows that private companies are beginning to make money out of the homeless with two unnamed “private providers” awarded contracts that could be worth as much as £5 million to sweep people off the streets. Some campaigners are arguing that the solution lies in the fact that there are now one million empty properties in the UK. Top housing academic Professor Danny Dorling recently pointed out that there are more bedrooms per person in Britain than there have ever been – enough for everyone to have two each in fact. Moreover only 43 Empty
Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) have been awarded to councils seeking to bring empty properties back into use. New restrictions on EDMOs introduced in autumn 2012 mean that they will become even more difficult to enact. After the introduction of the new law on squatting last September, which made it a criminal offence to squat in a residential property, many are fearing this law actually encourages property speculators and foreign investors to keep properties empty, which has the effect of pushing up rent prices.
“There are now one million empty properties in the UK” On 4th March 2013, concerned MPs, Lords, lawyers, homelessness groups, academics, campaigners and squatters met in the House of Commons to discuss a repeal of the law. The campaign, co-ordinated by SQUASH (Squatters Action for Secure Homes), was launched with a report entitled “The Case Against Section 144”. The report highlights how homeless people have gone to prison for using empty properties to keep a roof over their heads and shows that out of 108 people displaced so far, none of them have been caught in someone else’s home. This contradicts the basis upon which the law was brought in and confirms what hundreds of legal experts feared as the law was passed.
John Mcdonnell (Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington) who endorsed the report said: “People are being made unnecessarily homeless and very vulnerable people are suffering as a consequence. This legislation was based upon prejudice and has only made matters worse. This new evidence demonstrates so clearly the need to repeal this misguided law.” Grow Heathrow, the squatted social space, community garden and campaign against airport expansion, a major project of Transition Heathrow, is one such example of the possible solution. Once an abandoned site with 30 tonnes of rubbish scattered across the gardens and greenhouses, it has now been turned into a thriving community space that provides organic vegetables and plants for the local community, while at the same time providing 15 people with a place to live. On 1st April new welfare reforms came in, including the ‘Bedroom Tax,’ which impacts on the very poorest within society who already use housing most efficiently. Campaign groups and activist organisations are organising the resistance, and are urging Transition groups to become involved. Joseph Blake has been campaigning with SQUASH for two years, fighting the government’s criminalisation plans. He was also involved in setting up the Edge Fund, a new grassroots fund for social justice, and is still associated with Transition Heathrow and Plane Stupid.
This large rural estate was left abandoned for ten years until it was squatted in 2009. 40 people, aged 20 to 65, now live in the farmhouse which has since been renovated, an irrigation system installed and a community garden set up. Can Piella organises workshops, talks and performances and sells organic beer and bread to neighbours and cooperatives. Although the collective is supported by local residents as well as two local councils, they have recently been threatened with eviction. See www.canpiella.cat. Photo and caption by Phillip Evans
Gemma and fellow coop member working on hemp and lime internal wall insulation. Photo by House of Random Camel
Ipswich’s first housing co-operative bought the remainder of a terrace of Victorian properties last September, and are now full swing into their rehabilitation and eco-renovation. We want to show people how on a small budget they can generate energy for their own homes and attain high levels of energy efficiency and self sufficiency in an average urban house, using natural materials and traditional techniques. Seven adults – currently seeking an eighth – live at Foundation Street, and every other weekend so do two children, offspring of one of our members. It’s a rented co-operative, not a commune: proof that living communally can be affordable and accessible. Ecology Building Society provided us with a 75% mortgage, added to which we raised £55,000 from our wider local community, from the cooperative movement, and from relatives, all of whom wanted to support our project. We’re members of a national network of co-ops called Radical Routes, that facilitates radical social change. Through this network we received support in writing our business plan and putting together financial projections, setting up the legal entity of the co-op, and to get us over the hurdle of purchasing, which in our case was complicated by the discovery of subsidence! We also received a bridging loan to top up our finances. It’s taken us seven years from the first time we met to discuss the idea, to getting the keys to this place. It’s a long haul but worth it, because now we won’t be subject to the precariousness of living in privately rented accommodation, and none of us would have been able to buy our own houses separately. We are our own landlords. The three houses have been lived in by one family for the past three quarters of a century, so we’ve inherited a cosy, homely, fit-forpurposeness. The building is an intriguing and charming warren, even if it’s still a construction site at present. Our group pools resources to share the utility bills, and to buy wholefood through our independent food co-op, Ripple, and vegetables through the town’s community supported agriculture scheme, Oak Tree Farm. Every Thursday we work together on the house. This month we finished painting our healing room, which will be used by therapists to practice shiatsu and massage, and tidied up the yard and gardens. We eat together informally, and meet to make decisions every nine days in different members’ spaces. For more information visit randomcamelcoop.blogspot.com, www.theoak-tree.co.uk, www.ipswichfoodcoop.co.uk and www.radicalroutes. org.uk. Gemma Sayers (Transition Ipswich) is a founder member of Random Camel housing coop and Ipswich Ripple food co-op. She has worked in the sustainable agriculture and community food sectors, and is now developing several enterprises, including mass catering using local, vegan foodstuffs, the arts of sustainable building and living as a travelling seamstress.
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Skills mastery One Year in Transition (1YT) is a self-led learning programme that includes apprenticeship and involvement in local Transition Initiatives, as well as finding ‘skills masters’ and organising a community project. Now half way through the first year, Kerry Lane caught up with participant Richard Toogood to see how he is getting on. There are not many young people involved in Transition. I have been pretty much the youngest person in each of the three Transition Initiatives I have been in. Noone knows why exactly, but one suggestion made at the Transition Youth Symposium last year in Battersea was that our transient lifestyles don’t easily fit with the essentially place-based nature of Transition Initiatives. So it was interesting to find that Richard Toogood is at the same ‘transition-point’ as I am: the time when you’re ready to stop travelling and start to settle down. Richard is one of the participants in the new 1YT programme, developed by
“It’s amazing come and do it next year!” the Transition Network. It’s a way to engage more young people in Transition, and to breach the gap between the world the current ‘businessas-usual’ education trains people for and the low energy future that is coming. Richard returned from three years travelling with a desire to get involved in Transition and to become a rural craftsman. His infectious enthusiasm and energy make him a great ambassador and role model for getting more young people involved. He is also engaged with Earth Inheritors, a new dynamic co-operative based near Totnes who are “dedicated to inspiring deep behavioural change for the sake of all children and the Earth”. They plan to take part in several festivals this summer and are working on a proposal for the Transition Network to become official collaborators for engagement and
outreach with young people (watch this space!) Finding your community is really important when you are at this exploratory stage of life. This has obviously been one of the major benefits of 1YT for Richard so far. “I don’t think many of the friends I’ve grown up with really get what I’m doing, so to find friends who really do is great. One of the best things so far has got to be the friendships I have formed with Lisa and Hannah (the other participants). We hear so much about each other’s initiatives and what they get up to because we talk every month, so it was really nice to actually visit and talk face to face recently, too.” As well as finding your peers, finding your elders forms an important part of building resilience for a low energy future. As Richard wants to become a rural craftsman he is taking an apprenticeship with Devon Rural Skills Trust, “a group of volunteers who specialise in traditional rural crafts, such as dry stone walling and coppicing”. Although his placement with a carpenter fell through, he has found a potential mentor in another area: “I have been talking with Caspar ter Kuile, who helped initiate UK Youth Climate Coalition. Hopefully I can do a skills mentoring with him, around my work with Earth Inheritors.” Richard admits that he is already quite proactive and would probably have been doing many of these activities anyway, but the 1YT programme has clearly had a very positive effect. “Doing a course gives me a purpose and creates structure in my life, and it makes me continue to think about my journey. It also puts me in touch with people who talk the same language.” Would he recommend the One Year in Transition course to other young people? “Yes. It’s amazing – come and do it next year!” Kerry Lane is a Transition Social Reporter, permaculture education apprentice and an environmental educator, currently settling in to her new initiative in Shrewsbury.
Richard Toogood (Sustainable South Brent) pole-lathing at the Hillyfield woodland Olympics. Photo by Yancy Hilton
Let the river answer by Steph Bradley
Summer holidays this year in and around Totnes will see both young and old engaging in active learning together, as they combine physical activity with narrative on a story walk along the River Dart.
Weaving the folklore of the Dart valley with tales of their adventures and discoveries made en route, a group of schoolchildren, teenagers, parents, teachers, researchers, elders and storytellers will set out from the mouth of the Dart, listening to and creating stories inspired by the people and places they meet, as they walk to the river’s source high up on Dartmoor. In Transition there is growing awareness of our intrinsic connection to the natural world, of the need to rebuild a sense of community, and of our collective longing to belong: to place, to community, to self. The intent behind the walk is to create a new
story for the future - visioning what our relationship with our hinterland and its people can be. Transition Town Totnes (TTT) is very aware of the river that inspired local poet Alice Oswald’s epic, Dart, created from her conversations with elders, river workers and schoolchildren who live, work and play along its banks. When the TTT Education Group showcased some of their work, following on from a river clean-up organised by outdoor education organisation WildWise, local secondary school students told them: “Take all this to the river, and work there.” So when the Rivers and Education Project took shape, they were invited to work as consultants. Isabel Carlisle, Transition Network’s education coordinator, explains: “As well as connecting everyone working with young people and communities to steward their watershed we will be forming an engagement project as the linking thread.” The project planning group includes pupils from a local
primary school, people who make their living on the river and elders whose lives have been connected to it, representatives from the Environment Agency, local university researchers, geographers, storytellers, outdoor education providers, and the secondary school age consultants. The story walk along the Dart in July will be their starting point, with teenage advisor Georgia Brady recommending that there be “more of the doing, less of the talking.” The challenge that arises within Transition is not only to say we value diversity but to actively value the contributions of everyone in our communities. What better way to do that than to learn together from our rivers? Steph Bradley is the author of the upcoming Tales of Our Times, based on a six month story walk around Transition Initiatives in 2010, and an active member of Transition Town Totnes Education Group. www.storyweaving.co.uk
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profile This Spring a new Transition book, The Power of Just Doing Stuff, leaps into action. Described as as a way for first-handers to approach grassroots community action, the book revolves around inspiring stories from around the world. Author and co-founder of Transition, Rob Hopkins writes, “One of the surprises from the 2012 Transition Network conference was that around half of those attending were from outside the UK. It is fascinating to hear stories of how Transition is emerging and developing its own identity in some of those countries in southern Europe most impacted by the financial crisis. Here I’d like to share stories from Coín in Spain and Portalegre in Portugal”.
P o r t a l e g r e em Transição Sónia Tavares from Portalegre em Transição said that when she heard there was a public presentation about Transition coming up in her town she “went berserk”.
“I felt finally that in Portalegre, my town, the town where I was born and live, there were people who felt the need for change, just like me. I thought that was amazing, and when I saw so many people going to this presentation, I thought, ‘This is it, we can do something. We can actually change something.’” One of the key aspects of the presentation was that, after introducing Transition, those holding the event said: “But now we don’t know what to do”. This principle has run through their work, a refreshing antidote in difficult times where politicians claim to have solutions but no-one
believes them. It means, as Sónia put it, “facing the danger that we don’t know what to do”. As a result, Portalegre em Transição has been founded on a principle of always turning outwards for ideas about what to do, inviting suggestions and then supporting their realisation. They have also consciously tried to do whatever they do without asking for money, trying to be “completely true and generous”, embodying Charles Eisenstein’s concept of the ‘Gift Economy’. As one of their first projects the group, together with neighbours and local people, created a garden on a small patch of urban ground just outside the town’s main market. It has proved a huge shift both for the group and the wider community in terms of their sense of what’s possible. Neighbours turned out to create the garden, others turned
up with flowers and plants, and tended and nurtured the garden. As Sónia put it: “It’s amazing. I’ve been living in Portalegre for over 37 years, and I have felt my community and my city crumble, people turning their backs on each other. This community garden we created tells me it is possible to do things with other people. It is possible, we just need to wake up to each other again”. Members of the group often sit on a bench by the garden and have conversations with passersby, which lead to many ideas for future projects for the group. One neighbour told them: “We were living in this block and did not know our neighbours. We had nothing to tell each other. Now, in the morning, we have a smile to share, we talk about the plants, how they are doing and whether we will meet downstairs this evening…” Another of their key projects
Poster for community jam making in Portalegre, Portugal has been the ‘Poiso’ (Portuguese for ‘perch’), a unit at the local indoor market, used as a dropin resource for Transition in the town. It includes a ‘costuroteca’ (which translates loosely as a ‘library of sewing’), a living room, and swap markets; it is also home to all manner of activities, including a community kitchen used for food preparation and preservation workshops, right in the centre of the community. Future plans include a heritage
fruit tree library and a new local food market. Adapting Transition to the Portuguese context has meant making the economic crisis the key driver, finding ways to do things that don’t expect a lot of financial input from the community. It has also meant finding a concept of ‘service’, with the ideas being implemented coming from outside the core group rather than only from within it.
The Power of Just Doing Stuff by Rob Hopkins is published by Green Books, RRP £7.95. SPECIAL OFFER: buy it for £5.95, with free p&p in the UK from www.greenbooks.co.uk/TPJDS Quote TFP in the promotion box in the checkout process to receive your discount.
Coín community mind shifts One of the first Transition initiatives in Spain is in Coín, a town of around 20,000 people, with a history of being home to alternative thinkers who had existed largely in parallel to the mainstream political culture.
Photo by Claus Mikosch
The first meeting attracted 30 people from a range of political backgrounds. It took a while for the group to establish a structure and find the best way to work together, but an event where local kids were invited for a day at a community garden earned them a lot of credibility and respect. In their second year they began ‘Mercado Local Coín’, a local producers’ market, which has been very successful. The following year they held a big festival on renewable energy which focused on the many strategies for reducing energy consumption at the domestic level. José Martín, one of the founders of the group, told me that he has observed that “once practical things start happening that people can see and touch, something changes in the culture. It feels like something is happening, that the reality is changing.” More recently the cash-strapped local council announced a plan to privatise the town’s
water supply. Coín en Transición started a campaign to stop the plans, and after one week in which they gathered 3,000 signatures and held public meetings, the council announced they were dropping the idea, and invited the group to work with them on an alternative plan, which is currently underway, based on Coín en Transición’s assertion that the solution requires the input of everyone in the community. Increasingly the council is asking for the group’s advice, as respect for their ability to make things happen grows. I asked Jose for a special moment that he had found especially thrilling. He told me of a meeting they called about food and farming, where 180 people, mostly farmers and producers, came together to talk about strategies for feeding Coín into the future. He was amazed that most of them already knew about him and the group, and how people who were often quite conservative were very open to new ideas about ecological food production, local food and so on. “I felt a mind-shift happening,” he told me.“People feel there is a big shift happening but they don’t know what it is a shift to. I feel Coín en Transición’s biggest achievement so far has been to catalyse an openness to this shift and its possibilities.”
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Photo by Jo Salter
Anne-Marie Culhane and the art of
abundance by Charlotte Du Cann
p e o p l e
I first came across Abundance in a crowded benefits room in 2009. I was secretly reading the Grow Sheffield Handbook on-line, when the idea of harvesting unwanted fruit from street trees unleashed my imagination like apple blossom on a grey day.
This creative project took foraging and growing stuff to another level and inspired many of us in Transition to launch our own neighbourhood schemes. What was Sheffield’s secret? Oh, there’s an artist up there, people would tell me. Anne-Marie Culhane, performer, activist and catalyser of projects, however would not claim artistic rights to Grow Sheffield, saying that it came out of a dynamic relationship between the artist and the community. Not Art as it is commonly understood, a commodity to be bought and owned, but a narrative co-created by people seeking to bring the earth and belonging into an urbanised culture. “I’ve always been uncomfortable with the perception of an artist as a solitary creator who’s outside society. Abundance is all about doing and being with people. It’s ridiculous to think that you could do it on your own. You need a good network of relationships and all the harvesting, processing and distributing involves a fantastic communal effort, which is also enriching from an ecological point of view.”
I’m talking with Anne-Marie, now in Cornwall. She’s telling me her own story: how she has developed community growing projects like A Little Patch of Ground and Shed on Wheels, how they stem from a movement practice in nature that she calls Field Sensing; how everything began when she came across climate change as a student of geography. “I was overawed by what it meant,” she said. Characteristically her first piece of work did not appear in a gallery, but in a city park in Leeds - twelve installations, actions and performances during one year. However what spurred a direct engagement with communities was her research into GM: “It was an area of huge questioning and discomfort for me. I felt very isolated. I began to ask: How can I support people to grow their own food, to be more knowledgeable about what they’re eating, to start seed-saving and seed-sharing and using organic and permaculture methods which nourish the land and communities? “This where the main energy for Grow Sheffield came from. It felt like there was a gap. “The idea was to hold a big season of events around harvest, giving people from different backgrounds lots of points of access – some creative, some more practical. We had guerrilla gardening in the city centre, a film screening and open space session in a local cinema, poetry walks and
Allotment Soup, a celebration of allotment culture, with artists taking up mini-residencies on different allotments.” Abundance began when AnneMarie met Stephen Watts, a forager who’d already been mapping fruit trees in the city – a bounty, she realised, that could be shared with many people. It was a perfect combination of skills.
“I’ve always been uncomfortable with the perception of an artist as a solitary creator who’s outside society” “I paid a lot of attention to the visuals, the way we did the posters and documented the project, building relationships with volunteers, drawing out its different elements from activism to the commons, holding a public celebration. It portrays a post-industrial city in such a different way – someone sitting on top of a huge tree devouring juicy pears. It can change the perception of the place we live in and open up possibilities of another world.” This reframing led to the Orchard City Manifesto and a commission to create an ‘edible campus’ at Loughborough University with a venture called Fruit Routes: “In Sheffield we used bike trailers for moving fruit around. And I thought: wouldn’t it be fantastic to have non carbased routes, lined with fruit trees.”
The first Route of 100 trees is now planted, and Anne-Marie is working with students, staff and local residents “to etch it into the psyche of place”. The meaning of place was also behind her following project, The Diary Keepers. “The key question in Diary Keepers is: what is it like to live now? The Tamar Valley is an AONB and there was some funding for communities to get involved in planning for the future in the context of climate change, peak oil and resource depletion. To celebrate the Valley’s wealth of natural beauty and see how it might evolve over the next 50-100 years. “In permaculture, close observation is the first stage of any design process. So my project was to engage people into thinking about these things by keeping a diary for a month (during June 2012). “It was inspired by a diary kept by a market gardener called Joseph Snell, between 1914 and 1938. He wrote tiny daily entries that are almost like haikus – lovely juxtapositions of different kinds of information. He’s writing about the cow having a calf, a peace treaty being signed, and at the same time he’s picking 50 bunches of irises. So there’s this fascinating meeting of world affairs and a very personal story of a rural, hard-working man, living in a sustainable way.” A hundred handmade diaries were distributed into pubs, post offices and shops and people were asked: What is it about the day that’s important?
“It could be anything, but you need to have a moment to think about it. I then invited Ruth Ben-Tovim from Encounters Arts and a number of diarykeepers to make a performance and an installation that would be a kind of snapshot to mirror back everyone’s’ lives in a creative way. “The material is a way of creating common ground and starting a dialogue within the community. The next stage is to support an emergent vision for a neighbourhood plan, so it can help shape the future of the area.” In many ways these observations exhibited in a old greenhouse in Cornwall lie at the heart of a huge cultural shift. To be resilient in the face of ecological and economic challenges, communities need to be adaptive and collaborative. As climate scientists admit, “we’re not managing to communicate properly”. Because what inspires us to change are not dry facts, but celebration, creativity, and most of all, belonging: “We can’t go into any meaningful thinking about the future unless we are examining how we live now, and the diversity of the way different people in the community live now: really looking, taking time, slowing down, observing our place within natural cycles, seeing what we share. So we can say: OK, this is where we’re at. “From this point we can look forward.“ www.amculhane.co.uk www.charlotteducann.blogspot.com
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r e v i e w s The secret life of oil by Catriona Ross
Rewind four centuries to London in early capitalist times. Heads grimace from spikes as a gruesome warning to those who don’t toe the line. The Thames is alive with commerce, with vessels from turnip barges and eel boats to ever bigger merchant ships plying their trade. Buildings are dimly lit by stinking tallow candles made from animal fat. Meanwhile in the East, brighter lights are waxing as the oil age dawns. Persian bazaars are awash with colour, exotic sights and smells. Suitors woo with poetry and self-torture. Dervishes whirl to beating drums. Pigeons carry love letters and secrets in tiny silk satchels. Mustachioed warriors
gallop on white stallions and revel in cruelty. The world brought to life in Robert Newman’s novel The Trade Secret could at first glance seem remote from today. On the surface this is a riproaring historical adventure, in which the action unfolds at dizzying speed. Underpinning it, however, are themes with a wearily depressing familiarity. This is the fourth book by activist Robert Newman, who made his name as a comedian on TV shows such as The Mary Whitehouse Experience and Newman and Baddiel in Pieces, and went on to make The History of Oil. His last novel, The Fountain at the Centre of the World, was described by The Guardian as being like ‘bootleg Chomsky’, while The New York Times called it ‘the fictional complement to Naomi Klein’s No Logo’. The pace in this latest work
is relentless. The Trade Secret tells the story of Nat Bramble, a young English servant who forges a friendship with lovestruck stall-holder and poet Darius Nouredini. Nat’s lot in life is a rough one. An orphan who has seen the rest of his family starve back in England, he is bound in miserable servitude to Sir Anthony Sherley, a loathsome mercenary who has inveigled himself into position as English ambassador in Persia and favourite of the vicious Shah. A moment of temptation leads to some rogue currency speculation with his master’s money in which he loses a vast sum. Amidst a backdrop of collapsing currencies and a crippling oil shortage, Darius comes up with a plan to bring oil from secret wells under the abandoned Tower of Mithras. Nat, terrified at the
Beacons fire the imagination ‘Beacons: Stories for Our Not So Distant Future’, ed. Gregory Norminton Beacons can be signs of illumination or signals of danger. The latter best defines this anthology of twenty-one short stories, whose award-winning authors were challenged to devise original responses to the climate crisis – with around half imagining post-apocalyptic scenarios or techno-dystopias. Some are powerful. Liz Jensen (author of eco-thriller The Rapture) generates intense pathos as a young boy, from the island-dwelling, socially stigmatized ‘Zeroes’, comes to terms with his mother’s suicide. Jem Poster vividly depicts soldiers descending on a Welsh smallholding, where a woman lives alone with her animals. Taking precautions against ‘crazies’/‘rebels,’ the soldiers’ activities are set against “olive groves splintered to matchwood beneath lurching tanks, the blazing refineries...” In ‘What is Left to See,’ James Miller’s narrative opens with a whirl of Internet babble, all hash tags, web aliases and live chat, as a young woman describes a helicopter flight over a devastated Miami in 2037. Later the scene shifts to an encounter between a young American (the creator of this ‘girl from the future’) and an African environmental refugee trying to survive on the streets of Athens. Other stories are less successful – Joanne Harris, of Chocolat fame, opens with a whimsical piece. In ‘A is for Acid Rain, B is for Bees,’ the former keeps everyone indoors and the latter are extinct, while the ending hints at the old idea of a cockroachdominated planet. Janice Galloway’s Darwinian parable ‘Fittest’ shows a Loch Ness entity menacing spectators. I was soon reflecting on the influence of Hollywood’s apocalypse industry, and whether these fictions play into audience/readers’ fears that we’re powerless in the face of global forces. And I longed for clever narratives with compelling characters that depict positive change – of the kind that the Transition Movement promotes. Other stories did balance things out – Alasdair Gray’s headmasterly God attempting to create an alternative, utopian universe is deliciously humorous, while Adam Marek’s ‘The Great Consumer’ is a hammy blend of Doctor Who and The Matrix, featuring time travellers and a naked cyborg. Toby Litt’s ‘The Gloop’ is as the title suggests. In his afterword, Mike Robinson from Stop Climate Chaos says: “We need to… develop an inspiring vision which people can rally around… to interpret what the future might look like and take the fear out of behavioural change… We need more positive role models which reflect the values we think are most important.” So where were these beacons? Maria McCann describes a family grappling with whether or not to let their daughter fly to Iceland, but her characters are unconvincing. Only Gregory Norminton’s masterful tale ‘Almost Visible Cities’ makes a serious move in this direction, evoking various scenarios for urban dwelling – ‘Iduba’, a neat parody of Dubai, contrasts with cities such as Miranda, where houses are “topped with meadow grass and sedum”, or Gardenia, a restored wasteland. Perhaps Beacons’ inherent flaw lies with Norminton having commissioned stories from writers who (aside from a few notable exceptions) appear to have at best flirted with green issues. Ecologically visionary work of any kind requires commitment. Royalties from this book will go to the charity Stop Climate Chaos, the UK’s largest group of people dedicated to action on climate change and limiting its impact on the world’s poorest communities. Helen Moore (Sustainable Frome) is an ecopoet based in Somerset. Her debut collection, Hedge Fund, And Other Living Margins, was published in 2012 by Shearsman Books.
prospect of the brutal fate that awaits him when he is caught as a thief, throws his lot in with the dreamy Darius. Their venture cements their friendship and Nat’s fate continues on a tense roller coaster of narrow escapes, hellish situations, espionage, double dealings and occasional glimmers of hope and freedom. Under his downtrodden, scruffy and often surly surface, Nat proves to be a remarkably resilient, nimble and quickwitted character. From being sealed alive in the hell of a burning oil well, to brutally beaten and marched thousands of miles, finding himself at the end of fists, swords, clubs and knives, incredibly he survives, the story unfolds and comes to its climax on the Thames. The breakneck succession of events and adventures is punctuated by occasional reflective moments and comic interludes. Nat’s hardbitten armour is pierced by the kindness of strangers in a London street. The squeamish Darius encounters his lover as he heaves a rancid dead goat from a river. Rulers are foolish and out of touch. Merchants and financiers pull the strings and hold the real power. Behind the mask of trade
lie murky secrets and misery. As The Trade Secret’s layers of intrigue are peeled back, the avarice, corruption and injustice at the heart of society are revealed. Thankfully public flayings and spiked heads are no longer part of our experience – maybe one day greed and inequality will go the same way. The Trade Secret is published by http://www.cargopublishing. com. The author will be touring a new stand up show later this year called Robert Newman’s New Theory of Evolution, which argues that nature tends to select for co-operation over competition. www.robnewman.com Catriona Ross is a freelance journalist and PR consultant from the Scottish Highlands and an active member of Transition Black Isle.
New stories for the age of endings ‘When the cities lie at the monster’s feet, there are left the mountains.’ The Dark Mountain Project is a network of writers, artists and thinkers in search of new stories for troubled times. We promote and curate writing, art, music and culture rooted in place, time and nature. Dark Mountain book 4 - our latest anthology of uncivilised writing and art - is published in July 2013. Find out more, and buy a copy, by visiting our website.
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John Thackara “What was it like here before we paved it over?” The Mannahatta exhibit in New York reconstructed, in words and images, what the once-wild island of Manhattan was like 400 years ago, before the first European settlers arrived. Today’s city of asphalt and skyscrapers, it turns out, was once a diverse and lifefilled landscape. Times Square was once a forest. Harlem was a meadow. The city’s woodlands, fields, freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, springs, ponds and streams were home to bears, wolves, songbirds, and salamanders. Clear waters jumped with fish. Porpoises and whales were often seen in the harbour. The landscape ecologist Dr. Eric Sanderson, Mannahatta’s curator, was not out to return New York to its primeval condition; but he did hope that his show would help New York’s inhabitants to reconnect with the living systems that continue to support their city. All over the world, Eric’s hopes are beginning to be realised. A growing worldwide movement is looking at cities through the lens of regenerative design. Many thousands of practical projects are underway that reconnect city dwellers with the soils, trees, animals, landscapes, energy systems, water, and energy sources on which all life depends. As these projects take root, one can re-imagine the urban landscape itself as an ecology with the potential to support us. For the moment, this movement is mostly bottom-up, small-scale, and low-budget. Watersheds and rivers are being restored by volunteers. Car parks are being de-paved by activists. Trees are being planted by community teams. School students are starting gardens, or deploying nesting boxes for birds and insects. Rain is being harvested, and water recycled, by community work-gangs working street-by-street. As small projects are completed, city dwellers are noticing other assets – and the to-do list expands. There are neglected parks to transform, 14 cemeteries to enhance,
Rewilding the city
gardens to revive. Roadside verges, empty roofs and facades can be transformed into growing plots. Vacant lots, abandoned sites and landfills can be repurposed. Abandoned buildings and ruins, and empty malls, can be put to new use. The fact that most of these actions are small is not, of itself, a problem; change bubbling up from the bottom is how the change happens in complex systems such as cities. That said, there is still work for city managers and policy makers to do – but their tasks are different. Re-wilding cities is not much about greenery-clad skyscrapers or designer parks: the priority is to nurture thousands of patches, some of them tiny, and to link them together. The growth of urban farming is a live opportunity here. Researchers in Cleveland – a Rust Belt city with lots of potential green space – found that if 80 percent of every vacant lot, and commercial and industrial roofs, were put to work, the city could provide up to 100 percent of the fresh produce it needs, 94 percent of its poultry and eggs and 100 percent of its honey. A project in London called Incredible Edible Lambeth is taking practical steps to co-ordinate local food projects to achieve food production on a meaningful scale. They’ve made a map of this inner-city district that includes more than 100 food projects. Helen Steer and her husband Peter have created a Community Interest Company that finds new growers, facilitates existing growing schemes, and helps local government engage individuals and communities through food and mapping in the local area. When habitat patches are too small or isolated to support species, biodiversity suffers. Habitat fragmentation is an issue in cities, too – but also an opportunity. Private gardens, for example, have enormous potential to act as archipelago-like nature reserves for pollinating insects, whose populations have been plummeting. The UK’s 15 million backyard gardens cover about 270,000 hectares – more than all the country’s official
nature reserves combined. To link these micro-sites together, so-called pollinator pathways are being developed in some cities. In Seattle, for example, the artist and ecological designer Sarah Bergmann is establishing a milelong series of gardens in planting strips along Seattle’s Columbia Street. Her Pollinator Pathway establishes a corridor between two green spaces at opposite ends of the city. Each planting strip – usually a band of grass between footpath and street – is transformed into a pollinatorfriendly garden that offers viable food and habitat to vitally important insects.
“Car parks are being de-paved by activists” In the UK, too, the Co-operative Society has launched a nationwide project to establish ‘Bee Roads’ across the country that will act as food-rich main routes for pollinators. As in Seattle, corridors of land are being converted into secure habitats for pollinators. The first of these Bee Roads is in Yorkshire; there, farmers and other landowners are sowing wildflowers in two long rows that will eventually stretch north to south and east to west across the county.
Birmingham concur; biodiversity in urban habitat patches can support a rich and diverse range of plants and animals that often occur as unusual or unique communities. The English writer Richard Mabey was one of the first to question whether the concepts of ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ still make sense. In The Unofficial Countryside, first published in 1973, Mabey describes his realisation that even the most unpromising, blasted and neglected urban landscape is capable of supporting life. “A crack in the pavement is all a plant needs to put down roots,” Mabey recorded. “Provided it is not actually contaminated, there is scarcely a nook or cranny anywhere which does not provide the right living conditions for some plant or creature.” The notion that older ecologies lie beneath our cities, just waiting to self-resurrect, has long fascinated artists - and now scientists, too. Paleobotanists have discovered that ten square feet of urban soil can contain tens of thousands of seeds that persist
Photo by Ilvio Gallo
talkback in a state of suspended animation, waiting to be woken from their slumber. In his essay, City of Seeds, the writer Daniel Mason reflects that unlike the managed green of parks and gardens, which only grows in pockets of protected isolation, the wild plants of a city need ‘the cracks, the pavement split, the palace abandoned’. Beyond the managed gardens and the wild invaders of our roads, Mason concludes, is ‘a hidden, potential flora, an idea of a forest, not in competition with the city but existing alongside it, patiently, waiting to become manifest.’ For these pioneering scientists, artists and activists, the urban landscape itself is an ecology with the potential, in part at least, to support us. John Thackara is a writer, philosopher, and event producer. As director of Doors of Perception, John has organized ‘social harvest festivals’ in a dozen countries, especially in India. These events bring together pioneers in social-ecological innovation. He lives in southern France. See doorsofperception.com.
new from Green Books for summer 2013
Welcome back the weeds?
This prompts an interesting question: pull that weed out of its crack in the sidewalk – or let it grow? Seen through the lens of biodiversity, the city is revealed to be richer than we thought. Industrial agriculture has turned so much of the ‘countryside’ into monocultural deserts that some cityscapes contain more biodiversity. In The Hague, for example, urban biologist Claudia Biemans identified 300 different species in one square km of her city, compared to just 50 different species in the managed countryside nearby. “Bees know this very well, and are more to be found in cities these days,” she points out. Researchers in
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Photo by Ilvio Gallo
The coming of the road Jim Hindle If you had to a state a point where the government bid a final farewell to any green credentials, it arguably came with the budgetary autumn review in 2011.
The 45 road schemes laid out back then have been augmented since by another 150, so that now we seem to be facing a road building programme on a par with the ‘Roads to Prosperity’ schemes of the early 1990’s. Those schemes characterised in so many ways the last Conservative government, just as the protests against them were symptomatic of wider dissent. Of the roads planned today, 42 are pretty much direct revivals of those proposed in the nineties and form part of a picture comprising 76 bypasses, 48 link roads, 12 ring roads with another 60 more minor projects. The cost of the whole programme is being estimated at around £30 billion. If the figures for the roads built in the previous decade and a half are anything to go by, we can expect a fairly substantial overrun of these early financial projections. Taken together, the roads would affect National Parks, the Norfolk Broads, Areas of Outstanding National Beauty and several World Heritage Sites. They also represent a dramatic sea change in transport policy, with aspirations to curb car use and promote public transport looking more than a little forlorn. And with road transport emissions accounting
for well in advance of twenty percent of UK carbon emissions, the policy effectively scuppers one of the more malleable means by which we can effectively rein these in. It’s more than a little ironic that vast amounts of cash are being pumped into new infrastructure at a time of austerity so caustic that the upkeep of existing roads is being jeopardised. As a means of funding new roads, the government is looking at schemes such as public-private partnership deals whereby future taxpayers are often lumped with the ‘hidden tolls’ for roads under construction today. But there is still a huge immediate price tag being picked up by central and local government. Resistance to all this is growing, most notably with the groups affiliated with the Campaign For Better Transport’s ‘Roads to Nowhere’ campaign. Particularly vigorous protests have been taking place at Combe Haven Valley in opposition to the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road. Earmarked by the Department for Transport (DfT) itself as “one of the worst value for money schemes in Britain,” the road’s route has been the scene of incredible acts of front and tenacity as trees have been occupied, camps set up, the less than proverbial bulldozers stopped in their tracks, and work effectively delayed for many weeks. At the time of writing, the DfT has not yet confirmed that it will fund its allotted share
of the scheme – some £56 million out of a total already spiraling above the £100 million mark. East Sussex County Council is forecast to spend a projected £70 million on the road at a time when it is making wider cuts of the same amount leaving adult social care and children’s services particularly badly hit. Somehow though, to see the camps spring up, to witness the energy of those making a stand and the sense of release in the process, there seems more in the air than simply a fight against old-school and deviant infrastructure. To go to Combe Haven and see the people in the oaks, to see and hear the pristine valley in the last few days before it’s due to be severed in two, the struggle seems iconic of so many other situations in the wider world. At a time of unprecedented ecological loss, the fact that here in the UK we are losing our ancient woodland at a rate even faster than that impacting the Amazon, any attacks on existing woodland should be more widely recognised for the carnage they really are. And at a time when the government seems disposed to outdo all previous levels of contempt they seem to hold large segments of the population in, there’s something that feels particularly fitting in people staking a common claim in the ground that’s due for destruction and stating ‘enough is enough’. The gruelling conditions on-site at Hastings over the previous few months are testament that none of this is necessarily easy. But the
rewards for those engaged are evident to see, even in the grip of bitter winter: the knowledge that when people act together there’s a very firm hope for turning round situations that might otherwise prove intractable. However, just as the protests of the nineties took years to reach their final culmination, Hastings is just the first major manifestation of the kind of outcry that needs to be taken up more widely if the hydra-like heads of these hundreds of schemes stand any chance of being properly defeated. Jim Hindle (Transition Town Lewes) is a writer and traditional musician living in Sussex. He currently works in archaeological reconstruction and education and is the author of Nine Miles: Two Winters of Anti-Road Protest.
Please sir, what ’s climate change? Isabel Carlisle English and Maths at all Key Stages, and climate change is nowhere to be found in the Geography curriculum, at least not up to the age of 15. Is this surprising? No.
This February saw the publication of the Framework document for consultation on the National Curriculum in England. A year ago we were hopeful that the inclusion of stewarding of resources as one of the five key aims in the draft curriculum offered a steer to schools on sustainability. That aim has gone, the focus is overwhelmingly on
I asked Michael Gove, the Minister for Education, this question after a talk that he gave in June 2011: “When Sir John Beddington, the Chief Scientific Advisor to the government (now departed), says that in 30 years we will be facing a perfect storm of climate change, economic contraction and the end of cheap fossil fuels, why are you proposing to take climate change out of the curriculum?” His answer made it clear that he regards climate change as a social ill on a par with gun crime and obesity, and that he was not going to listen to singleissue pressure groups. He also said “We don’t know if our weather is warming or cooling. Back in the Seventies, scientists said we were facing another ice age and now it is all about degrees of warming. I want children to be able to think critically for themselves.” Should we all be throwing up our hands in horror and writing stiff letters to our MPs and the Department for Education? Well, only if it makes you feel better. We may lament the possibly criminal negligence of this government in its failure to plan for
a greener future, but it is all a great deal more interesting, and more tragic, than the future of the teaching of geography in English state and maintained schools. Turn to the proposed History curriculum and ponder the world view that is presented there. You will find: “Pupils are expected to know and understand the story of these islands: how the British people shaped this nation and how Britain influenced the world; and know and understand the broad outlines of European and world history: the growth and decline of ancient civilisations; the expansion and dissolution of empires; the achievements and follies of mankind.” World views emerge from shared agreements that arise from shared experiences and partial knowledge. We can also say that ideologies are entwined with world views, that politics are conducted in a landscape of ideologies, and our education system is at the mercy of politics. If you are reading TFP you are probably more interested in the future than the past, are aware of how human beings as a species are influencing the world and its climate, and see a lack of joined-up action on carbon emissions as being the greatest folly of our age. Holding that world view, and everything that goes with it, does not mean you are not free to make choices or lack agency. Nor do teachers in schools lack
choices or agency about how they teach or what they focus on. Our new National Curriculum is encouraging science teachers to take pupils out into local habitats and study them, to understand from direct experience how plants grow, and to notice the weather and the seasons. In Design and Technology eating healthy food and growing food are both included. Those are good ways for Transition groups to engage with schools. We can also take inspiration from Transition Monteveglio in Italy which applied for and won EU funding for a big energy project in their area, including funding for a programme to go into schools and give teachers workshops on energy reduction. It has proved such a success that teachers are now asking for more. More than informing, the workshops have unleashed the creativity, energy and innovation of teachers who can now see how to inspire their students to be creative in response to real-world problemsolving in their local communities and environments. Now that is something to get excited about. Isabel Carlisle runs the Schools in Transition programme that works over the course of a year with individual schools to inspire pupils and teachers to form action teams for whole-school change. Contact isabelcarlisle@ transitionnetwork.org.
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a r t s
Gathering for The Telling in front of a giant mural by Sheffield-based street artist, Phlegm. Photo by Jeppe Graugaard
Firing up the imagination by Jeppe D. Graugaard
On a cold February night I am standing in a courtyard in Doncaster, warming my hands on a cup of tea, stepping from side to side trying to get some warmth into my feet. The murmur of the crowd falls silent as a drum beat bursts out in the far end of the courtyard. A band of foxes emerges out of the dark, scrutinising the silent crowd.
They seem to be on guard as if they are keepers of some secret knowledge or wisdom. Then an accordion joins in with the drums, a red flare lights up the surrounding space and the foxes break out into dancing. Captivated by the mystery before me I forget about my cold feet and my tea for a while. This is The Telling: a new kind of grassroots, power-down, artistic event which draws on various forms of storytelling, performance, music and craft to explore what living through a time of transition means. Born in the imagination of Warren Draper, The Telling is inspired by 16 The Dark Mountain Project
and created on a DIY ethos as a reaction against the debilitating effect of the entertainment industry on folk culture. Warren explains: “We have become so used to being constantly bombarded by noise, light and cleverness – in a ‘shock and awe’ attack on the senses – that the treat of firelight, acoustic music, and an unaided human voice has become truly magical... something which I was desperate to share with as many people as possible.” The enchanting performance of Mr. Fox is just one of many that evening set in the post-apocalyptic Church View courtyard, which is adorned by a large mural by street artist Phlegm, depicting an archer sitting in a giant horn shooting down human bones tied to floating balloons. And the evening programme is just the culmination of a series of events and workshops that ran throughout the day: a pop-up cinema, the Sheffield City Giants (15 ft large puppets), bread-making, make-do-and-mend, a singing workshop, a talk on peace, and my absolute favourite: making iron in a clay foundry.
This diverse mix of activities and performances makes The Telling a place to be inspired and to learn practical skills at the same time. As Warren says: “I would say it is simply a space where we can converse honestly – in a diversity of mediums and disciplines – about the realities of collapse and transition; where we can develop the skills and stories which may yet help us to face those realities; and where we can sing, dance, feast, frolic and burn stuff!” The hope is that these kinds of spaces will grow beyond Church View. “Whatever The Telling is, it has taken on a life of its own. Preparations are already afoot for the first Sheffield The Telling and there are whispers of other Telling events further afield”.
New arts book page
by Lucy Neal
“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go further, go together” No maxim could better express the work undertaken during Playing For Time’s writing residency at Lumb Bank, home of the Arvon Foundation near Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. Fifteen artists and writers gathered to lay the first tracks down for this groundbreaking workbook – mapping ways in which the arts inspire a different way of living within the ecological limits of the planet. What is a transitional arts practice? What are its patterns and methods, the narrative it creates for our shifting times? In the mists of the Colden Valley overlooking Bob Mill’s old chimney stack, the Arvon Foundation gave time and space to a ‘community of practice’ to test things out. We looked at the roots of our work, in what practical ways it manifested, as we asked what was the best way we could define ourselves: as activists, community agitators, theatre-makers, disrupters, carriers of fire, truthtellers, space holders, celebrants, fixers, poets, storytellers, food growers, creators of empathy and possibility? The week-long intensive followed the traditional Arvon formula: a mix of teaching, individual tutoring (with writers, Gilly Adams and Sarah Woods) and talks by guest speakers. Writer and sustainability consultant, Geoffrey Tansey, came up the hill from Hebden to discuss food systems and paradigm shift (“We have gone as far as we can with facts and information”). Jenny Sealey, director of Graeae, the UK’s disabled-led theatre company, talked about her experiences catalysing the energy and resources of deaf and disabled artists. Morning workshops played with ways of making together, sharing skills and craft, from working in the woods to shaping words in clay and fish on paper in the studio. But there was an urgency to write as well. By mid-week, something clicked; the house went quiet, people beetled off to their rooms, coming late to the communally-cooked meals. By Friday night everyone had something to read to the group: engaging accounts of the deep need to make art and make change in the world, and a sense of joy and abundance that such things were happening in our different communities: “Having the privilege to spend a week together with other creative practitioners who are treading a similar path was deeply nourishing and affirming about the power of the arts to involve us all in experiencing a new story to live by,” said Ruth Ben-Tovim of Encounters Arts, and Transition Network trustee. “I came away with an enriched understanding of my own work and approach, and a renewed sense of energy and purpose.” At Lumb Bank we glimpsed an everyday ‘art of living’ which now remains to build on and articulate over the next few months, as the book and the project come together. Watch this space. Playing for Time is supported by the Arts Council and the Transition Network.
You can find more information, pictures and videos of The Telling online at http://forthetelling.wordpress.com. Jeppe D. Graugaard is a writer and researcher at UEA, with an interest in grassroots movements and projects. More of his writing is available on www. patternwhichconnects.com.
Lanterns into the wood, The Whirl project, Sheffield by Ruth Nutter Photo by Leon Lockley
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c o m m u n i t y and m e d i a
Triangle of love Crystal Palace Transition Town has four community garden spaces and recently won the coveted People’s Garden Award for its inspirational engagement of the local community. This month they are launching a community food market, selling local produce and preserves from their Patchwork Farm (a network of neighbourhood growing spaces), alongside stallholders from local farms in Kent and Sussex. Diana Korchien travelled to Westow Park to find out how they did it. Under a venerable European lime, a few tender rows of leeks stretch tentatively towards the watery March sunshine. The garden, a triangular, sloping patch of land, is invisible to those who obediently keep to the paths, but if one ventures across the grass, there it is: once an overgrown maze of brambles, nettles and ivy, now a little oasis redolent of love and attention. And all that love has brought recognition and reward.
“Delighted pensioners keep a protective watch on the site” Giving is the hallmark of this community garden. Since its inception in 2011, the site has attracted non-stop generosity from individuals, businesses and local government. There have been Bring-a-Plant Days. Local juice bars have donated fruit waste, coffee bars have provided coffee grounds. During last summer’s
drought the Alma Pub donated lots of water (and the means to transport it). In the sheltered housing next door, delighted pensioners keep a protective watch on the site, while The Secret Garden (a nearby garden centre) has been securely storing assorted tools free of charge. There’s a small shed from Freecycle. Local councils have made contributions too: leaf mould from Clapham Common, logs from Beulah Heights. And this is not to forget the garden plan itself from Kate Daly, a local Master Gardener. The garden has been giving back to the community, too: in little more than a year since its launch in February 2012, it has hosted picnics and parties, as well as workshops on topics including companion planting and composting. Local cafes have been using mint in their teas, chefs have bought sorrel. Camomile is being grown atop the hugelkultur (raised mound bed, made of branches and twigs). On a Saturday, the garden is popular: a shifting mosaic of around thirty Transitioners can nearly always be found there, working, playing and, best of all, talking and enjoying each other’s company. Their ages range from 6 months to 80 years old. This is a family garden. Today is rather quieter than usual: it’s the busiest day of Fairtrade fortnight. Many of the usual suspects are off elsewhere within the Crystal Palace Triangle: a food tasting at Upper Norwood
Library, pedal-powered smoothie making outside Sainsbury’s, and the final preparations for Foodstock, a fundraiser concert in aid of Norwood Food Bank. Nonetheless, at least ten people turn up with assorted kids in tow. An elderly neighbour appears, toting a carrier bag of kitchen waste for the compost bin, while a younger woman arrives with
“The most fruitful harvest of all has been the friendships” a beautifully handcrafted sign that she has constructed from scavenged wood and assorted twigs. It announces proudly: The Edible Garden. Rachel de Thample, co-chair of Transition Town Crystal Palace, said: ‘We grew lots of food in our garden this year - blackcurrants, sweetcorn, cucumbers, kale, leeks, courgettes - but the most fruitful harvest of all has been the friendships.” Crystal Palace Community Market is launching on 11th May and will take place every Saturday from 10am-3pm. www.crystalpalacetransition.org Diana Korchien is a founder member of Transition Leytonstone, co-ordinator of Wanstead and Woodford Friends of the Earth and media officer for Waltham Forest and Redbridge Green Party. She also helped launch her local Church Lane Community Garden.
The planting of hops and vines in the Tipsy Garden at the Grape and Grain pub, Crystal Palace. Photo Guy Milnes
Gathering fallen sweet chestnuts. Photo by Marlen Migdalska
Talking ‘bout a revolution by Patrick Chalmers
Transitioners have some revolutionary stories to tell and yet, as Tracy Chapman sings, they’re usually told in whispers.
Conventional media, their business and editorial models in turmoil, are part of the volume problem. Instead of getting lost in why that might be, far better that we learn to pump it up ourselves. Many Transition Initiatives host film screenings and debates in order to import knowledge and discuss key issues in a local context. Such shared learning is part of an evolving information mix, far richer than the lectures of the past and more a rolling conversation that we can join at will. Using digital cameras, phones and the internet, many of us now have the capacity to broadcast our stories with words, pictures, video or audio. Standing out is a challenge. Media-makers using the best of journalistic ideals and principles stand a better chance than most. The learnable skills of summary and storytelling, plus a healthy drive for helping our communities work, are also vital. Transition approaches are strong among the Pyrenean foothills south of Toulouse, where many have been resilience-building for decades. Small-scale farming practices benefit from DIY media making, which capture age-old skills with a thoroughly modern smartphone video and some simple add-ons. Recent subjects include a ‘wool weekend’ held in MontbrunBocage village where a local group gathered farmers, spinners and other artisans to showcase wool and felt wares and their origins
to the public. The revival of abandoned sweet chestnut groves nearby has also borne various chances for media making (as well as food!) A local film-maker spent two years recording the process in an hour-long documentary Le temps des châtaignes. The films tells how retired peasant farmers from the area have helped incomers to revive abandoned trees by clearing the undergrowth and regrafting old specimens. His film aired recently on national TV, as well as in local village screenings, the
“Many of us now have the capacity to broadcast our stories with words, pictures, video or audio’”
latter offering chances to catch the director himself on video for an interview. Spreading such skills is key. A smartphone video weekend workshop, featuring the hows and whys of shooting as-live interviews for sharing over the internet, will run in Montbrun this May. It will accompany other workshops intended as practical responses to the financial crisis. The event is part of an ongoing Nous les Médias (We the Media) initiative, intended to gather existing local mediamakers and sow the seeds of citizen journalism more widely. Patrick Chalmers is a Scottish journalist, author, journalism campaigner and media trainer who has lived in SW France since 2005. He is the author of Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies. See www. lejournaldemontbrun.wordpress.com and http://fraudcastnews.net. 17
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Closing the hungry gap
Dorothea Leber, our regular columnist, looks forward to the garden’s offerings in early summer
I have to confess that as I write, it is a cold day in March and the rain is pouring down. But our thoughts are of the garden in May and beyond – not just because we (and the plants) are longing for some sunny, warm weather, but also because we are currently sowing seeds that will be planted out in the warmer months.
Once May is in full swing, there is a change of scenery in the greenhouses. At the moment there are many different salads, herbs and low growing plants, but all this changes drastically as summer arrives: the tomatoes and cucumbers will have been planted out and trained on strings; the greenhouse beans will have grown quite tall (having been sown in pots on March 15th); and the wonderful sugar-snaps will hopefully be 1.80 m high and ready to eat. The outdoor areas of the garden will be filling up at this time of year, though anything that isn’t hardy will still stay in the propagation house until the middle of May. Spinach, lettuce, kohlrabi and broccoli can withstand a ground frost while they are still young. Often referred to as the hungry gap, May is the time of year when winter vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, cabbages and kale are finished but the summer vegetables have not yet arrived. I try to “close” this gap with kohlrabi (sown in January and planted in a greenhouse), spring greens, Florence fennel, radishes, spinach and lots of salads. At the end of May we start planning ahead to the next year with the sowing of chicory – a wonderful deep rooting plant. Chicory leaves a beautiful soil structure behind and is also very good at filling the space in which it grows, thereby denying room for weeds. This is one reason why I grow it. The other is that it gives us fresh, delicious salad at a time when there isn’t yet that much of it around. Other plants we will be sowing at the start of summer and in preparation for the next year include purple sprouting broccoli, kale, and sugarloaf cabbage. From May until the beginning of July we keep sowing successions of French beans, beetroots, carrots and lettuce. These are certainly the busiest months in the garden, as we will be planting out, sowing, hoeing and weeding. And then, come June, picking will also be in full swing. It’s just as well the days will be long! Dorothea Leber is the head gardener at the Michael Hall Steiner School in Forest Row, East Sussex. She tends the 2 1/2 acre biodynamic walled garden, selling produce to staff and families at the school, as well as to local green grocers. Biodynamic horticulture is an organic method of food production developed in the early 1900s. It works by creating a holistic, self-sustaining system by nurturing the interrelationships of the soil, plants and animals that comprise it.
The gardens at Michael Hall Steiner School in early summer
Fergus Drennan bottling wild garlic oil in spring. Photo by Maria Hale
One wild year by Tamzin Pinkerton
Fergus Drennan is a man who walks, pickles, bakes, solar-dries and eats his talk.
Known as Fergus the Forager, he is passionate about the potential of wild and foraged food, and is continually conjuring up innovative ways of incorporating it into the modern diet – whether by making fruit leather from the fruit of the strawberry tree, cheese cake from sea-buckthorn or ‘nori sheets’ from winter chanterelle fungi. In order to fully explore ways of sustainably using these foods, he is soon to be embarking on the ultimate challenge: to live entirely on wild and foraged foods for one year. The project aims to show why wild food is valuable, and why it has particular validity for us now. At a time when our culture, climate and economy are changing at a frightening pace, “a local foraging lifestyle allows us to reconnect with the natural world, and to revalue it as the source of our food and our health.” 100% of the food consumed during the challenge will be from non-deliberately cultivated sources, from the bulk ingredients down to the oil, salt, herbs and vinegar used to flavour a dish. Each month Fergus will also work to a specific theme, exploring the stone-age diet in April for example, and wild, raw and vegan food in July. The year-long challenge will not, however, simply be about merrily skipping through the woods, filling baskets with nature’s bounty and feasting on the abundance she offers. Foraging in the modern world comes with its own range of perils and limits, and Fergus
is keen to dispel any romantic notion that enjoying wild food somehow means all is well in the wider ecosystem. This project will in fact bring him face to face with the issues that are currently threatening our access to safe, wild food, our ability to conserve wild areas and ultimately, the wellbeing of our species and planet. Modern foragers are, for example, often confronted with the dangers of widespread pesticide use, directly and indirectly contaminating
“A local foraging lifestyle allows us to reconnect with the natural world, and to revalue it as the source of our health” wild plants in areas adjoining agricultural fields, as well as in hedgerows, parks and other outdoor public spaces. As Fergus points out, “It is a sad state of affairs when wild and foraged nettles are potentially less safe and nutritious than scientifically produced lettuces”. In order to monitor the levels of toxicity in wild food, Fergus hopes to work with a biochemist during the project, which could give us vital information about the state of our wild commons and what we need to do to protect them. One challenge will be to ensure a varied and balanced diet from wild, foraged fare, which requires careful planning and making good use of twenty plus years of foraging experience. “In order to make sure I consume enough starch, I will be experimenting with extracting it from plants such as lords and
ladies and reed mace, and will mill sweet chestnuts into flour to make breads, pastas and cakes.” Fergus is also excited about the possibility of drawing from the vast pool of multicultural food knowledge available to us today, to try and mimic conventional foods from different traditions around the world. Is it possible to create wild-sourced equivalents of custard, tofu, mayonnaise and salami? He’s keen to find out. Meanwhile the joys, pitfalls, stories and epiphanies of the year will be documented in a blog (see below) so that the wider world can learn from these wild explorations. Fergus will also engage with others for a week each month and at weekends, working with them to devise new recipes, digest experiences and share ideas. In order to make this celebration of wild and foraged food possible, and for us all to benefit from the extraordinary discoveries that will no doubt be made, the project requires £12,000 to financially sustain the forager as he harvests, distils and ferments his way through the year. The project will begin once this total has been reached. If you would like to make a donation please visit the website for more details, and help ensure that our knowledge of wild food continues to play a vital role in our food systems for years to come. For further information visit www. wildmanwildfood.co.uk and www. wildmanwildfood.blogspot.co.uk. Tamzin Pinkerton (Brighton) is a writer and author of Local Food: How to Make it Happen in Your Community, the first in a series of Transition books. She is a passionate supporter of local organic food.
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Asparagus kale (Brassica oleracea)
by Chris Cant
Part of a map showing the hop growing sites during year 1 of the Brixton Beer Project.
Prima donna brewers Helen Steer of City Farmers, explains how a community hop growing initiative is encouraging locals to grow, drink and be merry in Brixton, London.
Tell us the story of the Brixton Beer Project Ann Bodkin and I started the Brixton Beer Project last year, to get people thinking about what goes into their pint. We were also concerned by the fact that many popular craft beers use hops imported from New Zealand and America. We chose the hop variety ‘prima donna’ for our project as it is well suited to city life and non-expert growers. The hop plants were sold in grower packs to various people across South London and the plants were grown
in gardens, on balconies, in council estates, in community gardens and in parks. We worked with a local microbrewery to make beer from the hops and had a community harvest and brew day at the end of summer. We then drank some of the beer we ‘grew’ when it was ready. Simple and delicious! This year there are projects being run in Brixton, Crystal Palace, Hackney and Cardiff. How has the project been funded and resourced? Brixton Beer funds itself: each grower buys a pack for £20 (plus an extra £10 per extra plant), to cover the cost of the plants and all the bits and bobs in the packs. We make a small profit on this, which allowed us to produce a map (shown above), cover our running costs and give those involved payment for their
time. We give the hops to the brewer at no cost in exchange for free beer for all the growers. Our brewer then sells the rest of the beer as they would normally. Were there any other projects that inspired you? I was inspired by the Brockwell Bake Project that bakes loaves from wheat grown across Lambeth, and helps people appreciate what goes into real bread. I was also inspired by the concept of patchwork farming and community gardening – people coming together to create a big collective harvest from many small ones. Each plant would have made very little but together we made over 1000 pints! The Independent Brewers Alliance in London were also very helpful and even took us out to a hop farm in Kent with a group of brewers.
What advice would you pass on to others hoping to set up a similar initiative? Get in touch! We are working with projects in Hackney, Cardiff and Crystal Palace with the aim of compiling an ‘open source business plan’ so the project can be replicated across the country, and we hope to have information packs available in October or November. We’d be delighted if others want to take it on elsewhere. It’s a fun project that pays for itself – plus you get a fair amount of free beer! There are also opportunities to take it further: you could sell the beer yourself, start a home brew circle, open up a popup pub selling locally grown beer at community events, or even hold a beer festival... Visit www.city-farmers.co.uk
Harvested hops ready for drying and use in brewing. Photo © Adam Frey/CrimsonChain.com
Fifteen years ago we grew a few brassica plants for the first time from heirloom seed provided by the HDRA (now Garden Organic). Over the course of the summer and autumn the plants developed green leaves tinged with purple, like looseheaded cabbage, then paused with the onset of winter. So far so good, but nothing spectacular. Then came spring and a new spurt of growth: sweet green leaves and eventually sturdy shoots. This explains the name, Asparagus Kale, for although it has a similar habit to purple sprouting broccoli the edible flower shoots have a milder flavour and greater tenderness. Those shoots not eaten eventually opened into yellow flowers loved by insects and the whole plant became tall, slowly leaning over and becoming brittle as its hundreds of seed pods developed and ripened. These days self-seeded kale plants appear all over the garden and we usually have a glut of succulent leaves and shoots to eat, freeze and give away, as well as young plants. Asparagus Kale is an old variety, listed as early as 1885. Seed has been saved and passed on by generations of gardeners and the variety is looked after by “seed guardians” around the country for Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library. The seeds cannot be sold but we’ll send you some seed free if you send an SAE or we’ll post some out if you make a donation to Penrith transition town PACT via its website – where there is also more info on the kale. This kale is a biennial so sow in spring in a tray and plant out when robust enough. Chris Cant is the treasurer of Penrith Action for Community Transition (PACT). The local Freegle group has joined forces with PACT to encourage more people to grow their own. For more info see www. penrithact.org.uk and http://freegle. in/EdenGrowYourOwn Subscribe – Have your copy of TFP delivered by post: · £15 a year - UK · £23 a year - Europe · £25 a year - Rest of the world www.transitionfreepress.org/ subscribe
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Art and Science meet at new Bee Festival by Biff Vernon
We may not, single-handed, be able to stop war, cure disease, end hunger, or save the planet, but we can, each of us, plant some flowers that give insects a better chance and make our world a little more beautiful.
Transition Louth are organising The Louth Festival of the Bees this May. If we are to make the transition to a truly sustainable post-industrial society, protection of biodiversity must be an urgent priority. The Festival aims to raise awareness of biodiversity, focussing particularly on wildflowers and all their pollinators. Everyone is familiar with honeybees and bumblebees, though few realise there are two dozen different species, each occupying its own ecological niche. But the very existence of the 200 and more species of solitary bee is unknown to many. And then there are the other pollinators, hover flies, wasps, moths, and countless other creepy crawlies that are involved in the web of life. This web is now in danger of unravelling. There is accumulating evidence that neonicotinoids, the world’s most widely used class of pesticide, and applied to the majority of arable crops in Britain, are having a
catastrophic effect on pollinating insects. At sub-lethal doses that can be picked up by insects feeding from flowers, behaviour is altered. Bees, for example, fail to find their way home to their hives or nests. Industry tries to deny all and governments are slow to react, short-term commercial interests trumping the precautionary principle. There has been little research on the effect of neonicotinoids
“This rare bee may turn out to be of great usefulness to mankind” on non-target insect species, many of which provide vital ecosystem services. Honeybee colony collapse is widely reported and the decline in moths has been noticeable. There has also been widespread loss of other insects and declines in several species of bats and birds despite considerable improvements in habitat conservation in recent years. In January, the European Food Safety Authority stated that neonicotinoids pose an “unacceptably high risk to bees”, and following a vote in the Dutch parliament, the EU Commission recommended restrictions on their use. In March, despite 13
B is for bee
Young apiarists learn how to care for bees safely with the Honeyscribe project. Photo by Amy Shelton Bungay Community Bees formed in 2009 with the aim of combating current declines in pollinators. Members pay a yearly subscription and can be as involved as much or as little as they like. The group, part of the Transition
Initiative, Sustainable Bungay, was the first community suppported apiculture in the UK and keeps five hives in orchards and gardens around the town. Founder beekeeper, Elinor McDowall shares the latest buzz.
EU nations voting in favour of a partial ban, a qualified majority vote was not attained. The UK and Germany, where one of the main producers, Bayer, is based, abstained. The EU Commission is to appeal the decision. Similar legislative efforts are being made in the USA where the leading bird protection organisation, American Bird Conservancy, has published a report showing the threat of neonicotinoids to bird populations, as well as to insects and aquatic life. Loss of food plants is also a key challenge for all insects. Only a tiny fraction of the wildflowers that once adorned our countryside remains, much of their habitat taken by agriculture that tolerates no competition. Even our roadside verges are over-fertilised from agricultural runoff and then mown short with only a much diminished flora surviving. Our Festival combines the biological sciences with an art exhibition, exploring our relationships between the aesthetic and the rational. Some ecological relationships are difficult to disentangle. The beautiful Common Carder Bee, Bombus pascuorum, has declined as farming has shifted away from traditional hay-making. It is a key pollinator of the red hemp nettle,
now a rare wildflower. One of our rarest solitary bees, Colletes halophilus, restricted to some coastal salt marshes where it feeds on sea aster, lines its underground tunnel with a material new to science which could lead to non-petroleum derived polymers in the future. This rare bee may turn out to be of great usefulness to mankind. An urgent lesson in bio-diversity we all need to learn. Whatever age we are. Biff Vernon started environmental
campaigning in the early 1970s, stood for the Green Party in 1979, and spent the next three decades teaching. He now grows vegetables and flowers in Lincolnshire, and is attempting to save the planet one Facebook post at a time.
We realised early on that keeping bees is not enough. The recent increase of backyard beekeeping is great but hasn’t reduced the number of bees lost each year. So we have three other strands within our group alongside beekeeping: hive design, plants for bees and education. Recent projects include working with our local garden centre, planting a wildflower meadow, building and developing our own top bar hives (the bees make their own comb and are kept with a view to long term sustainability) and Bungay Beehive Day, our annual awareness day in celebration of honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees and the flowers they love. This summer we are preparing to launch our newest venture, College Farm Apiary. In conjunction with the Anglia Regional Cooperative Society and Featherdown Farms, we are offering schools the chance to visit a specially built apiary to learn about and be inspired by honeybees and our environment.
We wanted to show children that though keeping bees in a hive may be an artificial situation, it can be done in a bee-centred, rather than a beekeeper-centred way. There are many reasons for recent declines in pollinator numbers including loss of habitat, use of pesticides, GMO crops, increase in disease, overuse of chemicals in the hive and intensive beekeeping geared to maximise honey production. Visits to the farm will include an introduction to these topics, as well as to the importance of pollination for food production and as part of the ecosystem. Activities will be split between time with the bees and a nature walk down to the nearby broad. The apiary consists of top bar hives situated outside a large viewing shed with bee-friendly flowers planted all around. Young visitors can watch when we open a hive to see what beekeepers do when tending bees. As this can cause unnecessary stress on the colony we are also building an
observation hive. Imagine a large tank for bees where they can build comb however they like and we can watch them going about their lives with minimum intervention. Not only will we have a view of ‘the secret life of the bees’ but we can watch them in any weather. Very exciting! Bees have played a key role in human culture for thousands of years. The sweetness of their honey is undoubtedly a factor, but so is the fascination we have with the bees themselves and the way their colonies work. As social creatures like ourselves, they are interesting and accessible - a great way to inspire everyone to care for the natural world.
Children drawing bee-friendly ﬂower specimens at a lightbox installation as part of the Honeyscribe project by Amy Shelton
Louth Festival of Bees includes a Family Fun Day, Conference Day and Art Exhibition with stalls, exhibitions, children’s activities, workshops, talks about wild bees, wild ﬂowers, beekeeping and art. http:// transitiontownlouth.org.uk/bees.html
Elinor McDowall is chief beekeeper at Bungay Community Bees. A physiotherapist, mother of three and a keen ‘reskiller’, she comes from a science background but views interlinked systems in a holistic rather than a reductionist way. www. sustainablebungay.com
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w e l l b e i n g Death in the
Adrienne Campbell from Transition Lewes’ funeral at Woodvale Crematorium, Brighton. Photo by Liliana Gibbs by Mike Grenville
Today death is deferred to an old age that is becoming ever older. In spite of this, the truth remains that each of us must die one day.
Although television is full of death in the news and dramas, it is a great taboo. Less than a third of people have talked to loved ones about their wishes in relation to
death and 60% of adults don’t make a will. Instead we hold on to hope asking the doctors to ‘do all they can’ to prolong life, with no regard to the quality of life that results. We say “I have terminal cancer” which is different from saying “I am dying”. The first allows you to pretend; the second lets the truth in. The over 200 euphemisms for death in the
English language (e.g. kicked the bucket, popped their clogs, fallen off their perch, etc) are a clue we believe that to speak the word “death” is to invite it. According to Orphan Wisdom School founder Stephen Jenkinson, our culture is competence addicted. We fear of loss of competence as we grow old and become a ‘burden’ to others. We
refer to the ‘elderly’, and hide them away in ‘Care Homes’. By contrast healthy societies have ‘elders’ who are an integrated and respected part of their family and society. A common reason cited for not wanting to talk about death is that it is a long way off. Even among those aged 75+ only 20%. discuss the subject. This denial is similar to not facing up to Climate Change or Peak Oil. Somehow we imagine the impact will be such a long way off it won’t affect us. We behave as if death and decay were anomalies, disconnected from the cycles of birth, death, decay, and regeneration. Replacing compost with quick-fix fertilizers, employing nuclear power without a solution for the waste, plastic bottled water, plastic bags. If we could really face the reality of our own death, it would surely help us face up to the dark side of the processes that underpin modern society. Perhaps the trauma of so many deaths in the First World War led to our inability to grieve properly and disconnection from death in our society. The result is a professionalised system of dying shielding us from death that disempowers communities. However there is a growing
interest in End of Life Doula training to support the dying (a Doula is a companion and mentor before, during and after a birth or death). Families now often choose Funeral Celebrants and get involved in all aspects of the funeral. When one of the residents at Transition Heathrow died, the whole community came together taking their DIY ethos to every part of the send off - from collecting the body, making the coffin and even digging the grave. Usually when someone close to us dies, society works to get us to ‘move on’ and give up grieving as soon as possible so that we can become competent again. But as Jenkinson says, it is “grief that stitches us together”. We need to find ways to make meaningful connections with those around us, so that we can create a living community that supports each other to both live well and die well. Mike Grenville Trained as an End of Life Doula with Living Well Dying Well. Mike is a Green Fuse trained Funeral Celebrant, with a focus on home funerals. Founder of Transition Forest Row and Editor of the Transition Network newsletter. www.sacredtransitions.org.uk
marketplace marketplace marketplace marketplace To advertise here email Jay@transitionfreepress.org
Graphic design assistant
The Green Gathering
to work on Transition Free Press. Must have print experience (book/magazine/newspaper) and excellent English for copy-fitting. You’ll need to own CS5 or later and be familiar with InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. Fonts, image sourcing/ photo rights and illustration skills desirable. Email email@example.com for more information
sustainability network event of the year, returns to Piercefield Park in Chepstow. We feature whole areas dedicated to the Transition movement, to Permaculture and to reskilling in practical craft workshops. Music, entertainment and an award winning Childrens’ area – children under 11 come free with adults. Tickets through our website www.greengathering.org.uk
Education for a sustainable and equitable world Join us for postgraduate, vocational and short course programmes in holistic science, ecological design, natural, building, sustainable horticulture and economics for Transition. 2013 short courses with Satish Kumar, Starhawk, John and Nancy Todd, Bill Plotkin and more. www.schumachercollege.org.uk
Writers and editors wanted
Dream the Future
Eat Hodmedod’s British beans and peas
Do you love to write? Are you ‘in Transition’? The Social Reporting Project is looking for more people to take part as writers and editors in their regular group blog. http://www.transitionnetwork.org/stories. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in joining.
Inspire festival-goers that the future can be better than Apocalypse or Zombies! Contribute to amazing Dream the Future stall all summer, starting at Glastonbury. Send aspects of your desired future, A4 size. Can include pictorial maps from visioning exercises, designs for spaces to live/learn/celebrate, posters, pictures. See www.dreamthefuture.org.uk
Gourmet fungi from coffee waste
Ecological Holiday Accommodation
Help us to recycle 25,000 kg of coffee grounds into mushrooms! After 2 years of growing mushrooms from waste coffee we’re still inspired by this simple concept. The GroCycle Project aims to spread the idea further and enable people to grow healthy, sustainable food. Get involved at www.GroCycle.com
on the Bay of Mont St Michel Sleeps 12, public transport accessible, less than 200 road miles from London. Ideal destination for coastal walking and food foraging, near historic towns and departure point for guided walks across the bay to the Mont. (World Heritage Site) Contact: email@example.com 0033231660017. or visit www.dodgygreengeezer.com
They’re delicious, healthy and good for the soil – the perfect alternative to imported pulses, meat or dairy proteins. British pulse home starter box only £12.50 including delivery – 5x500g packs (2 split fava beans, 1 whole fava, 1 Kabuki peas, 1 black badgers) http://hodmedods.co.uk/starter Special discounts for buying groups http:// hodmedods.co.uk/coops
Led or facilitated funerals. A life long meditator, Mike offers sacred end of life rituals, support for home funerals, memorials and celebrations. He is also a death and dying community conversations facilitator. Contact: Mike Grenville 07974 924289 firstname.lastname@example.org www.sacredtransitions.org.uk
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p r a c t i c a l Fixing our future Repaircafé
By Ugo Vallauri
Repairing is back in fashion – and this time, not only do we all have something to learn, but it can be empowering as well as fun.
All across the UK and the rest of the world, community self-repair groups are booming. Repair Cafés have spread from Brighton to London, from the Malvern Hills to Glasgow. Transition Stroud have created the Fix It for Free workshops, while in Bath a group hosts regular Big Mend sessions and Remade in Edinburgh runs Repair Surgeries. These events are a wonderful way to inspire action and change the way we approach repairing, reminding us that it is possible to learn new skills and to make a difference, every time something is broken. Yet they still barely scratch the surface of the problem: most people can’t wait until the next community event, or would not necessarily participate in popup events. This is why we have created The Restart Project, a London-based social startup and charity, to rethink repair of all kinds of electronic and electrical appliances, and to bring the culture of repair everywhere we can. In less than a year we have run over 25 events, from lectures to trainings and especially our signature ‘Restart Parties’: self-repair events held in collaboration with community libraries, Transition Initiatives, art galleries, pop-up shops, universities, schools, public libraries and businesses. They are called ‘parties’ because they aim to be enjoyable, engaging ways to learn and share. We document all we try to fix, and when we can’t
do it on the spot we recommend sources of spare parts and try to find reliable independent professionals who can. But why is repairing so important? The typical scenario when something breaks at home,
shops have gone out of business, suffocated by high rents and other costs. In some cases self-repair is the best way to go: especially to learn the importance of maintenance of our devices, from speeding-up an ageing laptop to
DIY repairing of a computer at a Restart Party in London. Photo by Janet Gunter is that we take it to be repaired and are told that it’s cheaper to buy a new one than to repair it. This is not necessarily true. Learning to fix what we own is highly rewarding and powerful: it liberates us from the tyranny of the buy-dispose-buy-again, which decades of careless impulsive consumerism and wasteful product design have turned into the norm. It also adds a precious alternative to recycling, which is too often promoted by our councils as a panacea on the joyous path to more shopping. All of this at a time when many repair
troubleshooting a printer. On The Restart Project’s website you can already find a crowdsourced map of self-repair groups across the world. We aim to help reskill our communities and to inspire new opportunities for repair jobs in our high streets. Ugo Vallauri is co-founder of The Restart Project and part of Transition Belsize’s coordinating group. He is a researcher in information and communication technologies for development, completing an MPhil at Royal Holloway, University of London. www.therestartproject.org
By Jan and Chris Dyer
Based on the original Repair Café conceived in Holland in 2009, Malvern Hills Repair Café is a relaxed friendly café environment where people are invited to bring all kinds of household and personal items to be repaired free. The flourishing network of Repair Cafes in Dutch cities now attracts government funding to reduce waste to landfill and promote upskilling, but the concept is relatively new to the UK. Our Repair Cafe focuses on the fact that many things can be repaired even when we are told that they are past their use-by date, or easier to replace. Volunteer repairers offer a selection of different practical skills and work with visitors to show how a simple repair can give their belongings a new lease of life. These range from the easy to the challenging, from umbrellas to chainsaws. On the electrical side: a dehumidifier, drills, hedge-trimmers, kettles, toasters, toys, radios, cassette players, sewing machines, lawn mowers. On the furniture side: small arm chairs, dining chairs, foot stools. On the sewing side: garments, canvas bags. On the more general side: manual sewing machines, a jewellery box, a bathroom cabinet, a laminator, a split but much-loved wellington boot, gardening tools, a crystal candlestick, watch straps and so on. The two repairers who offer sharpening are much in demand. Visitors tend to be those who cannot find a specialist repairer
either because the job is too small or expensive or because they simply don’t exist anymore. The first Repair Café was held in December 2012 in Malvern’s community centre, the Cube. Living in Malvern with its long history of practical, hands-on businesses, we have been fortunate to recruit talented repairers via the Transition Malvern Hills website, Freecycle café and the Repair Café’s Facebook page. It is accepted that we live in a throwaway society and it is often cheaper – and easier – to buy a new replacement item than repair the broken one. Thus, society has lost the practical skills needed to repair and mend other than the most specialist items (those that attract expensive repair bills) and we tend to no longer appreciate people who have this practical knowledge. Our Repair Café hopes to change all that by helping everyone to see their possessions in a new light, to appreciate their value and to foster a self-reliant and sustainable community. But perhaps most of all, Malvern Hills Repair Café just wants to show everyone just how much fun and satisfying repairing things can be – and often, how easy. www.facebook.com/ malvernhillsrepaircafe Jan Dyer was a founder, and Chris an early member, of Transition Malvern Hills. Returning from Africa in 2012, they established a social enterprise that would offer local authorities innovative ways of saving waste from going to recycling or landfill. The Malvern Hills Repair Cafe is the first step in that process.
The happy reaper
Anyone managing a piece of land, whether it’s a community garden, a wildﬂower meadow or even a lawn, knows how quickly grass grows and how difficult it can be to find an eco-friendly, ear-friendly way of managing it. Enter the scythe -- the Grim Reaper’s favourite tool! A scythe is a quiet, meditative, skilful and, above all, fossil-fuel-free way of managing grass and weeds. From the lawn (yes, you can cut your lawn – and cut it short – with a scythe) to that tangle of nettles in the deepest darkest recess of your plot, there are plenty of applications for this blade on a stick. Though scything requires a little more skill than using a lawnmower or a strimmer, once you’ve picked it up, it will repay 22 you in numerous ways. As well as the benefits of not using
a machine (no risk of whitefinger or ﬂying stones), you’ll have discovered a satisfying and focused skill. Mowing in teams is a wonderful experience. At the Barbican in London, where I help City of London gardeners and a team of volunteers to manage their wildﬂower garden, we mow together regularly. The non-mowers are kept busy too -- following our trail and collecting up the mown grass for composting. We’re probably the only team of people in the whole of the City of London doing an honest day’s work! Beth Tilston runs scything courses and is available for mowing in the south-east of England. Contact www.learnscything.com for dates and prices; for others in UK see scytheassociation.org.
Beth at work scything the meadow at Fann Street in the Barbican, London. Photo by Francis Pugh-Serota
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p h y s i c a l
Swimming goes by Lucy Neal
I recall my first year of winter swimming as one of the elementary rites of passage in my life.
September cooled, leaves blew off trees and by November ‘cold’ was too vague a term for water temperatures heading down to -1°C when ice formed on our Lido steps. “Wear two hats; do widths not lengths; get out when you’re cold... and don’t let a degree slip without swimming in it.” That was the advice I received as a novice cold water swimmer. Excited and curious, I wondered if I’d make it to Spring. By Christmas, the daily ritual was familiar: getting in, the intake of breath, an inner glow spreading and the zizz of energy on getting out. By April, I felt like a triumphant squirrel, startled and elated by my own resilience. I shed a hat and relished longer swims and warmer days. At the edges of my physical and mental abilities, a secret door had opened: how better to explore
the bounties of the world than by swimming it? Seventy percent of the Earth’s surface is water and so are we! Streams, lakes and rivers enjoyed from a “frog’s eye view,” as legendary wild swimmer Roger Deakin once said. Goggled up, I swam the River Lot, the Norfolk Broads and Slovenia’s Lake Bled. Near the Arctic Circle in Oulu in the frozen Baltic, I swam for England using ‘head up breast stroke’, a Mickey Mouse stroke reserved for avoiding ice floes and vasoconstriction of the brain arteries. Paradoxically, in making friends with cold water, I discovered the swimming community’s welcome is warm and wide. Travelling by land to the 2012 World Cold Water Swimming Championships in Latvia, I visited Iksikile Transition Initiative, the first in the Baltic States. As a welcome, they lit the homestead’s traditional stone sauna. We sweated at 100°C and cooled off in the apple orchard’s
snow and the icy Maza Jugla river. I felt radiant and well for weeks. Their summer festival celebrates the river with concerts, crafts and mushroom picking. At home, no less thrillingly, the 100-yard-long Tooting Bec Lido is the gentle lapping centre of my world. Swimming, I lose the boundaries of myself; I’m sentient and whole. In sun and rain, everything I love is here: dappled, splashy, open-air, sky, trees and fun. A creative community revels in water’s natural habitat mixing synchronised swimming, crosschannel training, egg and spoon races and doggy paddle galas. Wild swim books and websites show open-air swimming is on the increase. Swimming tourism adds historic swims to be collected like trophies: across the Hellespont and around Alcatraz; during the Cold War, activist ‘peace’ swimmer Lynne Cox swam across the Bering Straits between the Soviet Union and the US. But you need not go that far!
A freshwater dip in Britain’s south west . Photo courtesy of Wild Things Publishing from the book Wild Swi mming. For more information go to www.wildswimming.co. uk
It’s May and I’m off to explore the falls and fells of Lake Buttermere and Crummock Water. The full glory of swimming is in your imagination. The swimmer hero, you answer the call of the wildness in you: rebalancing yourself to the world. Stretching the wings of
your spirit you fly free. Lucy Neal is a core member of Transition Town Tooting in South London. She is currently writing Playing For Time, a Transition book on the arts and acts of creative community.
Scuba wombles clean up UK seas by Trucie Mitchell
Scuba diving is all about flying to exotic locations to float in warm, tropical water surrounded by clownfish and turtles, right? Well it can be, but it really doesn’t have to be. True, we live on an island surrounded by chilly seas, but there are cold water corals off our coasts and huge underwater gardens, home to hundreds of marine species. I confess I’ve enjoyed diving in some wonderfully far-flung places, but the carbon cost of flying is increasingly indefensible, especially to someone claiming an interest in nature. So my love for this particular extreme sport now involves flasks of hot tea rather than elegant beach cocktails. Like hundreds of other divers, some no doubt inspired by the BBC’s recent ‘Britain’s Secret Seas’ programme, I’m now finning in home waters. And though it’s considered an extreme sport, the only really ‘extreme’ thing about diving nowadays is the rage and despair when faced with what we’re doing
to our oceans. You can’t fail to want to act once you see what’s down there. We all know, from countless wildlife programmes, what we expect to see underwater - oddlyshaped, vividly-coloured corals, spikily alien anemones, shoals of tiny, shiny fish, a turtle, maybe a shark. Even the cold, greenish
“I have never yet surfaced from a dive without at least a crisp packet” waters around Britain are home or highway to all these creatures. But the plastic is always a shock. Some pieces are large enough to be recognisable – cigarette lighters, bottle tops, biro tubes, takeaway cup lids, tangled threads of fishing line. Others are such small particles that they cook up a kind of poisonous sea soup made of all the debris of our modern lives on land. So we pick up, disentangle and retrieve as many bits of revolting and dangerous plastic as we can. I have never yet surfaced from
a dive without at least a crisp packet tucked into the straps of my harness and I always carry a mesh bag with me. It’s like carrying a reusable shopping bag, only you’re shopping for what we’ve already thrown away. Like a kind of scuba Womble. Since the first Dive Clean Up events in 1993, thousands of divers all over the world have taken part in planned and carefully recorded underwater rubbish collections. According to the organisers, Project Aware, up to 6 million tons of debris is ending up in our oceans every year, 90% of it plastic. And the information being collected by divers is now as vital as the junk they remove. Alongside tide and current tables, researchers can use it to pinpoint exactly what rubbish is coming from where - the first step towards stopping it. Its sources are fairly predictable. Some is dumped overboard the increasing number of ships churning through the world’s waters, but the majority is, inevitably, generated by us here on land. It falls out of our hands, cars and dustbins, blows along roads
and hedgerows and ends up in our rivers, heading straight for the sea. For centuries our rubbish has washed up as harmless driftwood or mysteriously opaque pebbles of old glass. Not any more. Millions of marine animals and birds on whom the health of the planet depends are now being poisoned by this tide of plastic, and still it’s largely ignored, despite the fact that it poses a real threat to us way up here at the apparent apex of the food chain. Scuba divers may not be as bronzed and glamorous as surfers or others in the world of extreme sports, but they are, by and large, a neat and tidy bunch, always aware that they are just visitors, that the world underwater is not their natural habitat, no matter how many hundreds of dives you’ve got under your weight-belt. And if we’re not to destroy ourselves and our planet, the unspoken rules of diving might provide some simple guidance for us all here on land: be on our best behaviour, try not to break anything, and clean up before we leave.
Collecting the (watery) recycling. Photo courtesy of Project Aware Trucie Mitchell is the Designer of Transition Free Press and distributes the paper in Bristol. For details on Dive Against Debris events underwater and on beaches near you, go to ProjectAware.org/project/ marine-debris. 23
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s p o r t
Netball: the ideal Transition sport? 140,000 women play netball in the UK. Since 2010 more than 22,000 have rejoined the sport through the Back to Netball scheme run by England Netball. When a Back to Netball scheme finishes, there are small, independently run initiatives such as Get Active, which encourage participation in the sport for the long term through not-for-profit social leagues. The people I’ve played netball with have included corporate professionals, social workers, creative types, teachers, students and everything between. We come from all ethnic backgrounds. On a match day I, a 35-year-old woman, am as likely to find myself partnered against someone in their late fifties The rise of netball in the UK as a social sport is mirrored by success for England’s netballers here shown celebrating a third consecutive victory over world champions Australia. Photo courtesy of England Netball Working in a Transition Initiative means developing trust with people who you may know very little about. It can be hard work building trust, but without it you can’t progress. Hannah Davey says netball has a similar dynamic: There’s something wonderful about being in a team with people you trust, working towards the same goal. You each have an important role to play. Together you are strategic, you know what moves you need to make. Sometimes it’s difficult and stressful. You know you need each other. That’s as true for campaigning against fossil fuels or being part
of a Transition Initiative as it is for a team sport like netball, where each player is assigned a specific position and no one player is allowed to set foot in every part of the court. Without all seven players working together, it’s impossible to get the ball from one end of the court to the other. Netball is a team sport that anyone can play. It’s about fitness, timing and strategy rather than brute strength. And it’s ‘no contact’ - you can’t be closer than 90 cm to someone who has the ball. Some women may have less than happy memories of netball at school – all that waiting to be ‘picked’ by the captain and not
wanting to be last. But adult netball is very different – there’s a real understanding of the ‘we’ as opposed to the ‘I’ – it’s a cliché, but ‘team spirit’ is absolutely key. Netball is also increasingly a sport played by men alongside women, with more and more adult men playing in mixed teams in social leagues. And, whereas netball used to be seen by boys and teachers as a “girl’s game”, these days it’s on the rise in schools as a mixed sport, with the support of the game’s governing body, England Netball. But it’s the current popularity of netball among women that’s extraordinary. Every week over
“It felt like a real win when so many netballers engaged with my political life” as a 16-year-old. This might seem problematic, but in netball you play to your strengths. For example, older people have a magnificent economy of movement – making up for what they may lack in agility with experience and enviably efficient timing. I’m an environmental campaigner as well as a netball player – these things are usually quite separate. But when energy giant, EDF, recently tried to sue me and my No Dash For Gas colleagues for shutting down
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its power station, campaigning inevitably crept into every corner of my life, including netball! My club manager wrote a character reference for me for court – that’s a law court not a netball court! And, along with 64,000 infuriated members of the public, nearly everyone in my netball club signed a petition to tell EDF to drop its £5m lawsuit, which, ultimately, they did. It felt like a real win when so many netballers engaged with my political life. I’ve often wanted to be able to achieve in campaigns what I can with my netball team: we mix tactics and set-plays with fleet-footed flexibility. When we’re doing well, we feel we can do anything. Being part of a team requires tact and diplomacy, give and take. In my team – Britannia Royals in the London borough of Hackney - we’ve worked hard on how we communicate with each other, both on and off court. And with some of us having played together for years now, we can see our collective efforts paying off. We are a strong, happy, healthy community – one of the strongest I’ve ever experienced actually. So I’d encourage anyone to try netball – it’s arguably the ultimate team sport and great training for Transition! Hannah Davey is an environmental campaigner, freelance writer and graphic designer.
“Transition is a network of positive community responses to climate change and the need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, as well as an alternative to failing global economic systems” Transition Free Press is printed on 100% recycled non-chlorine bleached paper using non-toxic inks. Please recycle or compost. All content © 2013 Transition Free Press unless otherwise stated. Every effort has been made to contact the copyright holders for permission to use their work.
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Transition Free Press Issue 2 Summer 2013