Category Archives: Community Involvement

Welland Park Community Cafe consortium

WellandParkCafe_smallThree weeks ago it was published in the Harborough mail that HFT was giving up its lease on the cafe in Welland Park. HFT had been running the cafe at a loss  as a way of giving work placements to its service users, people with learning disabilities. Although this was the first we had heard of this, it transpired that HFT had given 2 months notice to Harborough District Council and would be quitting as of May 31st.

There was a lot of discussion taking place on various social media platforms around Harborough on how the cafe could be run by the community and also to allow the HFT service users to continue in their valued roles, so we decided to call an open meeting to gauge appetite for this project which was held on the 12th of May in the cafe itself.

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A healthy debate was held between members of the public and stakeholder organisations who attended and it was decided that we should submit a proposal to the Council for a community not-for-profit model to run the venue.

As is the way with Transition, the right people were at the meeting that we needed to make this possible. Becky Nixon and Darren Woodiwiss (With Becky doing by far the Lions share of the work) ploughed on .We did our research and bounced ideas this way and that as well as modelling what the finances might look like and in the 9 days available created what looks to be a robust proposal ready in time for submission deadline of 5pm on the 2oth of May.

The decision was due on the 22nd but as we write this today (27th) we are unaware of a decision having been made yet.

Thanks must go to the organisations who stood up to be part of this proposal and the local Councillors of the Welland ward in Harborough for their support.

  • Seven Locks Housing
  • VASL
  • Ideas to Impact
  • Transition Town Market Harborough
  • Sustainable Harborough
  • edibLE16 Ltd
  • Farrinheight Foods

We will let you know how it goes!

N2 community farm group disappointed

A group of residents from Newcombe Street and Naseby Close (hence N2(squared)), that includes two of our Transition volunteers, have been petitioning Harborough District Council since 2009 to take over a disused garage site. The idea was to buy it from the council and establish a community farm on the site.

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This would have ticked many boxes and met many outcomes for the council and its partners under its commitment to its “Sustainable Communities Strategy” document of the time, the current document is a much weaker worded affair.

Earlier this year the council confirmed that the site would be sold by auction for housing development and thus brought an end to the hopes of local residents. As one of HDC’s only significant sale-able land assets it is not surprising that our cash strapped council has chosen not to exercise its option to use the land for “Community benefit” and maximize it’s financial returns.

The blind bidding process closed on May 30th 2014 and the council has confirmed that it has received bids for the land (Subject to planning permission being granted). All is not lost however, the whole plot was not sold as there is a grassed area (The size of two allotments) that is potentially being offered to the community.

Hopefully there will be more information soon.

Why even the G8 prefer vibrant, diverse local economies really …

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If there was one picture that captured the times we are living through it is this.  It appeared on the BBC website recently with the following caption:

Kevin McGuire walks his dog past a vacant shop in Belcoo, Northern Ireland.  The empty shop is one of a number that have had graphics placed on the windows to make them look like working shops ahead of the G8 summit which takes place nearby later this month.  

Let’s take that a bit more slowly.  Here is a shop, one of many that has gone out of business due, among other things, to the growth-fixated policies of the G8, situated in a place G8 ministers will be driven past en route to their summit.  Rather than their being able to see how things are actually unfolding in the real world, the division and misery being caused by their approach to the economy, the windows have been plastered with stickers that present it as a fully-stocked, thriving shop.  As singer/comic Mitch Benn put it on BBC Radio 4′s The Now Show on Friday,  ”the last thing you’d want would be for a bunch of people meeting to fix the economy to see how bad the economy’s got”.

The BBC reported the story, giving a bit more information about it:

County Fermanagh’s district council sanctioned the fake retail units as part of a £1m makeover before it hosts the G8 summit. The event takes place on 17 and 18 June at the Lough Erne golf resort near Enniskillen.  The chief executive of Fermanagh District Council has defended the optical illusion.

“It was aimed at undeveloped sites at the entrance to the town and then right throughout the county in terms of the other towns and villages, looking at those vacant properties and really just trying to make them look better and more aesthetically pleasing,” says Brendan Hegarty

Here’s the thing that fascinated me most though.  It’s the kind of shop they chose to portray it as.  They didn’t print up large stickers that would present the shop as being a Tesco Metro, a Sainsbury’s Local, an Aldi perhaps, or even branch of one of the banks that contributed significantly to our getting into this mess in the first place.  They didn’t make one huge sticker, one false façade, that showed a new shopping precinct, glittering with all the usual chain stores that dominate every such precinct.  Or a Travelodge perhaps.  Rather they set out deliberately and in considerable detail to portray the kind of vibrant, local, independent business that has either become extinct, or which survives in spite of, rather than because of, the policies of the G8.  Here’s another one…

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The windows are hung with delicious-looking hams, the display features meats and a whole range of delicious local produce, beautifully arranged.  Although the cut-and-paste nature of the graphic design rather gives the game away (the same arrangements of hams appear two or three times), what they are trying to portray here is that most endangered of species, the local, independent butcher.

In the mid-1990s there were 22,000 butchers in the UK, by 2010 there were just 6,553.  The independent butcher is making something of a spirited fightback though, although certainly not aided, in any sense, by the G8.  The butcher that would have occupied that shop no longer exists, most likely because a supermarket opened nearby and completely shifted the balance of the Belcoo economy (any readers from Belcoo who might like to write in and tell us what led to this shop’s demise would be most welcome).

The other day I spoke to Nick Sherwood of REconomy Herefordshire, who has co-ordinated the Herefordshire Economic Evaluation (the second such piece of work, the Totnes one already being published, and Brixton’s coming soon).  Our conversation will be published here soon, but one of the things that really struck me was the following:

We estimate that the top five major supermarkets in Herefordshire account for between 71% – 83% of all household expenditure on ‘brought home’ food and drink, or up to £180m annually. In addition, around £30m per year is spent in the smaller ‘chain’ supermarkets.

Herefordshire-EB-cover-198x300Their conclusion is that the true ‘local spend’ figure, i.e through local, independent businesses in Herefordshire, could be around 16% of the total.  In terms of a national version of that figure, the best I can find is the figure from the Portas Review that states that 8,000 supermarkets now account for over 97% of all UK grocery sales.  Although clearly other smaller supermarkets account for some of the remaining sales, let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that nationally, 3% of what we spend on groceries goes out through local and independent businesses.

I would imagine that everyone seeks an economy that is able to provide jobs, economic activity, stronger and happier communities and community resilience, while also skilfully reducing its carbon emissions on the scale required.  The question of our times though, as far as I’m concerned, is whether that is best achieved by expanding the 97% of our economy currently dominated by huge supermarkets, the kinds of enterprise that the UK government and the G8 see as leading the push for growth, or protecting and enhancing the 3%?

It’s a vital question, because at the moment the push to eradicate the 3% altogether, or at least squeeze it a lot harder, continues apace.  Yet that 3% is better suited to meeting those core needs of ours.  As the recent report by Localise West Midlands on ‘community economic development’ states:

Our research has found strong evidence that local economies with higher levels of SMEs and local ownership perform better in terms of employment growth (especially disadvantaged and peripheral areas), the local multiplier effect, social and economic inclusion, income redistribution, health, civic engagement and well-being than places heavily reliant on inward investment where there are fewer, larger, remotely owned employers.

A study focusing on New Orleans compared 179,000 square feet of retail space that is home to 100 independent businesses to the same-sized space that is home to a single supermarket. The former generated $105 million in sales with $34 million staying in the local economy, while the latter generated $50 million in sales with just $8 million staying locally, and necessitated 300,000 square feet of parking space (see graphic below).

shops

Santander’s ‘Market of Hope’ which I wrote about here last year is a great example of how a city can be fed by looking at large retail spaces in such a way that they boost and support the local independent economy rather than undermine it. When Sir Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco, was asked whether there was any alternative to supermarkets, replied:

“… queueing at one store than trudging down Watford High Street in the rain to another shop … is this what people actually want to go back to?”

But no, it’s not about “going back”, rather about going forward in a way that meets our needs rather than those of the City of London.  What we now know is that even G8 ministers would rather pass through High Streets populated with small, independent butchers, bakers, grocers, would rather see shop windows overflowing with delicious food,  trusting that the relationship they have built up with the shopkeeper over many years will mean that he/she stocks the best produce they can find.  It feels right.  It’s human scale.  It makes sense.  It’s an economy that is ours, it belongs to local people, to the local economy.  Even G8 ministers would now appear to prefer a shopping experience that actually involves interacting with other human beings rather than wandering anonymously around a superstore and then cashing yourself out at the end.

The core argument of The Power of Just Doing Stuff, published on Friday, is that if we really want to achieve our goals of jobs, economic activity, stronger and happier communities and community resilience, while also skilfully reducing our carbon emissions on the scale required, we’d be better off focusing on growing the 3% rather than the 97%.  It’s a pretty simple idea, and, to me at least, a blindingly obvious one, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

However, the experience is that this fightback has already begun.  The explosion of new bakeries, pop-up shops, community renewable energy projects, craft breweries, independent record shops, complementary currencies and communities acquiring their own assets is already happening around us, but it needs us to get behind it, to put our shoulders, our spending power, our sheer bloody will, to making it 10%, 30% 70%.  If we want a stable climate, reduced energy vulnerability, economic stability, and a healthy human culture, we really have no choice.  As Maria van der Hoeven of the IEA said recently at the launch of a World Energy Outlook Special Report, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, ”the path we are currently on is more likely to result in a temperature increase of between 3.6 °C and 5.3 °C”.

Fortunately, it’s a push that is life-enhancing, thrill-generating and in which we discover a resourcefulness, a kindness and a passion in ourselves that we may have forgotten was there.  I’ll leave you with a quote from the book, from Helen Cunningham of DE4 Food, a social enterprise food hub in Derbyshire that grew out of Transition Matlock.  The project grew from helping a local farmer with lambing and has grown into an innovative new business:

“Never in my life did I imagine that I’d be able to bring lambs into the world! It wasn’t a skill I ever expected to have. It was such a different thing from what we were doing in the rest of our lives, and I think from then we’ve all thought “OK, we can learn these new skills, we can learn how to lamb, we can learn how to grow vegetables and learn how to do Excel Profit and Loss sheets and whatever.” I think we all just really wanted to change the way we live, and change our own personal lives and to change things and live different lives ourselves as well as a different life in our community”.

You can pre-order your copy of The Power of Just Doing Stuff here.  

A May Round-up of What’s Happening out in the World of Transition

We’ll start this month’s round up in South Africa.  We loved this video from German TV about Transition Town Greyton, and the work they are doing.  Wonderful stuff.  Altogether now: “Stuff your bottles, clean up your town”…

This month’s round up comes to you with a new added source of material, Twitter.  There are hundreds of Transition initiatives on Twitter, and they offer a more intimate insight into what’s happening on the ground, stories that wouldn’t necessarily warrant a blog or make the local press, but which offer a great sense of what people are doing.  Hopefully you’ll agree that this month’s round up is all the richer for it.  Feels to me like the fullest and most vibrant we’ve yet produced.  

Let’s start in the UK, and head to St Albans.  You can catch up on the latest news from Transition St Albans here.  One of their key activities has been the rolling out of Transition Streets, which is already being done by 40 households in 6 groups, with another 7 groups forming over the summer.  Transition Wilmslow recently organised a work party to build raised beds at the Riverside Hotel in Colshaw.

Transition Town Berkhamsted ran an event called Modernising Money: why our system is broken and how we can fix it.  They may have tried to imagine a place where everyone used a local currency, where rather than being a complimentary currency, it was the standard currency.  Visitors to the recent Sunrise Festival didn’t have to imagine too hard, as the Bristol Pound partnered with the Sunrise Festival.  According to a joint press release:

Sunrise and £B have teamed up to make the Bristol Pound the currency for this year’s main festival.  We feel it is a fantastic opportunity to spread the word of the £B as a catalytic tool for positive change.  It adds another great element to the festival, an interesting and fun way to get people thinking about money and to experience the enjoyment of using a community owned currency.

Sunrise Festival described themselves as ‘overjoyed’.  The idea also attracted press attention, as the photo below attests:

bristol pound

Transition Belper have produced their most recent newsletter.   It captures the sense of a Transition initiative with a powerful sense that it is making change happen and that it is finding the whole thing rather thrilling.  Here’s a short passage from their newsletter:

Transition Belper continues to grow and break new milestones all the time. This week we will see the number of supporters for the group going above the 500 level, something the 5 guys who sat together in December 2009 and said ‘should we get involved in this new Transition movement’ should be very proud of. From a practical point of view work continues on the green spaces of the Belper Train Station, adopted in April 2012, we have just held the first Youth Market in Derbyshire, we have seen the launch of Totally Locally Belper and this weekend sees the first Eco festival to be held in Belper, all organised by Transition Belper.

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The above-mentioned ‘Eco festival’ was actually called Belper Goes Green, and was their first ‘Transition Festival’.  At the end of the day they tweeted, “what an amazing effort, we are unleashed”.  Transition Town Stratford’s GardenShare scheme is going well, they recently tweeted “folk are busy harvesting delicious new potatoes and giant radishes”.

Bath & West Community Energy, the community energy company that grew out of Transition Bath, has formed a rather exciting alliance with Frome Town Council.  The Somerset Standard recently ran a story entitled Carbon neutral plan could see town generate its own electricity, which stated:

Now the council hopes to team up with a Bath-based renewable energy company to achieve the ultimate goal – a dramatic reduction in energy consumption and as much home-grown energy from renewables as Frome uses.

Speaking of Bath, Nathan Baranowski and Iva Carrdus recently wrote a fantastic article about how Transition is unfolding in the city. It is well worth a read.  I loved its concluding two sentences:

Our prayer for Transition is to let us move forward with pace and a balance of hands, head and heart in all that we do, so that we stay connected to ourselves and others as well as the planet we live on. And always bring tea and cake.

tp_posterTransition Reading now have a new Steering group in place.  Transition Social Reporter Kerry Lane wrote a great piece sharing a vision for resuse and repair in Shrewsbury.  Transition Sheffield ran an event to bring together Transition groups in and around the city to share their ‘Local Transition Stories‘.  Another excellent, in depth article about what Transition looks like in practice in a particular place was this article about Plymouth in Devon and what’s unfolding there Transition-wise.

TT-Forres in Scotland welcomes 16 Scandinavian visitors. Read more in the Forres Gazette.  TT-Marlow (Bucks) have set up a new monthly market in which anyone can set up a stall as long as they are selling locally made produce or are offering a local service.

beesTransition Louth recently held ‘The Festival of the Bee’, which included a wealth of bee-related events, including the Louth Concert for Bees (see poster, right).  It inspired the local paper to a cascade of dreadful bee-related puns, such as “Louth is soon to become a hive of activity as the town prepares to celebrate its first ever Festival of the Bee organised by Transition Town Louth and Louth in Bloom”, and talk of “making a beeline” to the event and how it was “buzzing”.

TT Honiton in Devon have created a new waste group and have also been busy with a clothes swap.  From TT Lewes, some growing tips for the forthcoming month of June.  TT Romsey teamed up with Riverford Organic Farm to organise a poetry competition for primary school children on the theme of growing your own. You can read the winning poem and some other entries here.

Transition Cambridge’s unveiled its Fruit Tree Harvest project, which they described like this:

There must be hundreds of fruit trees in Cambridge gardens producing unwanted or wasted fruit. The Food Group are planning a new project to tackle this situation.

They set out some of the things the project needs in order to be a success:

  • Do you have a fruit picker or a lightweight (bike friendly) ladder that you’d be willing to lend to the project?
  • Do you have a garden producing too many apples, plums or pears for your needs?
  • Would you like to join the harvesting teams?

Transition Town Totnes’ Food Hub takes more steps towards becoming a reality.  Also, Greg Barker MP recently visited the town and made this short video to reflect on the experience:

You can read the latest Transition Town Totnes newsletter here.  Transition Chester have got together with Friends of Hoole Parks and with Cheshire West and Cheshire Council to bring the Incredible Edible idea to Hoole, planting over 100 fruit bushes in the corner of Alexandra Park. Transition Chepstow presented to their local U3A group a talk called ‘What is a Transition Town and what has Transition Chepstow been doing?’  Transition Malvern Hills ran a repair cafe.  Social reporter Caroline Jackson wrote a beautiful blog about her local Transition initiative in Garstang , Lancashire.  She wrote:

As new initiatives go, I think Transition Garstang is a fantastic example.  It has made a space for itself in a place where there is already plenty going on and you could feel daunted by that alone.  It has partenered up and gained acceptance from all manner of local groups and has been willing to try things and take the risk of failure.  The future is full of new ideas and opportunities.  All I can say is thanks for giving me the time to learn so much about you.  Go Garstang!

James Smith has written a great piece on Transition Shrewsbury Green Doors 2013.  Over the next few months, two young film makers from Folkstone in Transition (Kent) will be asking local people involved what does Transition mean to you?  Transition Chichester held a stall at their recent Farmers Market. here’s a photo of it…

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They also ran a Swap Shop event, which we suspect was actually just an excuse to try on lots of different silly hats, as this photo suggests:

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To London now, and news of some of the groups there.  A couple of them have recently been celebrating the anniversaries of their setting up.  Transition Town Tooting just turned 5!  Here’s a great blog by a newcomer to the group, reflecting on the party, on feeling part of the project, and, of course, on the cakes that were made for the event (see below).

Cakes

The Tooting group also recently organised a craft session in the local library where children learnt how to take prints from leaves.  Here are a couple of photos of the event:

Tooting Library 2

Tooting Library 1

Transition Town Kingston (you can read their latest newsletter here) held their 5th birthday party, which included an entertainer which they described on Twitter as being “a zany performer described as a cross between Brian Cox, Harry Hill and Lady Gaga”. Blimey.  Marilyn Mason, a key member of TT-Kingston, and not ”a zany performer described as a cross between Brian Cox, Harry Hill and Lady Gaga” has been praised for her work in the local community and nominated as an unsung hero.

Crystal Palace Transition Town are doing great stuff at the moment, and they just celebrated their second birthday.  Their birthday was celebrated at what sounded like a wonderful AGM event, which celebrated all the many projects underway in the area.  Here’s a great write-up of it. Here is a video they made that captures what they’ve achieved over the past year:

The day after their AGM, CPTT launched the Crystal Palace Food Market, which has been a huge success.

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Inside Croydon, the local paper, wrote a glowing article about it, reporting on the market’s second week of trading:

The Crystal Palace Transition Town group got this market off the ground in less than a year.  They did this without a six-figure grant from the government.  They did so without needing any endorsement or assistance from a television celebrity.The market has been an immediate draw for local families.  It was achieved through the hard efforts of unpaid volunteers and by spreading  “word of mouth” digitally, online, via Twitter and Facebook, with some outlay on acquiring stalls and some printing and associated costs.  So many people attended the market on its first staging a week ago, that many of the traders were almost out of stock by 1pm.

Food-Market-Joe-the-Carrot-e1369742059720-200x300As part of promoting the event, CPTT’s Joe Duggan even rather gamely dressed up as carrot.  He may well not thank us for it, but here is a photo of him in his carrot-suit (see right).

CPTT will be hosting the official launch of The Power of Just Doing Stuff on June 18th, and one of the speakers at the event will be Agamemnon Otero of the wonderful Brixton Energy.  The event is open to anyone, and promises to be a really fantastic evening.  They write “It’s likely that this event will attract national media attention and a turn out from other Transition Towns and groups, so you might want to turn up early if you’d like a seat!”

Here’s a recent interview with Agamemnon:

Transition Ealing screened a film called ‘The Spirit of 45’, which they described as:

An impassioned documentary about how the sense of unity which buoyed Britain during the war years carried through to create a vision of a fairer, united society.  The film seems of enormous relevance to the Transition movement as we endeavour to rebuild community spirit in the face of the challenges of climate change and energy volatility.

With Spring turning to summer, and things finally starting to warm up after the coldest Spring for 50 years, London Transition groups are out doing some gardening.  Transition Brockley have been similarly engaged, tweeting “the sun is out, come and garden at Brockley Common from 10-12″.  Croydon Transition tweeted that “Thornton Heath Rec Community Garden is really coming along. Put in lettuces, peas, cosmos, sunflowers and a few squashes on Sunday”.  Transition Kensal to Kilburn have been back out working on their ‘community allotment’ on Kilburn Tube station, and tweeted “come and see the beautiful black tulips and the blossoming apple tree”.

The group also held an event to launch their ‘Edible High Road’ project where they decorated and delivered trees to participating shops.  There are some great photos of the event here.   Here is the group with some of their trees, on Kilburn High Road.

kensal trees

To Spain now, and on a recent Transition Training course in Barcelona (‘Curso en Barcelona de Transición Sostenible’), participants were asked “what is Transition?”  Here’s what they said (speaking Spanish helps):

From Brazil, here is a film about Transition Granja Viana spent Earth Day:

In the US, a magazine called ‘In These Times’ ran two fantastic articles about Transition, some of the best coverage I’ve seen.  Jessica Stites wrote a piece called Transition, Coming to a Town near you, which gave a great overview of Transition across the US, and included this lovely quote from one US Transitioner:

Between you and me, I don’t know if we’re going to solve the world’s problems.  [But] the underlying ethos is that the process needs to be fun enough to be worth doing anyway. I love that about it. There’s a bit of anarchy, which is wonderful. People who are attracted to it tend to be upbeat, optimistic, joyous people.

The second, by Polly Howells, looked at one initiative, Woodstock in Transition.  It included a quote by Katryna Barber, a member of the Woodstock Initiating Group:

Transition is like when you’re a kid with your friends and you decide to make a circus. The energy level is so exciting and inviting that more kids want to join you!

Here is a video of a talk by Gail England of Transition Town Montpelier about home food systems:

T-Marbletown (IL) have been busy organising two events, one a classic community pot luck aimed at community building and the other a 5 day retreat which held Transition training events, a regional mid-Atlantic Transition Hub meeting plus plenty of sessions in which members of the public could drop in on.

‘What is *Country X* doing to take care of their environment’? asks TT-Payson (AZ) who start their series with India and Australia.  TT-Charlotte (VT) plant out their second annual TT Garden ready for the summer reading bee tepee programme.  TT-Viroqua (WI) met to talk about the many benefits of an edible weed garden.

Transition Falls Church (VI) continues to grow strong writes Ronald Lapitan, a high school student and key member of the group who first heard of the Transition movement via the film Economics of Happiness and was inspired to start a project. Read his full piece in the Falls Church news press.

I have no idea where this video comes from other than assuming it is somewhere in the US, but it features various Transition folks helping someone dig over her garden, while the narrator points out that in 47 days time she’ll be eating greens from her garden.

Emily Zionts, a global issues teacher at Woolman, a non-profit educational community in the Sierra Nevada foothills in California, focuses the end of semester on Transition which forms part of their activist toolkit workshops.

You may have found that in your Transition group you struggle to get members to figure out how to use the website and upload stuff onto it.  Well, Transition Town Comox Valley (BC) in Canada have created a video tutorial to show people how to use their website:

… and another to show people how to use their discussion forums (or fora)…

Joe’s garage seems to be a regular haunt for TT-Comox Valley meetings where they met recently to discuss long term strategic aims and greater collaboration with like minded organisations in the valley.  The co-founder of T-Oakville (ON) gave a talk about the Transition model in Cobourg (ON). A public meeting followed shortly afterwards to discuss whether the local environmental group Sustainable Cobourg should become a Transition Town. Read more here and here. Transition Toronto recently ran a Container & Backyard Gardening Workshop.

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To Italy now, and to Ferrara.  Ferrara in Transizione recently held an event they blogged about under the title The picnic and the magic of Fruttiprendoli.  It was basically a community picnic and fruit picking event, but it led to some interesting discussion as to how to translate the work ‘Fruttiprendoli’.  Pierre Houben from the group had a go:

The idea came from “Not far from the tree” project, could try with Fruitcatcher Fruitgrabber or something more fun that give the idea.  In Italy you have “Fruttivendoli” shops who sells Fruits and Veg (the true name with which they played) and you have “Fruttiprendoli”, people who grab or catch fruit or … I don’t know other words”.

So we might have a stab at Fruit Tree Harvest (like Transition Cambridge’s project described above) or Fruit Gleaning, or something.  Looks like they all had a great time anyway.

From Japan there’s this great article from the website DE, ‘Transition Towns’ lead the way in low carbon living, which pointed out that “followers believe that it’s communities – and not governments – that drive societal change to adapt to climate change and cut reliance on oil”.

Thanks everyone who sent in stories, do send in anything you’d like in the next one.  Happy Transitioning!

The new economic frontier is a chance for community resilience

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I spoke at the Hay Festival last week, a very well-attended and enjoyable session.  Every day during the Festival, the Daily Telegraph produces ‘The Hayley Telegraph’, a free magazine given away at the Festival, which includes articles by, or about, some of that day’s speakers.  Here is the article I wrote for the edition published the day I spoke.

The new economic frontier is a chance for community resilience

There’s a TV advert I remember from the 1980s that has stuck with me. It features a recently unemployed man telling his wife that he and his friend are “going it alone”, that “the bank says yes”, and that they are going to set up their own business. I think the ad was for a car or something. It captured the spirit prevalent during that decade, where business was the new frontier, anything was possible, and there were no limits.

I’m starting a brewery. I don’t know much about brewing, but with other driven and skilled people from the place I live we’re going to do it. We’re not going it alone, though: we are bringing our community along with us and inviting their support. We don’t need the bank, thank you very much, we have a local person investing in us, and plan to do a community-share launch so that the community gets the chance to invest in us, too. I think our brewery also captures a spirit that’s increasingly prevalent.

It is the spirit in which we don’t wait for an imaginary cavalry to come riding to our economic rescue, a spirit visible across the country in the explosion of local food businesses, pop-up shops, craft breweries, crowdfunding, community energy projects, and the revival of independent record shops. It’s a different, more suitable approach to economic regeneration than most, recognising that anything is possible, but within the limits of energy scarcity, austerity, and the reality of living on a finite planet.

Our brewery is part of a wider story. My town, Totnes in Devon, where it will be sited, is the UK’s first ‘Transition Town’ (there are now thousands around the world), a project I, along with others, initiated in 2005. It’s an experiment that shows a more localised and lower-carbon economy can be an opportunity for huge creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.

A coalition of our town council, the local Chamber of Commerce and the Development Trust recently published an economic blueprint showing how shifting just 10 per cent of what we spend on food, installing just 10 per cent of the area’s potential renewable energy-generation capacity, and starting to retrofit the most energy-inefficient housing could bring £5.5 million into the local economy each year. It’s a shift from dreaming of inward investment to a focus on internal investment, where we build more economic resilience in the local economy. We become our own cavalry.

This is already visible in a number of projects. Totnes now has its own community-owned energy company, the Totnes Renewable Energy Society, which is initiating a variety of renewable energy projects in and around the town. Transition Homes, a community land trust, now has a site on which it plans to build 26 pioneering affordable homes using local materials. The Atmos Project, a community-owned industrial and provident society, is close to bringing an eight-acre derelict former milkprocessing plant into collective ownership. The town’s local currency scheme, the Totnes Pound, which inspired the successful Bristol Pound, is preparing for a summer relaunch with a full set of denominations.

In my book, The Power of Just Doing Stuff, I draw together the experience of people trying to catalyse this new economy around the world, from Brazil to Brixton, and from Sarasota to Sydney. It’s a thrilling tale. Our brewery might well turn out to be a sign of the times, just as much as that 1980s advert was.

You can now pre-order The Power of Just Doing Stuff here.  

Webinar: ‘Local Economic Blueprints: pioneering or pointless?’

A couple of weeks ago, Transition Network and Resilience.org held a webinar that looked at Local Economic Blueprints.  I chaired it, and it featured Tony Greenham, Nigel Jump and Fiona Ward, and tried to feature Molly Scott Cato, but technology got the better of us there, although as  you will see, she does dip in intermittently by phone and by typed-in comment (for biographies of the speakers click here).  Here now is the video of the webinar, and I hope you find it interesting and useful.