TRANSITION www.transitionfreepress.org Issue No. 4 Winter 2013
NEWS: Quinoa It grows in the UK Page 3
Scott Permacultural finance Page 14
PEOPLE: Rosie Music on
community, wellbeing and Grow Heathrow Page 12
SPORT: Canoeing Up Transition creek Back page
Turning protests into solutions by Martin Grimshaw Something remarkable is happening in village halls across the country. According to the anti-fracking campaign, Frack Off, neighbours who barely knew each other have been rising up to meet the threat of drilling for shale gas under their homes. And in so doing they’ve been rediscovering a sense of community and becoming engaged in a climate and energy debate that was previously ‘Somebody Else’s Problem’. “Roughly a third of the UK was licensed to fracking companies five years ago, and nobody knew about it,” says Petra Faber of Frack Off. “Finding out that your village is in the middle of a potential drilling site is a scary thing, but the almost unanimous response from residents has been to get organised.” Will Cottrell, a long-time environmental campaigner who’s now Chair of Brighton Energy Co-op, says: “Fracking has to be in everyone’s backyard, because energy companies have to constantly drill new wells to keep the bubble from bursting.
But there’s a big opportunity now for ordinary people to engage directly with our energy challenge.” The government has changed the law and planning guidelines to fast-track fracking while making it harder for local residents to oppose drilling. Faber says: “People are now experiencing first-hand the limits of democracy, and are asking what alternatives might look like.”
“It’s happening everywhere. The time is now. This is time to wake up“ Comedian Russell Brand struck a popular chord with his call for revolution on BBC Newsnight. “The planet is being destroyed,” he fulminated. “We’re creating an underclass, we’re exploiting poor people all over the world and the genuine legitimate problems of the people are not being addressed by our political class.”
Activists and local residents join together peacefully to block fracking at Balcombe in West Sussex. Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Wire via AP Images
Brand points to the alternatives. And rides the zeitgeist. “The time is now,” he insists. “These movements are already occurring. It’s happening everywhere. The Occupy movement made a difference [by introducing] the
idea of the 1% versus the 99%.” Protest groups like Occupy and UK Uncut have successfully raised awareness about inequality and corporate tax avoidance. 350.org are campaigning against investment in fossil fuels. Avaaz gathers
online petitions numbering millions of signatures. Some protesters are moving into the solution space. Occupy Detroit set up Soulardarity, an enterprise re-illuminating with community-owned solar street
Streetbank, “but it’s the personal contact that follows that helps build the kind of trust people need in order to loan out their belongings.” She described her experience of loaning a clothes rail to a neighbour she hadn’t met before. In conversation, the neighbour mentioned she did speed-typing and offered to do some for Kate. There are obvious money-saving benefits to sharing stuff, but it’s these new relationships, this
Sharing stuff and skills via Streetbank.com
houses, or ‘steamies’ were common. They were a place to wash and dry clothes, but also a social hub, turning a tedious task into an opportunity to hang out with friends. Now, the Internet is making it easy to share, through a multitude of sites like Streetbank and Freeconomy, with almost anyone, from neighbours to strangers in another country. “Initial contact via the Internet makes sharing more immediately accessible,” says Kate Groves of
Sharing the future by Eva Schonveld
What do the following things have in common: pigs, sheep, bees, toys, a washing machine, a piano, plant cuttings, a viola, a bike, a guitar, a place to sleep, sourdough starter and a tortoise?
They’re all things that have been given, swapped or shared via local sharing networks, the latest way to use the power of your community to reduce your carbon impact. In the past, people expected to share more. Before we all owned our own washing machines, wash
CONT. PAGE 2
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NEWS pages 3-5 PEOPLE page 12 BOOKS page 13 ARTS page 16 FOOD pages 18-19 WELLBEING page 21 PRACTICAL page 22 SPORT back page
2 WELCOME 3-5 NEWS 6 MONEY 7 RECONOMY 8 ENERGY 9 WASTE 10 EDUCATION 11 TRANSITION ELSEWHERE 12 PEOPLE - Rosie Music 13 BOOKS 14-15 TALKBACK 16 ARTS 17 COMMUNITY 18-19 FOOD 20 TEXTILES 21 WELLBEING 22 PRACTICAL 23 PHYSICAL - & marketplace 24 SPORT
This is a moment in an invisible revolution. The moment we’ve been waiting for in our towns and neighbourhoods. Some of us protesting, some campaigning, some designing or digging, or singing to an apple tree on a cold midwinter’s day.
Editor Charlotte Du Cann News & Sports Alexis Rowell News & Sports Subeditor Nick Tigg Design Trucie Mitchell and Lynda Durrant Proofreaders Marion McCartney, Nick Tigg, Sheila Rowell Subscriptions Mike Grenville Distribution Mark Watson Business Manager Jay Tompt Contributors Inez Aponte, Tom Badley, Sophy Banks, Steph Bradley, Ruth BenTovim, Joanna Boehnert, Tom Broughton, Mal Chadwick, Collette Drayson, Hal Gilmore, Jonathan Goldberg, Jonny Gordon-Farleigh, Mike Grenville, Martin Grimshaw, Jo Hardy, Brian Harper, Rob Hopkins, Caroline Jackson, Gill Jacobs, Justin Kenrick, William Lana, Helena Laughton, Duncan Law, Dorothea Leber, Ian M, Steve Matthews, Josiah Meldrum, John Preston, Sam Quinn, Joe Rake, Chris Thornton, Jay Tompt, Colin Trier, Eva Schonveld, Brett Scott, Gemma Seltzer, Zoe Wangler, Suzie Webb, Jo Wheatley, Tilly Williams, Michaela Woollatt www.transitionfreepress.org
It’s a moment when we join up in our hearts and imaginations. When all our small endeavours cohere into a pattern - the shape and the sound of change within the collective. At the point where the world feels set to be destroyed by floods and hurricanes, by the diktat of a heartless and authoritarian government, by the land grabbing of global corporates, the fossil fuel industry and banks, something happens that no one expects. We stop believing the official cover-up story and start telling another one entirely: the one we know inside ourselves to be true. Transition Free Press has been all about telling that new story. Our aim was to report on the movement, to spread some wild and heirloom seeds in a dominant monoculture, to challenge the orthodoxy that the powerful are in charge of our lives and the ecosystems of the planet. Most of all it was to join the dots and show the emergent culture that is Transition and many other initiatives besides.
From the moment we pinned a map on the wall at the Transition Conference last year and invited initiatives to join our distribution team, it became clear we were not just doing this for ourselves. 100 Transition Initiatives and social enterprises have now distributed 60,000 copies of TFP in their communities; over 150 writers (mostly Transitioners) have reported and reflected on local projects. We’ve looked at the big picture and the small print, the blueprint and the practice, the science and the narrative. We’ve reported from Highland gatherings, from Barcelona squares and Japanese forests. From the ocean and the beehive. We’ve recorded the many voices of people engaging in this cultural shift, not just in their hearts and minds, but in their neighbourhoods. Here I am with my group in this community. You might not have a Community Supported Agriculture project in your town, but here we are with a CSA in Leicester. Here we are with an alternative currency in Brixton, a
Turning protests into solutions
Continued from front page
Russell Brand in Trafalgar Square at the Million Mask March. Photo by the Huffington Post
lamps neighbourhoods left dark by the city’s bankruptcy. And a group of Occupy Wall Street activists have been buying up personal debt on the financial markets and writing off loans to the poorest in US society. The UK ‘Solution Economy’ is also growing rapidly. Social enterprises are being founded at almost twice the rate of other types of business, according to the Social Enterprise Coalition. Since 2009, 150 renewable energy co-operatives have been
registered, and 37 have issued community share offers. Will Cottrell of Brighton Energy Coop says he went from being a protester to a ‘solutionista’ when he realised that: “If politicians aren’t going to do it, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.” There are solutions everywhere. Positive Money campaigns for the renationalisation of the money supply, to take it out of the hands of private banks. The Transition movement seeks to relocalise the
Wassail! by our staff photographer, Jonathan Goldberg. A modern twist on an ancient tradition to bless fruit trees and independent shopkeepers, organised by his local initiative, Transition Willesden, with a group of local poets and storytellers. Goldberg’s portraits for Transition Free Press have included beekeepers, apple collectors, the Brixton Pound and members of Grow Heathrow (see p12). www.jongoldberg.co.uk
community bakery in Dunbar. Here I am sharing my spade, my skill, my knowledge, in a united kingdom. Why do we want to continue into 2014? Because we feel that forging the invisible links that connect people and places is the proper business of media. It is not to divide the nation or pit one section of the population against another. It is not to distract or disillusion the people, but to face the truth of the matter and show how another world is possible and the ways we can create and maintain it.
Without communications we remain small, disconnected dots. With our own media we join up and become a network, a movement, a new story. The future of the people has to be together. You just have to see it. You just have to turn the page. With many thanks to everyone who has contributed, distributed, supported and read us during this year from us all in the TFP collective. See you in 2014!
economy. Zero Carbon Britain offers a template for removing fossil fuels from our lives. “We need to ask what sort of society we want to live in,” argues Danielle Paffard, of Zero Carbon Britain. “Prioritising common values we hold dear rather than material goals is more rewarding and enjoyable. Community engagement is fun. Humans thrive on interaction.” The Transition Network’s Delivery Director, Sarah McAdam, agrees. “It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the challenges we face,” she says, “but at a community level people can support each other and exert a real influence.” Russell Brand rails against the current political system and urges people to stop voting. Others have been turning away from Westminster and exploring DIY democracy: the civil society alliance, Citizens UK; the People’s Assemblies movement; the Open Democracy network; and the participatory democracy debate in Scotland. Francois Knuchel of SociocracyUK, who promote new forms of democracy in organisations, says: “We already see coalitions coming together
to make a collective impact around common aims, and that will increase. The future will be more bottom-up and localised, but also more networked.” Can anyone join up all the dots of hope, link the new protesters and the ‘solutionistas’, create a movement that sweeps away the old and brings in the new? Russell Brand? Occupy? The Transition movement? The Green Party? Perhaps the connections are already being made. In his book, Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken talks about a vast and largely unnoticed global rising of organisations, networks and social enterprises. They’re not necessarily co-ordinated, but they spontaneously respond to the same problems. And while extremely diverse, they’re connected as never before across the internet, and by common values like environmental, social justice and better democracy. In the words of Russell Brand: “There’s going to be a revolution. It’s totally going to happen. This is the end. This is time to wake up.”
Charlotte Du Cann, Editor-in-Chief
Martin Grimshaw promotes organisational democracy at There’s Better Ways Of Working. www.2bwow.org.uk.
Quinoa takes root in UK by Josiah Meldrum
Quinoa is a controversial foodstuff. It was known as the “mother of all grains” by the Incas, but it’s actually a seed from the goosefoot family of flowering plants (chenopodium), which includes spinach and beets, as well as those staples of British foraging, Good King Henry and fat hen. It was banned from the Andes by the Spanish Conquistadors, but Western demand may have done a better job of removing it from Latin American homes – the price has trebled on world food markets in the last six years. It’s prized by many as a healthy alternative to meat and to coeliacs because it’s gluten-free. Its also packed with amino acids but, according to some campaigners, it’s being replaced in Bolivian and Peruvian diets by cheap imported junk food. Perhaps most surprising of all, this ancient Andean superfood can be grown in the UK. Essex farmer Peter Fairs has actually been growing quinoa since 1985. Back then, few had heard of it, let alone eaten what was to become a ubiquitous part of the health-conscious Westerner’s diet. Peter recalls giving away 1,500 sample packs of his home-grown quinoa at a food show in 1989 to no avail. “Looking back,” he says, “the public weren’t quite ready for it and so, despite our efforts, it didn’t take off.” But Peter didn’t give up.
Recognising the dietary and agricultural benefits of quinoa, he continued to develop his own strains, selecting the best plants each year, saving the seed and replanting.
“There’s room in the world for both British and Andean farmers of quinoa” “Quinoa is actually fairly easy to grow and needs few inputs, but it’s tricky to harvest because you need excellent weather in mid-September,” he says. “More problematically, many varieties produce high levels of saponins – bitter tasting, soapy chemicals – which protect the seeds. These need to be removed. That’s a complex and technically challenging process.” In recent years Peter has been working with Hodmedod, a company sourcing and supplying British staples like peas and beans, which grew out of Transition Norwich’s Resilient Food Project.
The partnership has identified ways to clean Peter’s high saponin quinoa and hopes to begin selling his 2013 harvest soon. Back in the Andes, there’s confusion about whether locals are being priced out of quinoa. Some say it’s mostly being exported in response to rising world prices. But the Bolivian government says its people are eating more quinoa not less. What’s clear is that exports have allowed Bolivian farmers to increase their monthly income from around US$35 to over US$220. However, that has to be weighed against the risks of creating an unsustainable global market on the back of cheap fossil fuels. Peter Fairs thinks there’s room in the world for both British and Andean farmers of quinoa. “If Bolivia and Peru can add value,” he says, “by processing, securing Fair Trade and organic certifications and by using their status as the home of quinoa, then they can ensure quinoa can be grown sustainably in the Andes for another few thousand years, as well as earning an income for farmers and feeding their communities.” Josiah Meldrum is a member of Sustainable Bungay and a Director of Hodmedod. www.hodmedods.co.uk
Quinoa is easy to grow in the UK but hard to harvest. Photo by Josiah Meldrum
SolarAid have sold 700,000 solar lamps in East Africa, replacing smoky, expensive-to-run kerosene lanterns with clean, reliable solar alternatives. Photo by SolarAid
It’s happening! by Mal Chadwick Did you know that in Bangladesh, a new solar panel is installed every 90 seconds? That the average American drives 960 fewer miles per year than they did in 2004? That Liverpool Council has just created the city’s first new allotments since the Second World War? There’s no shortage of bad news on climate change, and in the face of all this, it’s easy to overlook the good stuff: technological breakthroughs; ambitious projects succeeding against the odds; new laws and infrastructure that make it easier to do the right thing. The good things that are being done barely scratch the surface of global emissions for the moment, but their value can’t be measured in tonnes or kilowatts alone. What these small victories offer is a sense of possibility. And if we’re serious about reengineering industrial civilisation in the space of a few decades, that’s something we just can’t do without. But for this to work, people need to see the good stuff happening, and understand how it all fits together. That’s why the 10:10 Campaign has created the #itshappening project. It’s a showcase of the best climate success stories from around
the world – with small personal triumphs and huge global trends lined up side by side. Translated from climate-ese and given some visual fairy dust, the individual stories look pretty impressive. But together, they add up to something much bigger: the first glimpse of a better world taking shape.
“People need to see the good stuff happening, and understand how it all fits together” Nobody thinks that these things alone are enough, or that the low carbon transition will take care of itself. Every project needs to scale up; every trend needs to accelerate, and all this needs to pave the way for better structures and systems. So #itshappening is a reminder that although there’s a huge job ahead of us, we’ve got some fantastic tools to work with. Mal Chadwick is Content and Community Manager at the 10:10 Campaign. To see the latest #itshappening stories (and submit your own), visit www.1010global.org/ itshappening.
Why “Yes” may win in Scotland Justin Kenrick in Edinburgh
Opinion polls in Scotland consistently suggest people will vote “No” and reject independence in the September 2014 referendum by a margin of around 20%. “It’s in the bag,” trumpets the antiindependence camp, which includes most UK politicians and all broadcasters and newspapers. However, as political analyst Professor John Curtice has pointed out, when polls ask respondents in Scotland “Do you agree or disagree that Scotland could be a successful independent country?” 52% say “yes” while only 37% say the contrary. And when asked “Who do you trust to make the best decisions for Scotland: the Scottish government or the Westminster government?” people overwhelmingly say the Scottish government, by 60% to 16%. So it’s perfectly likely that once people actually have to choose, the referendum result will be “Yes” to independence. And if it is, that will probably be because Scots have been repulsed rather than persuaded by the political values of Thatcher, Blair and Cameron, which contrast sharply with those of Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party. Salmond’s popularity in Scotland far outstrips that of the Westminster party leaders. The approval ratings of Cameron, Miliband and Clegg are firmly negative, but Salmond is in positive territory with the Scottish electorate, even after six years in power. The SNP leader’s reputation is built on solid social democratic foundations. He stood firmly against Thatcher, who outraged Scotland in 1988 by quoting St
Paul’s “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” to the Church of Scotland, at a time when 2.5 million people were unemployed. Salmond was at the forefront of protests against the Poll Tax, which was road-tested on the Scots without their consent. The consequences for the Tories were severe – Thatcher ultimately had to resign and, in the 1997 UK election, all Scottish Conservative MPs were ejected from Parliament. A few months later Labour gave Scotland the chance to vote on devolution and they took it – 75% to 25%. But any gratitude Scots may have felt towards Blair was erased by the Iraq war, which heightened the sense of democratic betrayal at the heart of rising support for the SNP. Salmond memorably described Blair as “a man who
Flying the flag for progressive politics at the 2012 Occupy protests in Edinburgh. Photo by Gordon Terris
on relatively progressive values – at least by comparison with Westminster politics. The SNP welcomes refugees and immigrants, rejects tuition fees, rejects the privatisation of
“When asked ‘Who do you trust to make the best decisions for Scotland?’ people overwhelmingly say the Scottish government” buried the information that was inconvenient, manipulated the intelligence that was convenient, and entered into a secret pact with the American president to go to war come what may.” Since 2007, Salmond’s party has built a reputation for competent government based
the NHS and the bedroom tax, provides personal care for the elderly, promises to renationalise Royal Mail and rejects nuclear weapons. It has ruled out new nuclear power stations, strengthened the Scottish planning system to prevent fracking and is developing a renewables sector
Sharing the future
Photos (p1 & p4) by Streetbank.com
community building that is the real prize. This is all evidence of a social shift from ownership to access, where people identify themselves less with the things that they own, more with the things that they do. For some, there’s income in sharing – in economically challenging times, earning cash from an unused asset makes a lot of sense, though as the ‘collaborative consumption economy’ evolves it inevitably
raises some tricky issues. In San Francisco, home of Airbnb – the community website you can use to rent out your spare room, sofa, or treehouse – the city council is considering banning people from participating, claiming “some Airbnb hosts are running virtual hotels, packing homes with throngs of visitors whose sheer presence alters the community feel.” So why share for free, if you could get cash? For Mark Boyle, author
that is estimated to have a quarter of Europe’s tidal and offshore wind resource potential. The SNP even occasionally offers inspiration. Prompted by the Scottish Green Party, Salmond introduced a Climate Challenge Fund, which channels £10m a year into community resilience building and carbon cutting initiatives. Meanwhile, the Scottish Land Fund has a budget of £2m a year to help rural communities to regain ownership of their lands. The story of the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections is worth bearing in mind. Two months before the election, Labour led the SNP in the opinion polls (44% to 29%), but the final result
was an overwhelming victory for the SNP. When Scots vote for the Westminster parliament they back Labour (in the hope of blocking a Conservative government), whereas in Holyrood elections the biggest vote is for the SNP. That is because – in terms of actual policies – the SNP is currently seen to embody Scottish social democratic values, whereas Labour no longer does. Justin Kenrick is a member of Portobello Transition Town in Edinburgh. In the next issue of TFP, Justin will look at why a vote for Scottish independence may not translate into an SNP win at the subsequent Scottish elections.
Continued from front page of The Moneyless Manifesto, the answer is to do with how we view ourselves and our relationships: “If you consider that you’re a collection of elements (such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen) coalescing out of, interacting with and dissolving back into the rest of Earth and its biosphere, then how could you charge another part of the whole for some goods or services you offer? It would be akin to your finger charging your head for scratching it, as if the
finger’s entire wellbeing wasn’t based on the health and happiness of the head.” To put it another way, sharing gives us a taste of a life in which we can all care and be cared for, not just by our nearest and dearest, but by our wider community. Now, anyone know where I can borrow a pig? Eva Schonveld is a member of Portobello Transition Town in Edinburgh.
Colorado floods – US in denial Dr. Joanna Boehnert, formerly of Transition Town Brixton, moved to Boulder, Colorado, just as catastrophic floods hit the area. She sent us this analysis of how extreme weather is affecting climate awareness in the United States. I arrived just in time for the epic flood in early September. A slowmoving cold front stalled over Colorado, clashing with warm humid monsoonal air from the south. This resulted in heavy rain and flooding spread across a range of almost 200 miles. Boulder County received more rainfall in six days than it normally gets in a year. My tiny home in Nederland just outside Boulder was undamaged but water from the mountains flowed down nearby Boulder Creek at up to 25 times normal intensity. The canyon road from my town into Boulder was badly damaged not only by mud and rockslides but by the erosion of its foundations as the earth
extreme weather events are powerful learning opportunities on the risks associated with climate change. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to assume this kind of learning is happening en masse in the US at the moment.
“I experienced the flood as a visceral demonstration of the dangers of a changing climate” The end of the road in Berthoud, Colorado. Photo by Lornay Hansen/CIRES
dissolved into the river. Behind the statistics are thousands of stories and personal tragedies: eight people killed and more than 11,000 evacuated; 1,500 homes destroyed and 18,000 more damaged; 30 bridges lost and countless damaged roads and railway tracks. Witnessing the torrential rainfall that ripped up local roads and houses, I experienced the flood as a visceral demonstration of the
dangers of a changing climate. The experience made the facts sink in a bit deeper. When the weather dramatically disrupts normal routines, it can shatter assumptions about how much our technology and infrastructure can provide for and protect us. Suddenly we need to focus on basic survival – and looking out for each other. Forced by dramatic circumstances out of our comfort zone,
Despite recent record-breaking heat waves and extreme precipitation, severe droughts, super storms, hurricanes and forest fires, the vast majority of Americans remain reluctant to take the dangers of a changing climate seriously. According to opinion polls, most Americans do accept that global warming is happening. However, the proportion agreeing that climate change is ‘mostly human caused’ is only 49%. More disturbingly, just 13% of Americans understand that ‘81%100% of climate scientists think
Would you like electricity that’s local and natural?
global warming is happening’. Fox News is only one of the more extreme culprits on the spectrum of irresponsible media outlets fostering misinformation about the climate. Extreme weather could be a catalyst for change, but it will not necessarily help people understand that manmade climate change is happening, nor help individuals develop new capacities to do something about it. Reliable information on climate change is a basic starting point, but it is rarely enough to move from apathy to action. What’s needed is a holistic approach to climate awareness, such as that developed by the Transition movement, which helps individuals to confront disturbing information via a network of peers while simultaneously developing new capacities for action. Dr. Joanna Boehnert is a visiting research fellow working on climate communication and the green economy at the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.
At Good Energy, we get our electricity from clean, green sources like Cornish sunshine, Scottish wind and Welsh rain. We always have done and always will. We’ve also been voted top of the Which? customer satisfaction survey for energy suppliers three out of the last four years. And we could be lighter on your pocket as well the planet. Switch quoting Transition by 31st January and we’ll give you £25 off your first bill. We’ll donate £25 to them too.
Image: Delabole Wind Farm One of three 2.3MW turbines Delabole, Cornwall
Moving on from the Co-op by Alexis Rowell
using the alternatives.” A few credit unions – like Bristol – offer current accounts with online access and debit cards, but the vast majority don’t. Ciaran Mundy, Director of the Bristol Pound, nevertheless urges everyone to join their local credit unions and “help them to grow and develop their services”. “Of course this has to start small,” says Mundy, “but, in time, credit unions, genuinely membership-focused mutuals and local currencies can help to restructure the economic system.” Mick Brown of Robert Owen Community Banking in Wales, which tries to bridge the gap between the credit
More than four million people have switched bank account in the UK since the beginning of 2012, according to the Move Your Money campaign. That’s revolutionary in a country which has traditionally had a low switching rate for banking.
For the ethical saver there are plenty of options. The Ecological Building Society, Triodos Bank, your local community renewables company; the list is long and worthy. But the revolution is going less well if you want a truly ethical current account, with online access and a card to take cash out of the wall – especially now that the Co-op has been infiltrated by those bogeymen of global finance, the hedge funds. The Salvation Army’s Reliance Bank is Move Your Money’s top-ranked national current account and might appeal to those who don’t mind surpluses being spent on evangelism. But the Salvation Army also doesn’t support gay rights or abortion, and it participates in the government’s controversial Workfare scheme. Plus it says it’s simply not geared up for taking on thousands of former Co-op account holders. The Nationwide is still a mutual, but in
A spoof advert from the Move Your Money campaign website.
the year to April 2013 it paid its Chief Executive £2.26m, 80 times the organisation’s average salary. It’s the same story at the two national
“The Nationwide is a mutual but it paid its Chief Executive 80 times the average salary” building societies which top the Move Your Money list of best current accounts – Coventry and Leeds. And Leeds isn’t really offering a current account because you can’t have a debit card and you can’t access your account online.
Laura Willoughby of Move Your Money acknowledges there are no perfect current account providers. “The big problem is the back-end payments system that the big banks own and therefore monopolise,” she says. “That prices Triodos and others out of the current account market. The government needs to sort that out.” Brett Scott, author of The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance, says: “It’s a chicken and egg situation. Too few people currently use alternatives, and so alternatives struggle to get the revenues which would allow them to develop further. To break that feedback loop you need a critical mass of people to start
“Use the banks for what’s free to you but costs them!” union sector and conventional finance, agrees: “People should put their money where their mouth is if they think the system is corrupt and needs changing,” he says. “Use the banks for what’s free to you – like cheques – but costs them! Put the rest of your money through a credit union or a small mutual. We need to think more laterally.” Alexis Rowell is News and Sports Editor of Transition Free Press and a member of Transition Town Lewes.
The art of making money by Tom Badley I’ve always loved to make money. I designed banknotes in school and released them, one by one, into the playground. They were still being passed around before I left for secondary school. These first endeavours were crude black and white photocopies. When I discovered real banknotes are produced first in large format, I took my early attempts to a printer to have them scaled down. This was long before I had access to Photoshop. Over two decades later, I’ve initiated the Sustainable Currency Project to work with communities who are implementing their own affirmative solution to the global economic crisis. Britain already has a rich history of local currencies. While working at Spink, the auctioneers, I helped catalogue part of the
David Kirch Collection of English Provincial Banknotes – the largest collection of privately issued, locally circulating paper money, with notes from every corner of Britain. With enthusiasm for alternative currencies exploding, the urgency of the projects can sometimes make the artwork an afterthought. Communities may approach a local designer, who will usually paste together offthe-shelf graphics and re-worked Internet images – not consistent with the radical gesture of launching a new currency. I begin with the same brief: alternative currencies may be local, provisional or temporary, but there’s no reason why they should look so; they should communicate the aspirations of the community, and have a
design quality that conveys trust and permanence. The banknote is the ultimate artwork. It epitomises bespoke design, yet it’s printed in the order of millions; it has to be of the highest quality, yet it’s a very personal object, being handled, smelt, kept close to the body; it has to be familiar and easily recognisable, even for the visually impaired, yet with enough detail to discourage forgery; a banknote is ubiquitous, yet sought-after. Currency design is extremely specialist, so the scope for radical design is wide open. Sometimes groups have very specific ideas; more experimental groups will let the artist roam free. However strong a client’s idea might be, the quality is assured by a dedicated artist. Another overlooked aspect:
marketing costs can quickly escalate. A good design sells itself, helping to save time, money and effort on selling the idea to potential angel investors and the public. A banknote could just be a piece of paper that solves a practical problem, or it could be the expression of a community’s aspiration to transcend our narrow cultural crisis. With that said, while I do not consider paper money to be a panacea, one thing is sure: paper is privacy – a rare commodity today. As a society, we’re facing a fork in the road as to what level of privacy we’re prepared to give away. Many
of us will have to decide which side of the line we stand on, and central to that discussion is the medium of money. I like to be surprised. Like returning to school and finding my pieces of paper being passed around, one experiment today could find an unexpected application tomorrow. Tom Badley is an artist and writer currently living in London. You can read more about The Sustainable Currency Project on the web at sustainablecurrency. blogspot.com and about Tom here www.tombadley.net.
All images of currency notes designed by Tom Badley
reconomy Lambeth REthinks and RElocalises by Duncan Law
A drop-in draught busting workshop in Brixton’s Library. Photo by Transition Town Brixton
David Fleming, Transition thinker, said: “Localisation stands, at best, at the limits of practical possibility, but it has the decisive argument in its favour that there will be no alternative.” This wonderful formulation expresses well how difficult localisation can be – but fails to point out the many benefits it may bring. The REconomy Project’s ‘economic evaluations’ seek to assess precisely this – the size of the prize to be had from localisation, with particular focus on food and energy. We started the project Re-Thinking
Lambeth’s Local Economy with a few locals and a leaky bucket. This metaphor, coined by the new economics foundation (nef), represents the local economy: resources flowing in and leaking out. Lots of wealth flows into Lambeth – 68% of employed people in the borough work in professional roles outside the borough – but most of it flows straight out again. For instance, 93% of all domestic food purchases are made with the big supermarket chains, amounting to about £373m a year. Of that, 90% leaves the borough down long supply chains. Money spent in independent local
businesses, especially if they source locally, can create 2-4 times more real value for local people than money spent in chains. This is nef’s local multiplier effect. Our participants were startled at the ‘free value’ for local people if we can organise to spend more locally. Localising just 10% of the supermarket spend, £37m, could more than double the turnover of local independent food businesses, bringing several million pounds and more jobs into the local community. The action plan for Lambeth focuses on creating awareness of this, supporting local food businesses in winning more of the borough’s food spend, getting more food growing and reducing food waste. The Lambeth Food Partnership and Incredible Edible Lambeth are already doing this, connecting 170 community food-growing projects like the pioneering Lambeth Poly, who grow high value crops under plastic on housing estates and sell them for Brixton Pounds to Brixton Cornercopia, a local food business that insists on local sourcing. But getting your energy locally is not so easy. Lambeth residents spend about £64m a year on gas and about £67m on electricity, almost all of which, inevitably, goes to the big six energy companies. About 60% of our existing housing stock is solid walled and difficult to heat, and though external or internal wall insulation is expensive, as energy prices rise it could make the difference between affordable
and unaffordable housing. The payback is as little as 15 years and the work could generate more than £100m-worth of local employment. We already have TTB Community Draught Busters offering low cost, highly effective energy saving. On a larger scale, Brixton Energy and Repowering London have installed three community-owned solar arrays, creating a model for community financing and a real local energy supply.
“Money spent in independent local businesses can create 2-4 times as much real value as money spent in chains” The REconomy Project has helped us make a credible case for community-led economic development in Lambeth. We can use the data to talk to our local councillors and businesses in their own language, and show them there is a viable solution to some of our economic problems. It’s an economic strategy that’s realistic, achievable, and has enormous social and economic benefits. Duncan Law is a member of Transition Town Brixton. The REconomy Project helps Transition Initiatives transform their local economy, growing more enterprises like this.
Joining economics with wellbeing by Inez Aponte and Jay Tompt In recent years, ‘happiness’ and ‘wellbeing’ have become part of the agenda for advocates of sustainable economic development, re-localisation, and macro-economic reform. While most activists would point to the example set in Bhutan and their Gross National Happiness index, few would be familiar with the work of Chilean economist, Manfred Max-Neef, whose work has been quietly influential in the field. His most well-known proclamation – “The economy is to serve the people, and not the people to serve the economy” – is surely one that will resonate with all Transitioners. Max-Neef developed a theory of fundamental human needs in his 1990 book, Human Scale Development. Since then it’s been influencing grassroots development work around the world. Now, Transition activists are finding that it provides a holistic model for integrating wellbeing and behaviour change with economic relocalisation. If the purpose of the economy is to satisfy human needs, what are they and who decides how they are satisfied? According to Max-Neef, there are nine fundamental human needs: subsistence, protection, identity, participation, affection, leisure, understanding, creation and freedom. While these needs are the same across time and cultures, the strategies used to satisfy them – which Max-Neef terms “satisfiers” – will vary. This key insight allows us to analyse and
consider alternative ways of meeting a need without criticising the need itself. When needs are well-satisfied there is wellbeing, but when they are poorly satisfied, poverties arise, which can lead to individual and social problems. There’s much more to this model of course, but a fundamentally important insight for Transition activists is understanding the dynamic between needs and satisfiers. People will seek to satisfy their needs, even if the only available options might harm their ability to meet other needs, or harm the ability of others to meet their needs. This awareness can lead activists to design projects and advocate policies that meet lots of needs at the same time. And the model as a whole provides a framework for re-conceptualising local economics in terms of satisfying needs according to community-defined values. Max-Neef is now 81 but he continues to work. He’s currently advising the government of Bhutan on their New Development Paradigm initiative, and runs the Human Scale Development and Ecological Economics Masters course at the Austral University of Chile. As the conventional economy becomes less and less able to provide human-scale solutions, and interest in wellbeing and happiness increases, Max-Neef’s work is becoming more influential. As he once said: “No matter how hostile the environment in which we are working is, we must never cease to insist that development is about people and not about objects.
A Well and Good workshop session. Photo by Jay Tompt
The aim of development must be neither producerism nor consumerism, but the satisfaction of fundamental human needs, which are not only needs of humanity, but needs of being as well.” Jay Tompt and Inez Aponte of Transition Town Totnes co-founded the Well & Good Project, which delivers training – including the work of Manfred Max-Neef – that empowers communities to take action on improving their social, environmental and economic conditions.
e n e r g y
Germany proves renewables can power the future
Homes trace heat loss by Brian Harper
by Tom Broughton At midday on Thursday 3rd October 2013, solar and wind power installations produced 59.1% of Germany’s electricity demand or 34.6 GW, as much as 27 nuclear power stations. More than half of that peak came from solar, which is astonishing given Germany is not exactly a top ten destination for holidays in the sun. But Germany has installed 35% of the world’s photovoltaic panels (PVs) and is third behind China and the US in terms of wind capacity. This remarkable renewables boom is starting to drive down the country’s wholesale electricity prices. On a recent fact-finding trip with Lewes community renewables company Ovesco, I saw evidence everywhere of how renewables can supply our energy needs. In the words of Ovesco’s Chris Rowland: “I’ve seen the future and it’s German!” According to the German Energy Association, a quarter of the country’s electricity now comes from renewables, and the government says 370,000 people were employed in the industry in 2010. This energy and employment bonanza has been developed on the back of pioneering policies to encourage investment in the technologies. Germany’s ‘100,000 roofs’ initiative, which began in 1999, encouraged private homes to fit PV panels. In 2000 the government initiated a much-
emulated feed-in tariff that paid installers a premium for generating renewable energy and brought down the price of solar panels. The contrast with what’s happening in Britain is stark. Wind turbine companies like Vestas have abandoned this country because it’s simply too difficult to get planning permission for wind farms. In 2012, the Feed-in Tariff was unexpectedly cut, putting many solar companies out of business. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles recently made it harder
“I’ve seen the future and it’s German!” for onshore wind farms to secure planning permission and now he’s doing the same for solar. “Has the political world gone mad?” asks Chris Rowland. “In Germany electricity prices are coming down because there’s so much renewable energy hitting the grid. Over here the government’s making it harder and harder to invest in wind and solar. And now we’re going to pay Chinese investors double the current price of electricity for new nuclear power? Where’s the stability for renewables and the security of future energy supply for our communities?” An estimated 15% of Germany’s renewables are
owned in community schemes. There are nearly 600 energy co-ops, a figure that has quadrupled in just three years. In Berlin an energy co-op is even seeking to take over and run the electricity grid of the city. In Viernau, a village of 2,000 inhabitants I visited with Ovesco, nearly half the electricity demand is met by solar power. The laudable ambition of the village mayor is to produce all the electricity the village needs using PV panels. Transition Initiatives are well placed to encourage their communities to emulate this and invest collectively in renewable energy generation. Ovesco, formed out of Transition Town Lewes, now owns nearly 200 kW of PV. Several Transition Initiatives have contributed to the formation of a new umbrella organisation, Community Energy South, set up to encourage community energy projects. Germany has proved that it can be done. The one obstacle we face is the UK government, which mouths platitudes about community renewables but seems hell-bent on putting obstacles in their path. That’s why we need to spread the word about what’s happening in Germany. So let’s step up, speak out and take control of our energy supply. Tom Broughton is a member of Transition Chichester.
Wind turbines in the snowy fields around Germany’s first energy self-sufficient village – Feldheim, just outside Berlin. Feldheim has its own grid and generates electricity for its 150 residents from wind turbines and solar panels. Photo by Flickr/El Mundo Economia & Negocios
Image showing heat loss (reds and yellows) due to poor insulation. Photo by Calford Seaden
Most of us live in housing with high energy consumption. So, if you’re keen to reduce bills and carbon emissions, where do you go for advice?
You might try the Energy Saving Trust, local councils or Transition websites. You could attempt to look at the construction of your house and take advice from computer models based on laboratory tests and averaged building measurements. Or you might pay for a home energy inspector to look, measure, ask questions and use another computer model to give you a diagnosis. Unfortunately these are all rather inaccurate, particularly for older houses. There is no average home (and no average occupier with average behaviour). The best way to find your energy loss is to ‘see it’ and then measure it. The technology exists to do this: thermal imaging, pressure testing, meters to measure humidity, damp, electricity, gas, water. There’s just one hitch: it’s expensive, costing hundreds of pounds per house and requiring up to three ‘experts’. However, there is another way that costs far less and engages everyone in the process. In co-operation with local community groups, and supported by Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, we at Energy Tracers have developed a process that diagnoses the problems of each individual house in two hours at a cost of just £60. It’s part business, part Transition community, and works via what we call community Hotspotters. A Hotspotter is a key Transition volunteer, who arranges for three friends’ or neighbours’ houses to be surveyed on the same day as their own. The first survey trains the Hotspotter, who then helps the surveyor with each subsequent house. The process is simple. A ‘blower door’ device is fitted to the front door which the seals the opening and has a fan which sucks air into the house from wherever it can enter - crucially revealing the location of draughts. A special thermal camera sees the draughts as cold streaks and also shows insulation loss. We make a film of all this, with commentary, which takes about 40 minutes. Other monitoring equipment such as a CO2 data logger or humidity meter are used if needed. The homeowner gets a DVD of the film as a reference and we give a 20 minute advice session. We leave the householder with an Energy Monitoring Action Pack, so they can monitor electric, gas and water consumption, and there’s a DVD guide showing how to eliminate draughts, insulate, add secondary glazing and so on. Does this make any difference? Surveys show it does – 80% of participants take action within three months. After three years of development, we’re now ready to help those outside Malvern with equipment and training so please do get in touch if you’re interested. Brian Harper is a member of Transition Malvern Hills and Managing Director of Sight Designs Ltd, a small electro optic company specialising in imaging and gaslight. Anyone interested in Energy Tracers can contact him via sightdesigns@ talk21.com.
Transition Town Totnes Arts Network ran a competition to find the best, and most beautiful, functional and fun compost loos. Categories included lowest maintenance design, the most innovative solution, and best view from a loo. The pictures above are of some of the inspiring entries.
Proposed incinerator A proper waster now at tipping point by Mike Grenville
by John Preston Three years ago, plans to construct a waste incineration plant downwind of Kings Lynn were unveiled in a major PR effort by Norfolk County Council (NCC) and multinational corporation Cory Wheelerbrator. Waste incineration burns household and commercial waste, then processes the ‘bottom ash’ and ‘fly ash’, both highly toxic residues. Fly ash is typically made into concrete blocks for building and bottom ash is taken to hazardous waste sites and dumped down disused salt mines in Staffordshire. It is possible to generate electricity from the incinerator’s heat, but in this case there was no deal to supply electricity to the grid or nearby industry. The term ‘energy from waste’ became the applicant’s favourite euphemism. Further bold claims described this as ‘renewable energy’. These plans spelled a crisis for West Norfolk and called for an urgent response, as all officialdom seemed at one with the idea. Sometimes a crisis has a wonderfully enlivening effect on communities. Transition Kings Lynn effectively became a relentless and all consuming anti-incinerator campaign, Kings Lynn Without Incineration (KLWIN). Downham and Villages in Transition (DAVIT) became split over how to engage with the issue and lent their creative edge by writing songs and organising flash mobs. Local media joined the campaign as it became clear that this development was locally
very unpopular. This upsurge led to West Norfolk Borough Council calling an unprecedented referendum. 65,000 people voted No to the incinerator (97% of the votes cast), apparently the most emphatic result in the history of democracy. Three days later Norfolk County Council dismissed the result and elected to press on with the plan. The campaign uncovered disturbing health and other issues
“It was a crisis of governance, a crisis of waste and a crisis of energy” to do with the proposed plant. As the exhaust cools in the stack, dioxins are discharged into the environment (there is no safe level of dioxins for living organisms and all incinerators emit them). Secondly, waste incineration is a more expensive option than recycling, and zero waste strategies don’t get a look in. Lastly NCC were acting without a mandate (to put it mildly). When locked into an adversarial campaign the opportunity for working with causes rather than symptoms gets very little room. The public discussion gets framed as Incineration versus Landfill. Recycling is the obvious compromise solution. This ignores the issue that either method is dependent on a quota of waste being available to the contractor, and therefore
discouraging waste reduction. A public enquiry about the incinerator was forced upon NCC and Cory. Held in Kings Lynn, it gave voice to many individuals’ and local community groups’ feelings about the proposal and the crisis we as a culture face regarding waste and energy. DAVIT stated the incinerators were dependent on an abundance of cheap oil throughout the chain of its activity, including the energy-dense products they burn, “the plastics used in food packaging and plastic drink containers. These are oil-based products and therefore subject to the economies of oil supply.” Despite the government’s recent withdrawal of PFI funding for the build, NCC have elected to continue. Having signed a £20million cancellation clause with Cory, they face huge financial loss. Once again money speaks louder than the wishes of people and waste becomes a ‘commodity’ in the ‘marketplace’. After 65,000 voting No Incinerator, it seems ironic that one man in Westminster, minister for ‘localism’, Eric Pickles, has the final call. His planning decision will be announced in February. That may be the end, or we may have to become even more creative. John Preston (DAVIT) lives in Stoke Ferry, Norfolk in a hand-made straw and wood house and plays and writes for The John Preston Tribute Band. Their latest album The Full Catastrophe has just been released. He likes Zen, spinach and The Fall.
While it may have been Napoleon who said that an army marches on its stomach, no-one it seems wants to be credited with realising that a camp needs good loos! When test drilling for fracking near Balcombe began in July, a protest camp soon grew outside the gates with day-tripping locals and people with tents coming to stay. Thanks to Greenpeace’s generosity, portaloos provided a temporary convenient solution, but the camp looked set to last a lot longer than was intended for chemical loos. Initially reluctant to get involved, I found myself taking on the project to get compost loos installed. A compost loo is a process, not a thing. With a portaloo all you have to do is raise the funds and a company takes care of everything - just like the ‘flush and forget’ loos in our homes. Fortunately Lush cosmetics offered funds to build a set of compost loos, but finding land nearby that would take the humanure to be composted proved difficult. Next was to find someone with a vehicle that could (and would) transport the wheelie bins with humanure and pee bales. Installed just in time, the loos then had to be looked after daily, topped up with sawdust and emptied regularly. In the end the compost loos were not only much appreciated by the campers, but envied by the hundreds of police there who were obliged to use their own smelly chemical toilets. One of the myths about compost loos is that they smell, but it is only the urine that smells. These loos, custom made by local craftsman Casparo Brown, directed the pee onto straw bales with the solids going into wheelie bins. Users throw
in a handful of sawdust to assist the composting process. Once or twice a week the pee bales were put into wheelie bins and together with the solids bins were taken offsite and tipped into a composter. The peefilled straw was then combined with the sawdust-mixed solids and will be left to compost for two years before being used. The beauty of a compost loo system is that it completes the cycle of life by converting the output into a useful resource, unlike our sewage system that treats it as waste. With future water supplies uncertain and about a third of our domestic water consumption literally going down the pan, exploring compost loos is something communities building resilience should consider. With the government giving “the most generous tax regime for shale in the world”, making new planning guidance so drilling sites can’t be refused (while allowing objections to windfarms to block them), and granting licences to frack across most of the UK countryside, the chances of fracking coming to a field near you are quite high. So although ignoring it probably won’t be an option, there are many ways Transition Initiatives can respond. This can range from direct involvement in the protest, or engaging in practical projects such as compost loos, through to building on the interest in energy that fracking stimulates to set up Community Energy projects. Mike Grenville is a funeral celebrant and ‘end-of-life doula’. He is editor of the Transition Network monthly newsletter and active in Transition Forest Row. 9
New school success for Swanage Four years ago the community of Swanage and its villages were faced with school closures that would result in all children over the age of 11 having to travel at least 20 miles a day to school – a depressing and unsustainable future for the Isle of Purbeck town. With school closures other facilities also become vulnerable. Collette Drayson reports on how a group called Education Swanage found a better way. Our idea was to open a secondary school which would be genuinely inclusive, reconnect young people with their community, reduce the need to travel and increase the resilience and sustainability of our town. We worked collaboratively with Swanage Town Council and Purbeck District Council. Unfortunately the County Council dismissed our idea of a new secondary school as an impossible dream. But we were determined. We contacted The Small Schools Network, Human Scale Education and The Co-operative Trust for advice. At this time the government were offering direct funding for Free Schools – academy schools proposed and created by groups of parents, teachers or community groups. Chair of Governors, Paul Angel explains: “Even putting in a proposal takes a huge amount of work, and each proposal must prove the need for the new school, and the financial viability of the plan. The merits of every free school proposal are best judged according to the local situation – some are a response to having too few spaces available, some because a large number of people want a different ethos, and some (as in Swanage) to having no school at all.”
On the second day of term the students experienced rock-climbing and coasteering from local shores, coming face to face with a seal. Photo courtesy of Education Swanage
We planned a small school along human scale and co-operative lines where every student would be valued and well known, enabling an individual learning pathway. We wanted a school where the students would be at the heart of the school, and the school be at the heart of the community. To have an ethos where values, caring for each other and the environment mattered. Durlston Country Park offered an ‘outdoor classroom’ to enable integration of the humanities and hands-on learning. When the application was accepted an incredible 330 teachers applied for 10 teaching posts and The Swanage School finally opened on 4th September 2013. In the Spring term the school will move into new buildings and open its doors to 420 students (as well as to adult education).
Students suffer from fee effect by Joe Rake
During the last two decades, the governments of many countries across the world have been shifting the cost of higher education from the state to the student. This trend is partly down to the growing pressure on public budgets in the aftermath of the financial crisis, but also represents the increasing ideological influence of conservative economists and politicians with elitist perspectives which are eliminating the chance of selfadvancement through education. As noted by the ‘Really Open University’ project, the result is “that universities are now run as businesses, with students
as consumers and lecturers as creators of products. Knowledge has become a commodity that can be bought and sold; its ‘value’ determined by its ability to generate further private profit.” A student from Leeds University, Robbie, told me about a shift which has taken place in the last year, as debt has become a bigger factor than ever in the minds of students. This has meant “more of a focus on job prospects, with a phrase that keeps coming up: ‘is it CV-able?’” Increasingly, students seem to be choosing which clubs and societies to join according to their worth on a CV, rather than according to their interests. Robbie calls this process “commodification
The classrooms have been designed incorporating solar panels heat exchange equipment, high thermal mass and the use of local materials where possible - several tonnes of Purbeck stone have been dug out of the ground around the school for use in the walls.
“A school is a fundamental part of a village or town and breathes life into it; it is the foundation upon which other things can be built ” A phenomenal amount of energy, effort and expertise on a voluntary basis has created the foundations of this community school; mentors and members of the community
of volunteer time.” The growing emphasis on increasing one’s employability indicates the pervasive influence of the neo-liberal policies and rhetoric coming from government. This type of neoliberal language appears to have even crept into student union election campaigns, with elections often labelled as ‘leadership contests’. Recent studies show there has been up to a 40% drop in university applications since the introduction of the £9000 fee cap, and there is some early evidence to suggest the cap is putting off poorer people. Some students spoken with when undertaking research for this article said they were already noticing fewer people from diverse backgrounds at their universities. If true, it appears Nick Clegg’s promise to provide funding for the poorest students has turned out to be yet another promise which wasn’t a promise.
are now offering their time and skills to inspire and build an ‘all round’ education. In addition to curriculum subjects we are planning a Permaculture garden, and learning about meditation and mindfulness. There are a range of afterschool activities such as music, art, sailing, charity club cycling and bike maintenance. “We wanted to enable students at the school to make strong connections within their own community instead of removing them from it”, added Paul. “Resilience is key to the way that our students learn – by helping to make key decisions about the school around them, so they are able to respond to change in a positive and responsible way. By involving our community in the active daily life of the school, we also reconnect formal education with the world outside the classroom, helping promote deeper learning and positive relationships within and beyond the school.” The Education Swanage group continues to support and work closely with the teaching staff and students. It has shown that by working together with others, and not giving up, dreams can become a reality. It is no coincidence that the school motto means ‘Perseverance overcomes all things’. Paul Angel, Helen O’Connor, Collette Drayson and Jo Tatchell are all members of Education Swanage. Collette Drayson is also a member of PEAT (Purbeck Environment Action Team) and Transition Purbeck. www.theswanageschool.co.uk Visitors are very welcome.
There is no doubt that now is a sad time for higher education, which in most people’s eyes is a right that should not be put up for sale. This is why the students marched, occupied and rioted. So what options does this leave for a generation of young people who seek self-advancement but without becoming locked into a lifetime of debt? This is where initiatives such as Transition can come into their own. At Transition Heathrow you can visit every Sunday and learn the skills needed to become a gardener at their site’s weekly gardening workshop. All you need is a £2 donation for your lunch – a far cry from £9000 a year. A quick glance at the skill shares page on the Transition Town Totnes website opens up a whole range of training opportunities, from poetry to permaculture. Other UK workshops include foraging, chicken keeping, bread making, sewing, bike
maintenance, wine making, fruit tree pruning, woodwork and electronic repair. It could be that it’s these types of more practical learning, as opposed to the mainstream ‘academic test results’ style of learning, which will stand up in the future. Alongside these, many online self-learning initiatives are popping up, and anyone who made it down to Occupy London’s Tent City University when it was set up outside St Paul’s would have caught an interesting glimpse of what things could look like if we start teaching and learning from each other a bit more. Since its eviction, nothing like the Tent City University has really existed, perhaps leaving behind a gap to be filled? Joe Rake is co-founder of Transition Heathrow and played a major part in the student protests of 2010/2011 while he was studying at Leeds University.
Tr a n s i t i o n e l s e w h e r e Dear Friends, The impacts of climate change become clearer by the day, whether melting permafrost, record temperatures or forest fires. At the same time those funding the denial and misinformation are also becoming more apparent. But the real danger is that people are starting to say “well, it’s too late now to do anything”. That leap from “there’s no problem” to “it’s too late” is dangerous and troubling, and not generally how we work in other areas of our lives. Usually there’s a “perhaps we might do something about this” between stage in our response to challenges. I visited the US recently for three weeks expecting to return home feeling despondent that the nation responsible for 25% of the world’s carbon emissions would not be a place where I would find much of that response. In fact I came back feeling just the opposite. I was blown away by Growing Power, an incredible urban agriculture project in six greenhouses growing food using hydroponics in one of Milwaukee’s poorest neighbourhoods. In New Orleans I visited The Propellor Hub, a dynamic social enterprise incubator in one of the areas worst hit by flooding during Hurricane Katrina. I spoke to 500 people in Throop Church, who, with the support of local Transition Pasadena, have transformed the sun-baked lawn next to a major crossroads into a water-harvesting edible garden. I walked a section of The Highline in New York, an amazing regeneration project where nearly two miles of elevated train tracks have been turned into a wooded walkway (with some edible berries!). I met Urban Harvest, an agriculture initiative in Houston growing food across the city, training hundreds of people in permaculture. Once a year they run a tree and plant sale where they sell $140,000 worth of plants in a single day. Now that’s an ambitious fundraising approach! I co-presented an event with Gopal Dayaneni of Movement Generation, working in the Bay Area with communities of colour on issues around resilience and social justice, and often using food production as a key tool. I walked around with Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition in Boston, seeing their great work focusing on the local economy and engaging everyone in its regeneration. I saw (and tasted) at first hand the amazing explosion of craft brewing in the US, where rather than just having one or two beers on tap, bars give you a menu of
by Helena Laughton This summer, I was privileged to visit the people of Transition Minamiaso, a four year-old Transition Initiative in Kyushu, Southern Japan. While I translated Transition Japan’s website into English, they gave me an inside view of life in Minamiaso. My strongest impression was the immense dedication of local people, who work patiently to rebuild community, year after year, balancing their personal commitments, while trying to pioneer new ways of living. Minamiaso is a diffuse rural town spread across the caldera of the Aso volcano. The economy largely relies on tourism and agriculture.
Like my hometown in Devon, local society suffers from a breakdown of traditional community structures. However, the natural environment is still relatively healthy and extremely beautiful. A group of Transition members organised a ‘Caldera Music Festival’, and a mixture of local musicians and visiting friends performed. A visiting musician gave a heartfelt talk about the Fukushima nuclear disaster, giving her songs real poignancy. Other Transition members were concentrating on supporting the Japanese Green Party in the July election; planning a local agriculture fair; promoting permaculture and sustainable construction or vegetarianism.
“Fukushima has affected people across Japan, and catalysed a new wave of ecological and anti-nuclear movements” A group of friends in the region, including Transition members, organises an annual ‘Zero Yen Camp’ for teenagers from the Fukushima area. Since the tsunami and nuclear disaster, Fukushima
delicious and very inventive local brews to choose from. I also sampled kale and ornamental cabbage growing in the planters in Times Square (see photo). I was shown around The Walnut Way Conservation Corp in Milwaukee – an area cut off by a new highway development and left to fester with crime, drugs and gangs but now being revived through urban food production, water harvesting and teaching a new generation to grow food, led by an inspiring couple called Sharon and Larry Adams. And that’s just a taste. Trouble is, in a nation where the media is owned by about four people, these stories are never told. Sadly, there is no national US version of Transition Free Press! People rarely hear of these things. But so much is happening on the ground, across the country. My hope for the meetings was that they would confirm the possibility that there is still a window to do something, but that it needs the leadership of the people, because it isn’t coming from anywhere else. And to bring back home the story that stuff is happening in the US. Lots of it. There is another way that can meet our needs as human beings, as well as the needs of the biosphere, so that we all end up in a better place. Sometimes it calls itself Transition, and sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s happening, it’s fermenting, it’s bubbling up. And it’s thrilling to see. x
love from Rob
Rob Hopkins is the co-founder of the Transition Network and the author of The Power of Just Doing Stuff. You can read more about the trip on his blog, Transition Culture at www.transitionnetwork.org/blogs/rob-hopkins
still suffers many problems, one of which being that many places are too contaminated for parents to allow children to play outside. The ‘camp’ is an all-expenses-paid holiday for such children. In Minamiaso, I realised how deeply the Fukushima disaster has affected people across Japan, and catalysed a new wave of ecological, and often vehemently anti-nuclear, movements. As part of the trip, we took the teenagers camping. Some local friends who live very close to the land allowed us to use their ground, and we spent the days playing in rivers, learning the drums, and making campfires. Although to my eyes, the teenagers seemed reserved, they seemed to enjoy the chance to explore the natural world. I had a whale of a time. Eight of us from Minamiaso attended the annual two-day Transition Japan summer festival, on the other side of Japan (wonderfully hosted by Transition Town Hamamatsu in Shizuoka prefecture), driving a cooking-oilpowered van there and back. It was a six-day return road trip, with two little girls in the back – but we laughed, sang, and celebrated all the way. The festival itself was very lively, welcoming approximately 450 participants from across Japan.
I especially enjoyed a talk from the inventor Yasuyuki Fujimura on a new economy, less dependent on energy, money and wage-slavery. The need for this particular shift is becoming especially obvious to Japan’s youth, who have been failed by an economy reliant on booming growth. Meeting so many people with such a diversity of gifts to offer, and such passion, was very moving. I come away with a sense that, although the specifics of Transition Initiatives across the world are naturally different, the spirit of Transition has global relevance. It
makes me happy to know that in two beautiful islands on opposite sides of the world, we share common realisations about the problems of carbon-intensive lifestyles. We share the wish, and the capacity, to imagine a healthier world for future generations. Helena Laughton is a twenty-year old undergraduate at Cambridge University, studying Chinese and Japanese. She believes Transition is an inspiring part of the vast task of worldhealing. She is currently studying in China, trying to discover her own path of ‘right livelihood’.
Helena and some of the participants of the Transition Japan Summer Festival.
by Charlotte Du Cann
p e o p l e It was perhaps the coldest day of last winter. Lucy and I were trudging through the snow-covered streets of Sipson, a village on the edge of the world’s third busiest airport. I was about to ask the woman slipping and sliding towards us if we were on the right track, when she gestured behind her. “How do you know where we’re going ?” I asked. “The hats,” she replied and laughed. We were en route to Grow Heathrow, researching for Playing for Time, a book about transitional arts practice, well prepared in Latvian and Andean headgear. Rosie was our guide. She has lived on this creatively-shaped, squatted site for over two years now. That day she showed us round its raised beds, well-stocked kitchen, compost toilets, rocket stove shower and her own tiny house under its tangled roof of elder branches by the M4. Grow Heathrow grew out of airport expansion protest and a Transition Initiative on derelict land that was once a market garden and the proposed third runway. What strikes you when you visit is that people who live and flourish here show particular resilience and an attitude that feels key to weathering the future. Activism and creativity lie at the heart of Transition Initiatives.
Most function as inspiration within traditional communities, but some of them also pioneer another way of being. Grow Heathrow don’t just do Transition as an add-on to their ‘normal’ lives every third Tuesday, or talk about living the low-carbon way at the local WI. They do it every day, 24/7. The renovated greenhouses that shelter 15 people permanently and hundreds of visitors, local residents, workshop and party attendees temporarily, are a hub for all kinds of off-grid and social practice. It’s a
“You definitely have to learn how to live more co-operatively and understand yourself as a part of a whole” community that grows its own veg, builds its own wind turbine and straw bale meeting house, mends bikes, forages for medicine, chops
wood, discusses its own governance and wellbeing, shares skills and opens its doors generously to anyone who wants to see what a certain future looks and feels like. It’s not Shangri-La. It’s tough work and cold in the winter (though cosy in the main ‘house’ around a big wood burning stove). But there is something creative and energetic that conventional domestic life lacks, and you can feel it talking with Rosie. “I first came when I was still at school. I felt it was exciting and imaginative. I was going to take some time out before university, but then I moved in and never left. I built a bender and started learning about growing and energy and living in a community, and I really loved it. And I still do. “Being part of Transition Heathrow means I am involved in projects on the Grow Heathrow site and in the wider community. I’ve worked at the community cafe and the young people’s centre where kids have been excluded from school. I’ve started Open University (social science and policy). I also work with the Transition group I helped set up in Tufnell Park where I grew up. And I do some wider facilitation
with a network called London Roots and give workshops on consensus and nonhierarchical organising. “In Sipson we take part in the Spring and Christmas Fairs and the yearly Hayes Carnival. We also are part of the local campaign to keep Botwell Common from being developed. The
“an amazing example to local people of what can be done with some creativity, determination and love” village has been blighted by airport development and Grow Heathrow has given people hope that they are not alone in their fight and others will stand with them. The site is an example to local people of what else there is, and what can be done with some creativity, determination and love, as well as a place to learn skills and come for a cup of tea.” “The arts play a hugely important role in helping people to be more imaginative, free and communicative in their lives and in Transition.” Rosie has helped run two arts residencies, where people from all
over the UK have come to create an exhibition or performance. She is also part of Transition Heathrow’s wellbeing group, which facilitates communications between everyone on the site. “There’s a lot more diversity in the project now - people from different backgrounds and cultures - which means there is more disparity in how people see the world. This can create more conflict, as well as more reality. We try and do something together every week: go for a swim or to the park. Other times we hold councils or a bigger gathering. We help with mediations between people and organise workshops. “It is important to have a very diverse mix. We miss having kids on site, and also elders. It is key to have people who are enthusiastic about collectivity, no matter who they are: people who will put energy into the project and work together.” There were some questions I had a year later now the group has lost their court case against eviction: what, for instance, were the challenges of living in the community? “Living with more people. You definitely have to learn how to live
Rosie at the easel; Grow Heathrow in action. All pictures by Jonathan Goldberg www.jongoldberg.co.uk
Rosie Music and Grow Heathrow
more co-operatively and understand yourself as a part of a whole. It’s really deep living together and doing these things. Being able to sustain yourself in a place that is tense however can also be draining. Grow Heathrow is both a home and a public project and anyone can come through, and obviously you are by an airport, so there is no getting away.” “Technically we can be evicted at any time. We’re still trying to appeal to the Supreme Court and negotiate with the owners to buy the land. This would change the organic nature of Grow Heathrow, but it would also release a lot of potential; for example we’d be able to work with local kids, which we can’t do because of insurance.” Looking back what would you see as key experiences? “Some of them are practical: building my first cold frame; helping weld the blades for the wind turbine; making the wood burner in my house; walking barefoot around the site; learning how to make capers from dandelion buds; making cider from local apples; making dyes from leaves in autumn. Being in a community, knowing this is the energy and we created it, this is the food and we created it. Some are massive events like our third birthday; Christmas last year when the neighbours came round with a turkey; making a coffin for Keith when he died, and digging his grave and planting a cider apple tree for him with manure from our compost toilet.” Do you see yourselves as an example of living in the future? “Our official line is ‘Furthering the Heathrow vision - an iconic symbol of community resistance to economic, ecological and democratic process.’ We don’talwaysmeetouraimsfullyofcourse! It can be a struggle against the tide. But I see Grow Heathrow as an example of how we can begin to create a resilient community, how we can increase resource autonomy and build new alternative structures of organisation.” “Is there anything you miss in terms of comfort?” I asked finally, remembering last winter’s snow and mud. Rosie laughed: “Two things we really need to build are a bicycle powered dishwasher and washing machine. ” All offerswelcome. www.transitionheathrow.com. Charlotte Du Cann is Editor-in-Chief of Transition Free Press and editor of Playing for Time – Making Art as if the World Mattered (with author Lucy Neal). She blogs at charlotteducann. blogspot.com
Light shines from new narrative
Uncivilisation Festival fire by Bridget Mackenzie. Dark Mountain books available from www.dark-mountain.net
The Dark Mountain Project is a network of writers, artists and thinkers in search of new stories for troubled times. Their books explore and celebrate writing rooted in place, time and nature. Gemma Seltzer reviews the latest collection. “Ours is an age whose people can see the crisis that is beginning to engulf them, but can’t yet bring themselves to believe that they cannot still prevent or reverse or manage it,” begins this year’s Dark Mountain 4 anthology, and it’s a statement that sets the tone for the collection. Poets, essayists, storytellers, photographers and activists are assembled, each wondering how we can be within the natural world as human beings, yet also separate: witnesses to a changing physical environment.
From Elizabeth Rimmer’s poem Explaining a Few Things to Neruda, in which she reflects that her work is “pretty”, concerning “all those woodlands and winter skies”, rather than “the litter, the broken windows, / graffiti curse-words”, to Coming Home by Paul O’Connor who urges us to “find somewhere you can dwell, somewhere you can put down roots and gradually increase the level of permanence and reality in your life”, the best pieces don’t idealise nature or a childhood amongst trees and don’t disassociate from others to find a better way to exist. Instead, they offer new ways of looking at that which is directly in front of us. It’s a lovely hardback edition, a beautifully presented collection
that expresses a complex relationship between humans and the wild world. There is a wonderful humility to Narendra’s Dispatches from Bastar, descriptions of graceful, nomadic individuals living in a remote region of India, now receiving increased influence from the outside world. In Beyond Words, Charles Foster muses on his dyslexic son’s experience of the world without the constraints of language influencing his thoughts. Mass literacy through the printed press versus the consequent environmental damage from wood pulp paper production interests Rachel King in The Soul Selects Her Own Society, a reminder that there are many solutions to a single problem. Colony Collapse by William Hass is a hundred stark words describing the ways bees die, “like trembling golden pebbles”, an apt image for an anthology grappling with the future of the earth. This dense book draws together disparate and challenging voices all producing work about ecological crisis, so I would have welcomed a chronological contents page and a fuller introduction to the authors to aid my appreciation. Many of the fiction pieces use elevated language, making the reader very conscious that the writer is attempting to tackle a Major Issue. In these stories, characters
are superior to those surrounding them: only they can see the terror of industrialisation or climate change, while others are mindlessly cutting down trees or pumping the air full of poison. The creative non-fiction, being grounded in real encounters, seems to be more genuine about writing as a vehicle for the author’s own view. Steve Wheeler’s interview with the philosopher-againsttechnological-civilisation John Zerzan showed a refreshing clarity of thought. Wheeler talks of his notion of fragmentalism and how people separate their own thoughts in order to manage their lives. We disconnect the idea of air travel, and its impact on the environment, from the tremendous time we’ll have on the beach. A similar argument could be applied to this Dark Mountain anthology, which appears disjointed, but leaves it up to the reader to find the links and perhaps start to comprehend our precarious position in the world. Gemma Seltzer is a writer working online, live and in print. Her writing projects include Speak to Strangers, 100 stories about conversations with Londoners (Penned in the Margins, 2011). She has recently joined Transition Crystal Palace and has high hopes of becoming a champion local jammaker. www.gemmaseltzer.co.uk.
The book-in-progress, Playing For Time, has gathered up nearly 60 activist projects about making art and building community in relation to Land, Home, Rites of Passage, Food Growing, Hands, Words, Water and more. However there are some gaps and we’re keen to hear from anyone involved in or about to launch into projects that involve song, sounds, poetry, making with hands, open-air large-scale community celebrations, especially those that involve the seasons, gratitude and/or loss. Please send a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thankyou!
Telling tales and exchanging gifts Tales of Our Times by Stephanie A W Bradley, reviewed by Mike Grenville “Once, in a time that was, and was not, a time of transition, there was a town that was not too big, and not too small, with a river running through it, and a steep, steep high street, with a castle on the top.” Setting out from her home in Totnes with only with a pair of red flip flops and a small pack, Steph Bradley begins her tale of a six month walk around England collecting stories from people in Transition. Relying on the hospitality of Transition groups, green activists, Quakers, and other like-minded groups of people, her journey followed the footpaths and byways of England and met with generosity and tales of change. She visited around a hundred places, 76 of them Transition Initiatives, in the process. As a way of kindling the interdependence of one place with another, she collected gifts from one place that symbolised their common wealth in terms of its skills and resources and gave them to another. Which is how it came about that I received a pair of hand made ladies pants from her, from www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk, made by marginalised women in Southampton. From Devon her path wound its way along the south coast to Lewes, then turned north through London and on to Cambridge. From Nottingham she went all the way up to York, across to Penrith, then back down the west coast through Blackpool, south to Gloucester, before finally crossing Dartmoor into Cornwall and turning back home. In this lighthearted traveller’s tale, Steph takes a snapshot of the countryside and how the people in it are responding to rapidly changing times. In doing so she brings to light insightful and charming qualities of both the places she visited and people she met. Told over more than 400 pages, readers will get a real sense of travelling alongside her and find many delights on the way. Copies can be ordered from http://storyweaving.co.uk
talkback Permacultural Brett Scott Finance, even in its most hightech formulations, is rooted in ecological systems. A highfrequency trading hedge fund, for example, relies on electricity created by burning fossilised organic matter. It relies on employees, surviving via agricultural systems. It trades in company shares, given value only by the actions of those companies’ employees using physical assets, all derived from mining, forestry, and other extractive industries. The financial system has been a net drain on ecological systems. Finance involves redistributing economic energy – symbolised in money – in an attempt to generate a yield over time. For example, investors may steer money via financial instruments like shares and bonds into economic activities, and attempt to extract returns in the form of dividends and interest. They aim to extract the highest short-term yield from the minimum amount of expenditure, preferably at the lowest possible levels of risk. Permaculture is a body of thought that attempts to build ecological dynamics into design. A permacultural designer entirely understands the idea of obtaining a yield from the earth by investing time and energy, but the key difference is that they attempt to do so without undermining ecological balance. The focus is on mutualistic integration with ecologies, acting in accordance with natural regenerative processes rather than parasitically exploiting them. So can we use permacultural principles to design financial instruments and institutions? Cultivating long term balance A classic example of a parasitic financial institution is a payday lender. The payday loan company is fixated with the short-term risks presented by a vulnerable borrower, and exploits that by demanding the highest possible interest rate from them. In so doing they further exhaust the
community around them and increase deprivation. It’s akin to overfishing an already fragile river system, thereby further disrupting the ecological balance. The permacultural designer, whether they are looking at fisheries or financial inclusion, will seek instead to build up the productive potential of the overall system. A permacultural financier thus looks to strengthen vulnerable borrowers, working with them to improve their creditworthiness. The Permaculture Credit Union in Santa Fe is one such example of a regenerative financial institution. If we think in terms of economic energy, they aim to cultivate long-term energy balance, rather than extracting maximum short-term energy before collapse.
Pound, a local currency used for commerce in South London. The point of the Brixton Pound though, is to harness economic energy that would otherwise flow out of Brixton. The economic ecosystem of Shambala Festival, unlike Brixton, is already inherently local, so there is minimal need to introduce such a currency into that environment. To build something more interesting requires a much
different ecological zones and how to balance it. For example, in agricultural design, they’re thinking about how the household interacts with the immediate garden, and how the garden interacts with the zone of semi-wilderness beyond. They’re seeking synergies between the diverse components. This fostering of diversity is fundamental for building resilience (not having ‘all one’s eggs in one basket’), but the interrelations between diverse parts are also viewed as a source of creativity. The mainstream financial sector is the ultimate monoculture. Not only is it not resilient, but it’s also not very creative or responsive to change. The banking sector is generally only good at one thing: extracting short-term profit whilst concentrating power in a single set of large institutions. What we rather need is something akin to an ‘open source’ finance movement, where that power is spread out to networks of smaller institutions, where access to financial services is widened, and where the means of producing financial services are extended to people who previously had little input. Local banking is one important element of this ethos, but we also catch glimpses of it in the array of niche crowdfunding platforms that have emerged, offering financing opportunities to projects that most banks would ignore.
“True holism is as much about observing yourself as it is about observing Canary Wharf”
Observe and interact But how do we get to a point of designing such systems? Anyone familiar with permaculture knows that it has 12 principles of design. The first, and perhaps most important, principle is ‘observe and interact’. Mainstream financial institutions such as large banks pay little attention to the cultural nuances of the communities they descend upon, and their designers certainly do not interact with such communities in any meaningful sense. They offer standardised products and services, no matter where they are, and in areas where these don’t work, the banks are simply not found (known as ‘financial exclusion’). Our alternative finance practitioners need to be attuned to the needs of their environment. I recently held a workshop at Shambala Festival where we explored the idea of building a pop-up currency for the duration of the festival. Several participants suggested we create something like the Brixton
deeper observation of why people are at the festival (it’s not for commerce, for example), and how a different system of exchange might add a new dimension to that experience. In anthropological terms, we might call this ‘participant observation’, where you engage in slow observation and interaction with a particular cultural environment to experience the nuances. Through this process one can begin to get a feel for how a more integrated, inclusive, and interactive system can be built. A key problem in modern finance is just how disconnected people feel from it. Consider the average high-street bank. The people standing in the queue or using the ATM often appear utterly disconnected from the process. They often don’t know where the money comes from, or where it goes to. By contrast, a simple peer-to-peer lending platform like Abundance Generation – which allows you to lend directly to renewable energy projects – has reconnection embedded into its design. Zones and diversity Permaculturists are intensely interested by the flows of energy within and between
Financial holism At the core of permaculture is holism. Much mainstream thought encourages people to box aspects of their lives into intellectual silos, like ‘my economic life’ and ‘my political life’. That’s a terrible way to start a design process, because it ignores the inherently multifaceted nature of all our actions, and that we are always balancing
various objectives and values. For example, a large national currency may be very efficient for exchange, but that very same efficiency can act to atomise individuals by weakening the ties of trust that would otherwise be required for exchange. Thus, rather than seeking to design for single, specialised and segregated uses (maximising a particular outcome), a permacultural designer seeks out holistic optimisation: for example, how does one create a currency that achieves efficiency without alienating people from one another? Can a local currency like the Bristol Pound blend the efficiency of mobile payment with the goal of energising local community exchange? Very importantly, holism also involves integrating yourself into the design process, rather than imagining yourself as an objective outsider. Activists taking on the financial sector spend much time pitching themselves against the system, but frequently take little time to see how they personally form part of it. Have you ever wondered how the mainstream financial sector imprints itself and replicates itself in your own thoughts about exchange, and in the language you use? Much of the power of the financial system is predicated on people unconsciously deferring power to it without realising it. True holism, and the key to unveiling the hidden design principles in existing systems, is as much about observing yourself as it is about observing Canary Wharf. Think about it next time you take a note out of your wallet. Brett Scott is a campaigner, former broker, and author of The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money (Pluto Press, 2013). He blogs at suitpossum. blogspot.com and tweets as @suitpossum
Small-scale eco farming’s new hope Zoe Wangler Few of us remain unaware of the insanity of our current property market, in which substandard housing costs us dozens of times our annual salaries. But how many realise the extent to which these housing costs affect those dedicated to producing our food sustainably and restoring degraded countryside? Average house prices are higher in rural areas than in urban areas, yet average rural wages are lower. In his 2008 review of rural housing, Lord Taylor found that rural areas have become the domain of the ‘wealthy and retired’. A new entrant to organic horticulture could simply never afford the unexceptional £495,000 3-bed bungalow with 15 acres I saw advertised this morning in Mid Devon. This is one of the primary reasons why the average age of a farmer is now 58. Fifteen miles north-east of the £495,000 bungalow, three families are moving on to their first residential smallholdings. These are the first affordable farms made available by the Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC), and they are selling
for £72,000 each. The ELC is a social enterprise set up to provide affordable sites for ecological land-based livelihoods. The three holdings, on a site called Greenham Reach, are to be the first of many. We are seeking investment in January to develop a further twelve. The Greenham Reach holdings were not easily won – Mid Devon District Council refused our initial application and we had to prepare ourselves for a public planning inquiry. We stretched our resources to the limit and we would not have made it without the help of our supporters and allies. The experience confirmed those of our founding members: that the planning process is demanding, on the whole too demanding, for small-scale producers. Those people capable of creating sustainable livelihoods often have insufficient time or money to navigate our current planning system. It is vital to us that the holdings we fought hard to produce remain affordable and are protected for ecological agriculture. We achieve
this through the use of both planning conditions and the 150year lease our tenants purchase. Both of these oblige us and the tenants to follow a Management Plan which, for example, prohibits the use of agro-chemicals, requires electricity to be generated onsite from renewable sources, and requires the protection of existing habitats. Should tenants ever
“Rural areas have become the domain of the ‘wealthy and retired’” wish to sell, the lease requires that the holding is valued, not by the market, but by a re-sale formula linked to inflation, ensuring that the holdings remain affordable. We have committed ourselves to reporting to the Council annually on several indicators, including farm incomes generated on the smallholdings and changes in biodiversity and in the soil. We are also working in a research consortium to assess changes in overall farm
productivity. The consensus in government is that small-scale mixed ecological farming has no place in Britain’s food security. I have never seen convincing evidence of this, but neither have I seen evidence to the contrary. Our research will test their hypothesis. This summer I visited Lammas, a development of nine affordable smallholdings in Pembrokeshire, where the first families arrived in 2009. Most of the holdings had progressed well, with gardens and polytunnels established, producing good amounts of food, hens happily housed and willow for fuel over 10 feet tall. Some of the most beautiful and affordable barns and houses you will ever see had been self-built. What heartened me most, however, was the abundance and diversity of plant and animal life in a site formally used for sheep grazing. One of the people I met at Lammas was volunteer Tom Clare. Tom manages Lammas’ millpond to renew the habitat for wildlife, largely through replacing soft rush, which came to dominate under sheep grazing, with a wide range
of native plants. His passion and love for what he was doing was palpable. Lammas, and now the ELC, facilitate the Toms of this world to do this critical work. It is an honour to be working with the people that, as the First Nation’s Cree prophesied, “put their faith in deeds, and not in words, to make the land green again, and to restore balance once again to our planet.” Zoe Wangler is the ELC’s Managing Director. If you would like to invest, or get involved, see www. ecologicalland.coop.
Reconfiguring our sense of self Chris Thornton
As I was preparing my proposal for PhD research on communication and sustainability, I came across the first of two unsettling clarifications. In 2002 Dutch designer Jan Van Toorn crystalized the impacts of industrial and communication design on society: “Design,” he says, “has become an efficient, world-wide instrument for the colonisation of being.” It takes little more than a trip to the shops or some TV channel-hopping to grasp this; that the nature of being in the world is subsumed into corporate strategy. We are a symptom of the scale and reach of industrialised storytelling, conditioning what is meaningful
and what we aspire to be; it tells us that the modern act of consumption has become inexorably tied to identity. As a designer and educator I remain in a minority concerned about this issue and its social and ecological effects. Communication design is a practice of storytelling, but similar to other manufactured outputs, advertising and media narratives create ‘externalities’ that our industry fails to recognise. Through persistent appeals to our extrinsic values for power, wealth, image and status we have become highly individualised. Psychologically, this shift insulates us from one another and the natural world. Through it we have largely forgotten the experience of collective empowerment and our place in a wider bio-social ecology. But, in reading about the Transition Network last year, I was struck by a second clarification: it seemed Transition was attempting something unprecedented. In its model for localisation, social resilience and collective action, Transition deliberately creates space for people to reconfigure their sense
of self. In very practical ways it offers opportunities to grow and celebrate new personal narratives that encompass human and non-human others. Forming identity is thought to be, in part, an ongoing process of self-narration, so I became interested in how Transition might affect this. I wondered what we designers can learn from Transition to develop communications that genuinely support sustainability, instead of co-opting it into increasing swathes of greenwash? The research resulting from this spans four Transition communities across the UK and South Australia where I now live. These include Transition Towns Lewes and Leicester, selected for their well-established projects and likely socio-cultural differences; and Transition Adelaide Hills and Transition Gawler in South Australia, both younger groups with their own geographical and social challenges. Using interviews, observations and my own participation I am examining the personal, social and contextual stories that motivate sustainable behaviour. All the narrative
accounts so far have been telling and I have begun to see some poignant indicators of why Transition succeeds, and where it may need to adapt. One of the clearest examples of success, and the one most likely to influence selfperception, is the act of ‘doing’. In the majority of narratives shared so far, engagement in practical activities seems highly significant to furthering personal commitment to change. Theory surrounding this suggests that human freedom is recovered by reclaiming the potential of being as act. Action reminds us of our innate potential for choice and making real the things we value. In acting for Transition, people may find increased agency and self-determination. Furthermore, where action is socialised or collaborative, the sense of connection and responsibility to others encourages it to continue. It can ease commitment to change and stimulate intrinsic cultural values that transcend self-interest. This may be particularly important to young people where participation in personal and collective action may be critical to liberating
identity from systematised corporate influences. Other conversations have highlighted that Transition may need to significantly deepen its reach through other language forms in the arts, design, literature, music and performance to present it as visual as well as social culture. There is potential for applying Transition philosophy to serious creative output publicly. In the same way that permaculture relates as much to people as it does to land, Transition is as much about communication as it is about practice. Given time and critical effort it has the capacity to reshape our narrative ecology and provide new space for human authenticity amid the milieu of marketing and media noise. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut in Mother Night: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Chris Thornton is a lecturer in Communication Design and a PhD candidate with the Zero Waste SA Research Centre for Sustainable Design and Behaviour at the University of South Australia.
a r t s
Is music the best tool for
by Jonny Gordon-Farleigh
Singing has the unique power to bring people together and confront complex issues. One of the most powerful scenes at the recent climate camp in Balcombe, Sussex, was the ‘Sing-along-A-Frackoff’ where hundreds of activists and locals sang a poignantly (and humorously) adapted version of William Blake’s Jerusalem: “We will not cease from camping here, Nor shall we rest till fracking’s banned, Till we have kicked these frackers out, Of England’s green and pleasant land.” As one rejuvenated climate-camper remarked, “Singing beats a political lecture any day.”
Sam Quinn as ‘Clachan Shanda’, undercover officer for Fruit and Veg Squad, dealing with fresh produce related crime. Photo by Mark Tulip
Undercover comedy by Sam Quinn On the 21st of July 2013 a new global law enforcement agency came in to existence. Its name: the Gross Domestic Police (or GDP for short). Its remit: to detain and question individuals suspected of perpetrating crimes against the planet’s economic environment. In the words of spokesperson GDPC Will Buymore, “We need to know that the public are doing all they can to save our economic growth. Because we all live in this financial system together, but some people are damaging it for the rest of us.” So far the GDP have been deployed at two public events, a sustainability themed ball which took place at Morley College in Southwark, and the Shei$e Kunst Klub, an evening of performance art in Bethnal Green, London. As an artist creating comedy for theatre, comedy club and community settings, I find it a challenge to address issues regarding transition in a way which does not preach, but which communicates a serious message whilst being positive, innovative and amusing. I created the GDP to highlight the dichotomy between constant economic growth and care for the environment in a way that directed fault away from the individual consumer and towards the organisations – financial 16 institutions, governments
and companies – that perpetuate the ‘consumptive’ lifestyle. Audience members are interrogated with questions like: “Which brand of earlobe moisturiser do you use?” and “How many new outfits did you buy this morning?” before being issued a ‘(Far from) FINE’ requiring them to apply for a prescribed number of credit cards. The reality of the current economic system is exaggerated to become absurdly funny; the audience are not being attacked for any real offences, but the message is there.
“When adults are not playing, they are being far more sinister...” Another recent creation, in many ways the antithesis to the GDP, is the United Nations Association for Playfulness Of Older People (UNAPOOP). UNAPOOP’s guiding principle is that when adults are not playing, they are being far more sinister: money earning, power hankering, warmongering, land grabbing. It acknowledges that due to specific factors our sense of playfulness is suppressed as we grow, and aims to counter the damaging effects this suppression has on communities by instigating a number of playful initiatives.
These include providing ‘SelfConversational Classes’ for people interested in improving how they talk to themselves in private and public, campaigning for the mandatory provision of swings in all new residential and commercial building developments, and the introduction of Hide-and-Seek Wednesdays at Goldman Sachs. Both the GDP and UNAPOOP convey my concerns about the society in which we participate and the areas in which transition is needed. They are designed to feature in both traditional comedy and community events. As such they have to be non-accusatory, open to audience interaction whilst not being dependent on it, accessible to a diverse range of ages and backgrounds and funny at face value, even before any insights are made. To my mind, silliness is key. Sam Quinn, is a comedian who creates surrealist performances with a realist point and has worked on events from the Transition Town Tooting Trashcatcher’s Carnival to Feast on the Bridge at the Mayor’s Thames Festival. UNAPOOP will host their first participatory event on 4th December. Please contact email@example.com for more details. The GDP are performing each month until March at Shei$e Kunst, Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. Twitter @ mrsamquinn, www.unapoop.org .
As many protest singers have found out, music is a perfect medium for a difficult message. Shell-Out Sounds is a flash mob choir that describes itself as a “melodic hearts and minds intervention on the subject of Shell sponsorship.” Most direct actions against oil companies are designed to shock and confront, but these creative strategies can make a listening public more receptive and engaged. When Independents for Frome took over their local Sainsbury’s with an energetic version of Jimmy Cliff’s You Can Get It If You Really Want, it mobilised voters, resulting in a 75% increase in turnout. The Independents won 10 out of 17 seats giving them a majority, which allowed them to dismantle the bureaucracy at the council, put an end to party-political wrangling and inspire more democratic participation. The unconventional flash mob reversed a well-known disaffection with local politics where traditional tactics have failed. Meanwhile in Auckland, New Zealand, a Transition group deployed a flash mob choir and a mock-rock song, ‘Canvas Bags’, by popular performer Tim Minchin at their local supermarket to encourage people not to use plastic bags. On a subject where it is difficult not to seem sanctimonious, the lyrics were persuasive precisely because they were humorous, or as Vermont professor, Todd McGowan put it: “The path to seriousness is strewn with jokes”. While there is certainly nothing funny about climate catastrophe, it seems that comedy could be as important a part of our communication as the scientific facts. Transition culture already acknowledges the unifying strength of music. In response to the ‘heady’ atmosphere of Transition Network conferences, storyteller and trainer Inez Aponte leads world-music chants to encourage a more visceral, heart-felt, and embodied experience. “Being involved in any kind of activism, it is easy to get caught up in ‘doing’ - there’s a lot to be done! But some of what needs to be done is creating opportunities and spaces where we can ‘be’ together. Singing as one voice creates a sense of community that can be a strong foundation for responding to the challenges we face.” So, could music play a more organised role within Transition Initiatives, much like the colliery bands in former mining towns? Could music create a culture that is more attractive and fun? It would be inspiring to see Transition choirs and orchestras performing in neighbourhoods throughout the country. No need to audition! Jonny Gordon-Farleigh lives in Bridport, home to a 70-strong ukelele band. He is publisher and editor of the print quarterly STIR Magazine. www.stirtoaction.com.
Sing-Along-A-Fracking at the Balcome protest site this summer. Photo by Mike Grenville
c o m m u n i t y
10 years of shops in one box by Ruth Ben-Tovim
Welcoming signs outside the Tooting Transition Shop. Photo by Encounters Arts
Since 2003 arts organisation Encounters has been taking up residence in empty shops around the UK where there is “nothing for sale but lots on offer”. The ninth and most recent shop took place in Tooting, hosted by Transition Town Tooting. These pop-up venues have opened their doors to thousands of people to drop in and co-create evolving artworks about people, place and planet. After ten years of inspiring high streets everywhere and to broaden the influence of the project, the team are now developing a Shop-in-a-Box. This toolkit will enable communities everywhere to set up and run their own Encounters-style Shops. The Shops provide a highly visual and practical way of engaging inter-generational, cross–cultural groups in creative dialogue about the past, present and future of a
town or a neighbourhood. They become neutral meeting places on the high street for a community to come together and share experiences and thoughts about their lives, where they live and the wider world.
“The shops start empty and fill over time as visitors drop in and participate” In each Shop there are a series of ‘Invitations To Join’ that encourage participation: daily blackboard questions, memory maps, suitcase journeys, photo collages, seeds of the future, recipes for working across divides, a ‘lake of tears’ to reflect on gratitude and loss, storytelling
cards. The shops start empty and fill over time as visitors participate in these activities, co–creating a vibrant and moving collection of memories, experiences and ideas. The Invitations will form the basis of the Shop-in-a-Box toolkit, enabling communities around the world to set up and facilitate these tried and tested participatory activities that can engage hundreds of people from all walks of life. For Encounters it’s an opportunity to scale up a highly effective approach to community consultation, engagement and involvement. The kit is now in its prototype phase. As well as grappling with how it can really translate the essence of a beautiful idea, we are excited to find out what happens when other people bring their own creativity and imagination to it. Encounters uses the
Market forces Farmers’ Markets are key places for many Transition Initiatives who hold awareness-raising stalls, sell produce (including this newspaper) and sometimes, as in the case of Crystal Palace, set them up in their own neighbourhoods. Jo Wheatley describes how a Transition food group reignited their local market. Wivenhoe is a town of 10,000 residents three miles from Colchester. With the University of Essex on our doorstep we are a diverse community with a significant student population and plenty of commuters. Over the last 15 years greengrocers, bakers and a fishmonger have all disappeared from the town, due in part to the arrival of a large Tesco nearby. While many residents use out-of-town supermarkets and increasingly shop online, those that use the local Co-op often find prices are higher than elsewhere. The first monthly farmers’ market was set up in the Congregational Church Hall in 2006 by the environmental charity en-form. Over the years the market experienced its share of ups and more often downs. Then in early 2012 Transition Town Wivenhoe took over the kitchen where only cups of tea and instant coffee had been
available and started selling fresh coffee and food from ‘The Transition Cafe’. A BBQ was introduced outside serving fresh home made rolls filled with locally produced meat. Rolls were initially made by Transition volunteers and later bought from a local artisan home baker. We then introduced free bike checks and by the end of 2012 footfall was steadily up and regular stallholder attendance had improved. Someone was recently overheard saying as they entered the hall, “You go and grab a seat in the cafe as it gets full up”. Music to our ears! Andrew Wilkinson from enform comments: “Transition activities have all contributed to a significant increase in shoppers, creating a more vibrant market where people now hang around and socialise. This has increased the viability of the market and I now consider these activities to be integral to the event.”
Wood oven and sourdough loaves by Bread Bread at Crystal Palace Farmers’ Market. Photo courtesy of Transition Crystal Palace
TTW food group coordinator, Ruth Melville, emphasises the importance of working closely with stallholders, and as well as offering them free drink refills, the cafe buys produce directly from them as much as possible, such as bacon, sausages, cakes, jam, chocolates and juice: “Stallholders don’t always
want change but if you are there, mucking in with them each month, they are more willing to take your ideas seriously. It was notable recently when I went round canvassing about changing opening times that they were clearly supportive of what we wanted because of the good relationship we have
transformational power of the arts to work creatively with people in education, reconciliation, rehabilitation, regeneration, arts, community and environmental contexts. In all our projects and programmes the invitation is to re-look at who and how we are in the world at this time of crisis and opportunity, and to explore new stories to live by. Shops have taken place in Sheffield, Winchester, Liverpool, Batley, Totnes and London. Encounters also deliver Mobile Shop projects that tour and connect different locations within a neighbourhood. If you are interested in the Shop-in-a-Box Kit please contact firstname.lastname@example.org by email or visit www.encounters-arts.org.uk. Ruth Ben-Tovim is the Creative Director of Encounters and a trustee of Transition Network.
with them.” The market plays an important part in cultivating a demand for fresh and locally produced food and other services, and so as well as supporting the traders that attend, it helps to support other local initiatives too, such as our regular Dr Bike service. Making a monthly market thrive will always be a challenge as people forget which Saturday it’s on and have to find other sources for weekly supplies of at least the fresh stuff. The partnership between our initiative and the market organisers will have to continually find new ways to sustain it. However it does feel like we are tapping into something special: it’s clear people value the market far more than just as a shopping opportunity. It really is a community event offering a unique meeting space. In good weather cafe tables are set up outside and people sit out on the grass while children play. Jo Wheatley is a founder member of Transition Wivenhoe. TTW current projects include: ‘Borrowable Bike Bits’ lending cargo and kiddie trailers out; a community allotment and bike-powered events such as outdoor community films and gigs. www.transitionwivenhoe.org.uk
Bring back balanoculture! by Ian M
Harvesting wild acorns in the USA’s Pacific North West. Photo by Arcadianbabe
My interest in acorns first came about after watching Ray Mears pulverise them with stones, leach them in a stream, cook them with hot rocks in a hand-woven basket and proclaim them to be ‘a staple food’ in his television series, Wild Food. Thereafter my passion has risen and fallen along with the harvest – in some autumns plentiful, next year practically nothing. Currently all the nut trees in my region (SE England) seem to be on a cycle of heavy production every other year, with only hazel and sweet chestnut showing reliability in ‘off’ years. This has taught me that moving your subsistence towards the huntergatherer model requires you to start thinking seriously about preservation and storage. Happily, acorns seem to be well suited to this due to their relatively low oil content. Native Californians were able to gather enough acorns (which provided over half of their diet) over the course of 2-3 weeks to feed their families for five years, storing these in granaries of cedar wood with insect-repelling California laurel. Burying their stash in boggy ground extended this to thirty years. The first batch of acorn flour I made was still palatable three years later. My preferred method is to shell the acorns with a hammer, blend them in a food processor, leach out the bitter tannins in a bucket with lukewarm water changed twice daily for 3-5 days, dry in a low oven, and finally grind to a fine flour with a coffee grinder. I put coarser grounds in with my porridge, roasted acorn halves with stews and have made various breads and even a pizza base with the flour. The results have been filling, satisfying and laced with a subtle nutty taste. Building this kind of co-reliance with trees brings a whole new perspective and urgency to the preservation and ultimate expansion of woodland in this country so heavily deforested by annual grain agriculture and livestock since the Neolithic Revolution arrived some 6,000 years ago. Ian M lives close to the North Downs and the M25 in Surrey where he works as a gardener and forages regularly for edible and medicinal plants in parks, commons, woods, hedgerows and a few urban spaces. He blogs at http://ondisturbedground.wordpress.com
Shelling dried acorns with a hammer and anvil. Photo by ondisturbedground
Chef Carl Shillingford at Nayland Festival in Suffolk. Photo by Simon Ward
The forager’s kitchen by Michaela Woollatt Transition Nayland are passionate advocates of the re-localisation of food systems. The premise behind localisation is that it promotes resilience by reducing a community’s dependence on global commodities, encouraging that which is produced locally to be consumed locally. Nayland is a rural community in Suffolk and home to several local family-run farms and people whose livelihoods are bound closely to agriculture. The UK farming sector, with its dependence on oil, is highly vulnerable to the impacts of globalisation. Localisation of food systems may create communities that are less susceptible to global shocks but is it a realistic alternative? Carl Shillingford, a local foraging chef who works closely with Transition Nayland, believes it is, but that the key to its success is redefining the consumer’s relationship with the food they eat. Carl explains: “Too many people have lost contact with the land and, as a result, place little importance on the provenance of the produce they consume.” Reconnecting consumers with the great outdoors and changing the nature of their relationship with food is a daunting task. Carl bemoans the irony of the consumer who is happy to eat a supermarket plastic wrapped bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich containing 54 different ingredients, which may have been sprayed with chemicals or synthetically grown, when that same consumer mistrusts a simple blackberry picked from the hedgerow. “People need to care
about the quality of food they are ingesting and where it comes from.” To this end, Carl runs foraging courses through Seasonal Suffolk, a small catering company he coowns with fellow forager James Salthouse. Their foraging territory extends to anywhere from which they can see the spire of the local village church (which handily happens to be at one of the highest points in Suffolk).
“Only ever pick what you know and what you need” Carl and James make a spectacular range of terrines, pates, smoked game, preserves and cordials from the locally foraged ingredients and they are truly delicious. After a five hour foray on a recent foraging course we cooked up chicken-of-thewoods (an edible fungus) with wild horseradish and wild watercress, hedgerow pesto heaped high on sourdough bread, followed by crab apple and mulberry jelly, all washed down with rosehip cordial. It was divine! Like many people who work the land, Carl is highly protective of it and cautions: “Only ever pick what you know and what you need.” As you might expect of a catering company relying solely on foraged food, the ingredients, and therefore the products available to customers, vary on a daily basis. So how have Carl’s customers reacted to his unconventional methods of sourcing produce? The simple answer is that they are supportive, but that support has
taken time to build. Carl has been a chef in Nayland for many years, first working under Michelin star chef Michel Roux at the White Hart Inn before moving to the village pub, The Anchor. He has a regular stall at the village Farmers’ Market selling his famous ‘Beast-burgers’ which may contain venison, rabbit or pigeon depending on what has been shot the previous day. Carl is an enthusiastic supporter of Transition Nayland – together they help run the ‘5 Mile Soup Kitchen’ at the Christmas Fayre and have fed hundreds of visitors at the summer village festival with an enormous paella prepared from locally sourced ingredients including American Red Signal crayfish (an alien species, eating our natives!) from the River Stour. Essentially, Carl’s role as a chef in the community has allowed him to nurture his relationship with the people of Nayland and that translates to a level of trust. “My customers have gained an appreciation of what they eat and where it comes from,” he explains. “Through foraging and cooking and eating foraged food with us, they have learnt to respect the land we share with nature and understand that if we treat it well it will provide for generations to come.” Michaela Woollatt promotes the teaching of sustainability and environmental awareness at her local primary school, helping to run the award-winning EcoClub and Nature Club. Currently studying for a BSc in Environmental Science, she blogs at michaelawoollatt.blogspot.co.uk.
All bubble and no trouble Two Transition preservers share the arts of fermentation:
Colin Trier: I am standing by a long kitchen table with six other transitioners chopping or shredding a medley of vegetables in every shape and colour. Red cabbage, beetroot, mouli, turnip, celeriac, or chinese cabbages, chilli, ginger and garlic. As we work we exchange current news from across the city, savouring the pleasure of reconnection. We are at one of Transition Plymouth’s Fermentation Workshops. Human digestion has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, with the complex extraction of nutrition from predominantly live (in the sense of bacteria and yeasts on the surface) food sources. We have experienced environmental adversity and extremes, as well as moments of bounty and cornucopia. In that
evolutionary journey lactic acid bacteria have undoubtedly been a close ally. So many available waterrich vegetables and fruit, abundant for a short time in the autumn, would quickly have started to rot without some kind of preservation to prevent the decay. Drying and smoking were important particularly for fish and meat
“We forget that fermenting food used to be the primary source of preservation” (as long as your climate was sunny) but lactic acid and saltmediated fermentation also had a central place. If we shred cabbage, bruise it with our hands and add about 2% salt, a lot of liquid will emerge. Placed in a container with a weight pressing
down on it, the liquid soon covers the cabbage. Left for a few weeks, a rich nourishing ferment emerges, which will store for months. As a live probiotic food it will add flavour and nourishment to our soups, salads and sandwiches. In our workshops, we have also played with kefir milk ferments and natto from soya. Dried, tinned, bottled, cooked, irradiated, pasteurised, supermarket fare is predominantly dead food – deliberately made in order to ‘protect’ our health and enhance shelf life. Our fermentation workshops have served many purposes: to reintroduce us to making our own live foods; bringing us together as a community exchanging recipes and skills; seeking out and sharing local sources of supply; and developing resilience through home preservation of much more than jam. Gill Jacobs: Is the emerging
Aesthetic fermentation at Biochymical Arts Workshop, FoAM, Brussels. Photo by Eva Bakkeslett
hype about fermented foods all it’s cracked up to be? Absolutely! Fermented foods tick all the boxes. They are traditional foods, underpinned by the wisdom that comes from being passed down over time. They also run counter to our modern fixation with ‘germs’ and foods that are sterilised to help shelf life but not our bodies. They are alive with enzymes and bacteria, capable of colonising and healing our gut wall, and seeing off harmful invaders. Mention sauerkraut to most people and they grimace – get them to taste a home-made mix of fermenting vegetables, however, and the complex flavours and textures will delight. But the term ‘fermentation’ is not limited to cabbage. Wine, beer, cheese, milk, chocolate, vinegar and bread all rely on fermentation to make them more readily digestible, and infinitely more good for us. Because of our reliance on refrigeration as a method of prolonging the ‘freshness’ of food, we forget that fermenting food used to be the primary source of preservation, and still is in many cultures. Herders on the move ferment cow, goat and sheep milk into cheese, kefir, yogurt, or fermented butter. Once innoculated with friendly bacteria (which see off the harmful kind) these foods withstand heat and become not just safe foods, but also healthy ones. Where to start with ferments? One of the easiest is beetroot kvass. All you need is a large jar into which you pour 2 litres of filtered water. Add three medium sized organic beetroots, peeled and chopped, together with 1 tablespoon of sea salt, and a ¼ cup of whey (or you can omit the whey and double the salt). Leave out for two to three days. Transfer the strained liquid to the fridge, and top up the beetroot with more water for one more ferment, leaving behind some of the original kvass as a starter culture. Start each day with a 4 oz glass. You can also grind up some hemp seeds and add five minutes before drinking. This is an excellent blood tonic and liver cleanser. Try it! Colin Trier is a member of Transition Plymouth and is starting a horticultural smallholding, Ashgrove Farm, with others, growing unusual plants and herbs for the local market. Email email@example.com. Gill Jacobs is a health writer and blogs at Wiseuptohealth.com. She is a member of Transition Kentish Town and the Weston A Price Foundation, a non profit for Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts. For hands-on fermentation all-day workshops see http://chapters.westonaprice. org/londonuk/fermentation-workshops.
Winter bounty by Dorothea Leber
In winter most of the vital energy is found beneath the ground. This is particularly evident in plants such as the parsnip, whose leaves fall away while the roots become very sweet and nutritious. Other underground bounty includes comfrey roots, burdock roots and couch grass roots – all full of vitality and containing potent medicinal properties when harvested in the winter months. Although many of the leaves die away, some plants continue to grow, though at a slower rate because of the colder temperatures, shorter days and less sunlight. These include land cress, winter purslane and cornsalad. Other overwintering plants like rocket mizuna will struggle a little but will continue to survive and provide leaves for seasonal salads. In biodynamic gardens we stir and spray our horn manure preparation two or three times before winter is in full swing. The manure has gone through a special fermentation process for half a year before being carefully stirred into water and sprayed throughout the garden in the late afternoons. This has the effect of nourishing the life beneath the ground during the cold season, and of encouraging healthier growth. Another biodynamic spray I find useful in winter is made from horsetail. I collect and dry equisetum arvense in August, when the plant’s silica content is at its peak. When needed, I pack a net bag full of the dried leaves and simmer them in about 8 litres of water for 45 minutes, in order to extract the silica. I then dilute one part of the simmered liquid with 20 parts water, and spray the whole of the garden and especially the greenhouses with it. We have found it has helped enormously to prevent and treat fungal attacks. The theory behind it is that silica creates a microclimate of light, which is the opposite of the dark and damp conditions that fungi need to thrive. This approach will not work once mildew or fungus infestations have already appeared, but it is an effective preventative when sprayed regularly, over a length of time. Doreothea Leber is head gardener of the biodynamic garden at the Michael Hall Steiner School in Sussex.
t e x t i l e s
Side-stepping fast fashion by William Lana
Textiles is a truly global industry. In many ways it was the starting point of the industrialisation of the world, kicked off in the 18th century by Britain’s cotton industry and trade.
A group of farmers display their organic and fairtrade cotton at Agrocel in India. Photo by Miki Alcalde/People Tree
Labour-intensive garment production was one of the earliest to adopt the ‘logic’ of globalisation and in the last 50 years has been moving from the high-wage countries to lower and lower wage countries in a so-called race to the bottom. The globalisation of the textile industry has meant that companies have shifted focus away from production and instead ‘bigged-up’ brand and
marketing. Production is merely a supply management issue. This has led to a systemic exploitation of workers, including excessive hours, lack of job security, poverty wages, ill-health and denial of trade union rights. To a transitioner this feels very unsatisfactory. We want to know where the raw materials have been grown, raised or made. We want to know what the energy input
has been, how far the garment has come, and what toxic outputs have been created through its production. Who has made it and under what conditions? Quite apart from the concern that our bum doesn’t look big in it. When we opened our Greenfibres shop in the mid 1990’s I remember some people walking by, saying “Organic textiles?! You don’t eat your socks!” Apart from being incorrect (60% of the cotton harvest is cotton seed used for animal feed and vegetable oil) it made me realise just how disconnected we are from our textiles. They are all around us (literally), internationally employ over 26 million people (not including over 100 million farmers who grow cotton and other materials), and yet we have a very distant relationship to them. How far have we come in 20 years? Hmmm.... not terribly. I’m heartened to see the real growth of the make and mend movement, that £13 million worth of organic textiles were sold in the UK in 2012 and the rise of documentaries about
the industry (such as Dirty White Gold investigating the high suicide rate of Indian cotton farmers). But it still feels like early days. Who’s asking questions about energy use? One t-shirt requires
“In a nutshell, we should be buying fewer textiles, of better quality, which can be mended.” approx. 1.7 kg of fossil fuel and generates approx. 4 kg of CO2. Can we even return to a less energy intensive textile industry? Who remembers how to ret or scutch flax? Where are the businesses who know how to process these fibres? Why is 95% of the cotton grown in the US from GM seed? So what if we wanted to start bringing fibres and fabrics back home, what might that look like? • we would get busy planting some hemp and make it easier to get a licence • we would re-introduce basic sewing into the primary school curriculum
A stitch in time saves skills by Caroline Jackson and Wendy Haslam The Transition City Lancaster Sewing Café to fifteen with a regular core of about Regular members of the group have has been meeting almost every Monday seven. People come often to do one-offs – branched out into new activities – afternoon for three years. It began with fix some valued old curtains, put a zip in particularly learning to crochet and now Wendy Haslam’s passion for re-using and a favourite garment, make a fancy dress knitting. We teach each other. The Sewing Café is a safe place to try out recycling just about anything. your ideas however wacky, Our idea was simple – find a venue and take on comments and for free, get some basic equipment useful suggestions. and invite people to come along on a Interestingly, the people drop in basis to do their own projects who come to the Sewing or practise new skills. Café are seldom Transition Lancaster Library provided a large members already and easily accessible room with facilities include young people and for making a brew, and storage space: those with special needs. pretty much perfect (though after a They are united by being year we had to move to premises over people keen to get skilled a shop because the library introduced or reskilled or just to ‘do charges). The county council had a small Sewing and knitting at a harvest festival organised by Transition Kensal to Kilburn. stuff’ and often they are grants scheme that provided start-up Photo by Jonathan Goldberg already into recycling and re-using but haven’t costs for community groups, so there thought out why. costume. was £300, enough to buy two refurbished We started out as an upskilling group and Sometimes they have the skills and just sewing machines and threads, scissors etc. we still are, but we are also a community, a need access to a sewing machine, other The local Freegle and Lancaster Swapshop place to make friends and an opportunity times they need the support of another also provided materials for free. to share our thoughts and ideas. member of the group to do their project. We put out flyers and posters round We don’t have all the skills ourselves but local fabric shops, in the Library itself between the people present there’s always Caroline Jackson and Wendy Haslam are and advertised at Transition events. Since the first session in September 2011 enough know-how to get someone started members of Transition City Lancaster Arts and Media Group. www.transitioncitylancaster.org attendance has varied from two people up on what they want to do.
• we would pass legislation requiring historical information to be included on the barcode of garments, e.g. where the raw materials came from, and where the garment was made. For example, a pair of Lee jeans can travel 40,000 miles from field to shelf. Meanwhile what can the average transitioner do to sidestep fast fashion? We can swap clothes with friends, purchase outerwear from charity shops, and if we do buy new items, consider an ethical supplier. If we buy textiles that we love and respect, we’re much less likely to add them to the 3 million ton annual pile which ends up in our bins. In a nutshell, we should be buying fewer textiles, of better quality, which can be mended. Now back to my tasty organic cotton socks. William Lana co-founded the organic textile company Greenfibres in 1996 and is a trustee of Transition Network. He was Chair of the Soil Association’s Organic Textile Standards Committee from 2001-2012 and helped found the Organic Trade Board in 2008.
Fashion tak an alternati New York, London, Milan, Paris… and then Crouch End. Last spring, Transition Crouch End and Hornsey Vale Community Centre established a new annual event in the neighbourhood – the Alternative Clothes Show. The aim was to raise awareness about the invisible price tag on clothes – the devastating human and environmental cost of the mainstream fashion industry. Tilly Williams reports from the front row. We called the event an Alternative Clothes Show, because we wanted to include all clothing options that were more ethical, sustainable and nonpolluting. People could rethink their wardrobe at an afternoon packed with stands, displays, activities and films. You could find fair trade, recycling and upcycling projects, try out hand skills, meet local designers or sell unwanted clothes – all showing ways of embracing style with less harm to people or planet. We put some life into the clothes, literally, by holding a Real People All Ages Catwalk.
w e l l b e i n g Coming home to
A still shot from The Empathy Roadshow’s video, showing a flock of starlings circling together before roosting for the night.
by Steve Matthews Empathy – our ability to understand and share the feelings of others – has a vital role to play in bringing about positive change in our communities. That’s the view of playwright and activist Sarah Woods, who recently created The Empathy Roadshow, a multi-media theatre show that creates an experience of empathy as a physical and emotional reality, not just an
kes off from ive runway The 40 models were all local people, from teenagers upward. Everyone received ‘walk training’ by professional model, Luka Bradshaw, and The Catwalk was pronounced the highlight of the day. There were Fair Trade, Charity Shop and Vintage sections, as well as clothes the models had handmade or upcycled themselves. After interviews with some of the stars of the show, an Extraordinary End featured larger-than-life insects and green spirits (bearing a slight resemblance to Transition Crouch Enders) to celebrate and spread the word about the wonderful community growing spaces the Initiative has created or supported. Next year’s show will be on Saturday 22nd March 2014. Tilly Williams is a founder member of Transition Crouch End and is on the management committee of Hornsey Vale Community Centre in North London.
abstract idea. Images, sound and audience involvement bring to life ordinary people’s stories of feeling what others feel. “Empathy starts with the idea that we should do to others what we would have them to do to us. It is all about connection between people, which is an embodied, emotional experience, not just a rational one. It’s part of the invisible world we’ve forgotten
to pay attention to and trust,” says Sarah. “Cultivating empathy enables people to see how much the other person is like them, creating a space where people can connect more deeply and find shared values. We can be more vulnerable and open, showing ourselves a little more, and being more open to change.” The project builds on the work
of the neuroscientist Christian Keysers, who has studied how ‘mirror neurons’ enable us to feel the experiences of others, developing an intuitive understanding of their emotions, sensations and actions. This work has led Christian to trust his own empathic instincts more: “Intuition has become a faithful friend to me. I can trust its conclusions.” The Empathy Roadshow was funded by Arts Council England and Kent County Council, and is one of several projects commissioned by Canterburybased arts organisation People United to explore new ways that the arts can inspire social change. Janetka Platun made light installations about belonging with regular skaters at Brixton Ice Rink. At Turner Contemporary in Margate, Maria Amidu produced visualisations of in-depth conversations with visitors about exhibits, and how they related to our values. People United undertakes action research, grassroots projects and artistic commissions, seeding and supporting new creative initiatives that can be replicated nationally. The project We All Do Good Things, for example, has been
repeated in a number of schools and communities, and involves working alongside a community to reveal and highlight its stories of kindness and altruism. Founder and Chief Executive Tom Andrews explains: “We hope The Empathy Roadshow will start a conversation about the role of empathy in developing the conditions where people care more about each other and their planet – the two are closely interlinked.” Sarah feels that the project may hold lessons for wellbeing and ‘Inner Transition’ groups within initiatives and others involved in working for change: “It’s about how we open up to a wider community, and not get stuck in just talking to ourselves, or feeling that we’re right and others are always wrong. Developing empathy can help us establish the conditions in which we can create positive change together, with much more diverse groups of people, enabling new solutions in the process.” Steve Matthews is a researcher, transitioner, gardener and writer based in Canterbury, Kent. www.sarah-woods.co.uk www.peopleunited.org.uk
Being in this for the long haul by Sophy Banks Burnout is all too prevalent in movements like Transition where a relatively small number of people set out to change a huge and powerful system largely in our spare time. For me burnout is not a side issue. We won’t heal a system which is depleting the planet’s resources faster than they can regenerate and going too fast to stop and hear the warning signals, if we create projects which require us to go equally fast. Where we don’t have time to reflect on how we are doing, and ignore our own physical, emotional or mental warning symptoms of depletion or exhaustion. Many Transition groups I’ve met with have been going strong and feeling empowered by their successes, large and small. But I’ve also been with groups who have reached a different point. For some, the same small band of people has kept the project going for months, possibly years, and they’re running out
of steam. For others there’s a personal exhaustion from just giving more than they were getting back over a long period. In some there have been disagreements or conflict which
“Successful organisations that people want to belong to say at least five positive things for every negative” have sapped the group’s energy. There’s a clear need for balance in our Transition work, between activism and other aspects which are restorative and restful. A few years ago at Transition Network we realised we were focused on the ‘doing’ of stuff. Our meetings were very task focused, with a quality of rushing to get everything done. So we changed pace. Our
meetings now start with a short silence and some kind of goround. Every meeting closes with a reflection on how the meeting went, appreciations, and suggestions for next time. We alternate ‘Doing’ meetings with ‘Being’ meetings which focus entirely on how we are, on improving how we interact with each other. Human societies that take care of people and ecosystems and live satisfying, healthy lives, hold a natural dynamic between action and stillness. There is a flow between outer work and inner reflection, putting out and receiving back. However movements for change often recreate our dominant culture which values achievement and material output over our wellbeing, relationships and inner lives. It’s easy to see the pressure to go faster and do more – the scale of change needed is so huge, it can feel like we’re so few, and the problems are pressing. As
someone at an Inner Transition session asked recently: “How do we keep the qualities of slowing down and spaciousness, while being with the profound sense of urgency of our times?”. The process we’re in is about reversing the direction of human civilisation that’s been going for hundreds, even thousands of years. It won’t happen in a few months, or years. I loved hearing about Sarvodoya, the Sri Lankan movement that dreamed a 500 year plan to restore peace to its villages after 500 years of colonialism and war. I think we need to be in this for the long haul, and ensuring we are personally – and organisationally – balanced and sustainable. Isn’t that really what we’re all about? Sophy Banks was one of the founders of Transition Town Totnes and leads on Inner Transition for the Transition Network. www. transitionnetwork.org/support/ inner-transition.
p r a c t i c a l How much wood would a Transitioner chop? by Suzie Webb
A community wood project in Reepham, Norfolk. Photo by Reepham Warm Wood Transition Cambridge (TC) grew out of film showings of Power of Community, The End of Suburbia and others around our warm and cosy wood-burning stove. Wood is the most carbon efficient heat source, particularly when gathered and chopped by yourself, and there is nothing like experiencing or hearing about it first hand. This
winter TC’s energy group held an evening forum on stoves in which a householder, installer, supplier of hot logs and chimney sweep shared their expertise, answered questions and wrote a popular on-line FAQ. Over ten years of wood heating we have developed great time-saving techniques. Our first purchase was a short-handled axe. Now we have a
sharp long-handled splitting maul that is far more effective. Our wood mountain seasons for up to four years. It’s visible on our front drive so neighbours sometimes offer us trees they have felled and children drag us the odd branch they find. Also, my husband Iain cuts trees as part of active management of wildlife sites and brings some home. Along with other Cambridge residents, I love showing others our eco renovations through Open Eco Homes. Our heating system was designed to use solar thermal and our stove heats water. They connect to the original radiators throughout our home. We burn about four cubic metres over the winter and don’t keep the fire alight overnight. To process wood we usually invite friends over for a chopping party once a year. It’s a high point – and essential. Our four-year-old and friends join in by carrying logs and snapping kindling. This year
we sawed our logs using a Logster Sawhorse. Most sawhorses only hold one log but this excellent innovation holds many logs up to 8 feet in length and allows them all to be sawn at once, by hand or with a chainsaw. Once the logs are sawn to the longest our stove can fit, they’re split so they’re not too thick. Previously
“Log processing is much less backbreaking these days!” we split one log at a time, often striking them wrong, causing them to fall on the floor, wasting time. Now we use a bike tyre to hold the logs together so they don’t fall over and we don’t have to keep picking them up. Ideally, this technique would be done on a tree stump with a wider diameter than the tyre where it can be accessed from all sides. However they are hard to find, so we made
one. We chopped our widest logs to the same height and fastened them together with a ratchet strap to make a wide, level surface (with some holes). This ‘stump’ has lasted for years and serves as a tea table, chair and climbing frame at other times. We pack logs over 14cm diameter inside the bike tyre on the stump. If there are gaps, we ram in smaller logs. Now for the best part: with no bending over, we move round the logs swinging the maul repeatedly until the logs are split. Then we wheelbarrow the logs ready to stack for winter. Any that weren’t split can be put back in the bike tyre with the next load. Log processing is much less back-breaking these days! Suzie Webb is a mother, environmentalist, teacher, writer and a founder member of Transition Cambridge (transitioncambridge.org/faqs/ woodburningstoves). Logster Sawhorse www.tcfengineering.co.uk
Bio-char: low tech gift of past to future by Martin Grimshaw Sacred Earth, a social enterprise which manages 40 acres of land in Sussex, is integrating education, mentoring, Community Supported Agriculture and experiments with soil restoration, inspired by ancient Amazonian ‘terra preta’, or black earth. Despite the abundance of life in tropical forests, soil fertility is very weak, since conditions don’t allow decaying matter to penetrate into the earth. For a long time experts puzzled over the origins of several pockets of terra preta in the Amazon, and have now determined that these areas of extremely productive soil are man-made, created by burying charcoal and food waste. Biochar is a method of replicating the process: ‘cooking’ woody material at a low temperature in a sealed low oxygen kiln, then returning it into the soil. Since greenhouse gases, such as CO2, methane and nitrous oxide, are mostly captured by the pyrolisis process and the carbon stored in the wood, it is carbon negative and has been hailed by scientists such as James Lovelock and James Hansen as part of the effort to combat climate change. Unlike
most geo-engineering solutions proposed to mitigate global warming, biochar is low tech and smart. It also provides multiple benefits: increased crop yields, reduced use of irrigation and fertilisers, and is a tonic for urban, rural and ‘developing’ world economies. Philip Greenwood of Sacred Earth speaking at this year’s Transition Camp, explained: “Biochar is alchemy for the soil. Exciting and diverse applications are being conducted with impressive results, but more research and support is needed. Agricultural and problematic forestry waste such as rhododendron, laurel, privet and yew hedges, and Leylandii have been tried. “We can process sawdust and timber yard offcuts, and biochar can reverse soil acidity following commercial pine forestry. It supports micro-organisms in the way that a coral reef is a platform for ocean diversity, and stabilises minerals for slow release.” Concern has rightly been raised about rashly displacing arable land for large scale biochar forestry. However, the Transition movement promotes simple, small scale
solutions that can be replicated on a large scale, while boosting the ‘Transition economy’. Approached wisely, biochar is a worthwhile experiment we can all explore. The Big Biochar Experiment is an Oxford University led research effort enlisting citizen scientists reporting results back from their allotments, with very promising progress. If you have a garden or allotment, try adding small chunks of charcoal made from your seasonal clearances to your compost, to improve soil richness and structure. You can buy or make your own small biochar oven (there are videos on YouTube). If you are farming or have access to land, you can buy larger kilns and even harness heat, electricity and biogas or oil, as a byproduct. As a local Transition group you could establish a social enterprise, working with your council and other land users. Martin Grimshaw has been deeply engaged in the Transition movement since 2007, is a seasoned green activist, and is a facilitator, trainer and consultant at There’s Better Ways Of Working (2bwow.org.uk). SacredEarthLand.co.uk and BritishBiocharFoundation.org
Making your own rocket stove with Louise Smith (Transition Buckingham) is one of the most popular workshops at the annual Transition Camp in Sussex. Armed with tin-snippers and fortitude participants learn to make these small robust camping stoves from three tin cans and insulate them with wood ash. The efficient design of the rocket stove means it will operate using about half as much fuel as a traditional open fire, and it can burn smaller-diameter wood. For a step by step guide: www.facebook.com/rocketstove.workshops. Photo by David Spink
5Rhythms participants in Totnes exploring connections through dance. Photo by Jo Hardy
p h y s i c a l Dance through
winter’sdepths by Jo Hardy and Steph Bradley
How are you preparing for winter? Are you dreading the cold dark nights, or do you relish the thought of cosying up before a logfuelled burner, with time to reflect on your year, and perhaps eating the food you have grown, picked and preserved? Whether you relish or dread it, dancing through the winter just might be the way to go! 5Rhythms is a simple movement practice designed to release the dancer that lives within all of us, whatever our shape, size, age,
limitations and experience. Since prehistory, dance has played an important role in healing and celebration. 5Rhythms is a contemporary expression of this. It can meet the pace of our modern lives and support us to experience the transformative power of free movement and dance. Every week the Civic Hall in Totnes is filled with 60-70 dancers moving to skilfully choreographed music: anything from wild world beats, deep dance grooves, and tender acoustic songs, to classical and jazz. The 5Rhythms – flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness – create a dance journey called ‘The Wave’.
No special skills are required, just the courage and a willingness to step onto the dance floor and move with who and how you are moment to moment. One of the ‘dis-eases’ of our times is that many of us lead sedentary lives whilst our minds get very busy; we can tend to stiffen, losing creativity, curiosity and connectedness to our bodies and hearts. Consequently we live with a compromised sense of wellbeing, less connected to our bodies and each other than we might long for. When we dance we connect to the miracle that is our body. We discover the joy and nourishment that come from exploring endless
creative moves. We dance with and through limitations, we jump when we’re joyful, we do a fiery dance when we’re angry, and we move through our sad dance, our bored dance and our self-conscious dance. Everything can be danced and let go of, leaving a sense of greater peace and harmony. Ask these dancers what they value about their weekly dance and they’ll say “connection”. Connection to their body, to each other, to community. Many of us come alone, and often leave feeling a greater sense of interconnection, with one another, our environment, and the seasons. When winter comes, and animals
hibernate, a dance journey can reveal what we are most needing in our day to day lives; perhaps it’s time for us to rest too, enjoy the fruits of our labour together, and reflect on our achievements. Winter’s bleakness often leaves us depressed. The response from the originator of 5Rhythms, the late Gabrielle Roth, was invariably: “When did you stop dancing?” Steph Bradley writes and tells Tales of Transition www.tales-of-ourtimes.org. Jo Hardy, a member of Transition Town Totnes, runs dance classes and workshops in Devon and further afield. For more information go to www.consciousdancespace.com.
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Want to get a great gift and support an awardwinning social enterprise? Grown from waste coffee grounds at Exeter Urban Farm, our GroCycle Mushroom Kit is a popular gift for Christmas. Watch a time-lapse video and order at: www.fungi-futures.co.uk
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Transition Free Press is looking for a new News and Sports Editor. The successful candidate will be part of the TFP Collective, sharing in editorial and business decisions. A background in news journalism and experience of the Transition movement or other parts of the Solution Economy would be ideal. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Ecological Holiday Accommodation
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
Plants for Life
Get to know your local wild and cultivated plants in their many roles from medicine to bee pollination. Learn how paying attention to plants increases wellbeing and belonging. Group talks, walks and workshops (including foraged herb teas) with ‘Mark in Flowers’ Watson. Informative, fun, inspiring. Sliding scale prices. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 01502 722419 Web: www.markinflowers.wordpress.com
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
The Well & Good Project
One and two-day workshops designed to give a jumpstart to your community group’s effort to re-think your local economy. Delivered by experienced Transitioners and ideal for Transition initiatives, REconomy groups and other organisations working for economic relocalisation. Want to host a workshop? Contact us at: email@example.com or www. facebook.com/wellandgoodproject
s p o r t
Paddling up Transition creek
Canoeing - even off-season - can truly be a fun, safe and dry way to learn genuine co-operation. Photo by Hal Gilmore
by Hal Gilmore Mention canoeing to most people of my generation (not ancient yet but maybe beginning to contemplate the idea), and they’ll recall the dreaded “capsize drill” in freezing waters, the desperate paddling in frustrated circles trying to get the flipping thing to go in a straight line. Such psychological skeletons from school can easily taint particular sports and stop us even considering them as an adult, but if this was your experience of canoeing, think again. Imagine a canoe that doesn’t
get buffeted about by the wind, goes in straight lines, and makes even the most cautious novice non-swimmer feel at ease 100m from shore. No capsize drill needed. Canoe designs have evolved significantly in the last 30 years making it easier and safer to take to all kinds of waters. Here on the River Dart in South Devon, mankind’s oldest vessel, the open, or Canadian, canoe, has evolved too. Small may be beautiful but these large eight and nine metre ‘voyagers’ have
their own particular style. There is safety too – in numbers. Eight to twelve passengers gives the vessels the weight and power to go out on open water in weather that would make kayaks and solo canoeists think twice. And with so many on board, there is naturally a co-operative team spirit: everyone connects to the same rhythm and pulls together. A large crew also means you can take the odd rest here and there, and trust that your colleagues will keep paddling and keep you on course.
These large canoes, built by local boatwright Ian Bowles in Totnes, are the living legacy of over a thousand years of boat building on the river Dart, where modern innovation and experimentation have seen some high profile successes and failures, from record-breaking ocean-going rowing boats to Pete Goss’s ill-fated Team Philips, the innovative giant catamaran that broke up during sea trials for a round-the-world race. Paddling along like our ancient ancestors, we also connect with our more recent past and how our towns and villages came to be. We learn our geography, heritage and history up close. The wrecks of old workhorse barges bare their ribs at low tide and tidal dams sit idle, leaking water through abandoned sluice gates that wait to be restored so they can once again power-up the riverside villages. How much more energyefficient it is to travel and transport goods by boat than it is by road or rail? Things just take a little longer, that’s all. And that’s kind of how we like it in South Devon. We forget our little ports and harbours at our peril – canoeing on the river, we keep their stories alive. These are not holiday houses or retirement homes to us. They are key resilience infrastructure, slumbering. Maybe one day they will come back to life and resume their place at the heart of our re-
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localised economy. Although built with modern materials, all the canoes follow the same pattern as the ancient dug-out and birch-clad vessels people have always used to explore, hunt and trade via the rivers, waterways, lakes and seas.
“There is naturally a co-operative team spirit: everyone connects to the same rhythm and pulls together” With no motor we are closer to the wildlife, too. We even attract the curiosity of seals, who regularly pop up for a close inspection. Fish leap either side, sometimes landing aboard. Modern life doesn’t often afford us the opportunity to share the enjoyment of sane, calm reflection amid beautiful and fascinating scenery. So put those school memories out of your head. Forget the capsize drill – canoeing is great fun, for everyone. As Henry David Thoreau once said: “Everyone must believe in something. I believe I’ll go canoeing.” Hal Gilmore is a member of Transition Town Totnes. He leads study tours for groups wishing to learn more about Transition and he runs a canoe hire company called Big Green Canoe.
“Transition is a network of positive local 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.