Starting a New Transitions Town: The Learning Curve

Two months ago St Albans joined the dozens of communities around the world who have taken on the challenge of the Transition Movement, a grassroots response to climate change and peak oil. Jeremy Williams has been writing an insider's perspective (here's part one if you missed it!) on starting a Transition Town, and is discovering just how much there is to learn...

Transition St Albans is six weeks old. So far we have twenty or so talented people, a roomful of good intentions, and no idea what we're doing.  

There is no one model for how a Transition initiative unfolds. If you read the examples in the Transition Handbook, you'll find twelve different towns or villages all going about it in different ways. Some have a committee of three and build from there. Some wait a year before going public, waiting until they have a good set of projects to point to. Another community found that peak oil expert Richard Heinberg was in town, persuaded him to speak, and launched the project from nothing. There really is no right or wrong way to proceed.

What you do have to work with is ‘the 12 steps of Transition', a rough pattern that has developed in the last couple of years. (1) You start with a steering group of three to five people, and plan to make it redundant as soon as possible. (2) Awareness raising starts immediately, and off the back of that comes (3) networking, drawing in other interested parties. As you approach critical mass, it's time to (4) plan a ‘great unleashing' - a launch party. Out of the buzz of the unleashing you'll draw in dozens more people, and then you can (5) form working groups. These are informal sub-groups with a particular focus, on food, waste, economics and so on, and these are the people who start the on-the-ground projects.

Working with this number of people can be tricky, so Transition groups (6) use ‘open space technology' to keep meetings inclusive, and give the whole community a voice. By this time (7) practical manifestations of the project should be visible, getting down to serious action. Among those actions should be (8) the ‘great re-skilling', facilitating community learning for life after cheap energy - growing food, mending clothes, building with local materials. (9) Local government needs to brought in, giving serious weight to the project. As the whole community learns together, (10) the ‘elders', those who lived before cheap oil, will share their stories. Ultimately, (11) the project will go where it wants to go, but it should culminate in (12) the creation of an Energy Descent Action Plan. This documents the Transition that the town wants to make, and how it can be achieved. So far only three communities have got to that stage, one in Ireland, and one in Australia, and Forest Row, who published theirs just last week.

Looking at that task list, it'll be months before we can even consider most of them. We're still learning how to work together, how to host meetings and get anything done - at a recent meeting we spent an hour discussing a one-line description of who we are. (Ever tried to write a sentence by committee?)

We're learning. Since the Transition vision grew out of permaculture principles, three of us took a weekend introductory course, which was an inspiring two days. We're reading the books, talking to gardeners and local politicians and other Transition groups. We're learning how to write a constitution and get charitable status. Our steering group of five met for the first time this morning, sat in the spring sunshine and brainstormed three months worth of film screenings, socials, and discussions.

The Transition learning curve is a steep one, but we're finding our feet, and I'll tell you more about it as we continue to take our first steps.

Related features on Celsias:
The Seeds of Transition

Reviewing the "Transition Handbook"


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  • Posted on May 4, 2009. Listed in:

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