One of the most fascinating recent studies into the impact of Transition was Local Communities Leading the Way to a Low Carbon…See More
Hosszúhetény is the most populous village in Baranya county, in the south of Hungary, with 3400 inhabitants. It's situated in beautiful natural surroundings at the foot of the Zengő peak of the Mecsek hills. People who live here are traditionally very proud of their natural environment,…See More
It's time for a rant about SACAT. "About what?" you might most reasonably cry. 'Semi Attended Customer Activated Terminals', that's what. In plain English, it's those self checkout things that are taking over shops up and down the land. In 2008 there were 92,600…See More
“What's the catch?” she asked as she idled up to the table. The yard was filled with blankets and tables, boxes and miscellany scattered over almost every square inch except for the well-marked paths. Our information table was welcoming people at the entrance, and this question was asked…See More
Greyton Transition Town has been in existence for just over two years and is beginning to have a significant impact on our community. The one way which stands out for all of our community is what a great vehicle it is to bring about social integration. The context of Greyton is…See More
We are really honoured to be able to share with you today an interview with Sir David King. Sir David is currently Special Representative to the Foreign Secretary in the UK on climate change. For 7 years, between 2000 and 2007, he was Chief Scientific Advisor. Much of his…See More
Nafeez Ahmed: Natural and social scientists develop new model of how 'perfect storm' of crises could unravel global system
A handbook "THE ENTERPRISING ECOVILLAGER. ACHIEVING COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT THROUGH INNOVATIVE GREEN ENTREPRENEURSHIP" focus on green business and entrepreneurship, offering a practical guide on how ecovillages can create business opportunities that adhere to the principles of truly green thinking. It gives an overview of the different aspects that should be considered by the aspiring ecovillage entrepreneur, and presents examples of successful business stories from various ecovillages around Europe. The book also strives to remedy the reluctance that many ecovillagers feel toward business. Furthermore, it demonstrates the ways in which ecovillages are ideally suited to run businesses that are compatible with the well-being of both people and planet, the businesses of the future.
Kalu Yala, a sustainable settlement for innovators, may be the alternative real estate model the world needs.
It was a miserably rainy day with a low of 41 degrees, but it didn’t dampen the spirits of more than 200 people who came to Sustainable Berea’s 5th Annual Local Foods Expo (LFE). On this last Saturday in March, people skipped in the rain in the old-fashioned cake walk, huddled underneath the small cabin’s porch to spend $352 at the home-made pie auction, and bought almost all the stock of the participating vendors.
At this year's Political Studies Association International Conference in Manchester, Andrea Felicetti of the University of Canberra presented a paper called Radicals without rebellion? A Case Study on four Transition experiments. In it he explored "whether and how social movements can promote radical positions whilst refraining from adopting an oppositional approach". This was one of the first pieces of research I have come across that explored Transition's approach to politics, so we contacted Andrea and asked him to write an article for us, presenting his key findings in as accessible a way as possible. We are delighted that he agreed to do so.
"After having met so many wonderful people engaged in Transition it is a real pleasure for me to have the opportunity to share here some of my work. My study focused on four Transitions, two in Italian towns in Emilia Romagna and Sicily and two from Australia in a suburb of Brisbane and in Tasmania. I did not have the goal to assess how good these groups are at doing Transition. Rather, I tried to understand them from a very specific perspective: a democratic point of view.
Being interested in deliberative democracy I see democracy not just in terms of, say, electoral competition or representation of interests but particularly in the quality of communication occurring within and among groups in societies. So, I tried to understand the internal qualities of these groups and their way of relating to the local politics.
There are many reasons for researching a movement like the Transition from a deliberative democratic perspective. To begin with Transition is an important phenomenon of itself. Also, understanding contemporary forms of citizens’ engagement is of sure interest to many contemporary scholars of democracy. For instance, in making communities more resilient and localised there is ground to make them more democratic too. The non-adversarial approach of Transition is especially fascinating to deliberative democrats who for long time have been showing some important limitations with traditional adversarial politics.
The Transition is also especially interesting because although it has a do-it-yourself approach it also stresses the importance of quality communication among participants with local actors. Finally, many of the themes that are central to the Transition (for instance, climate change) are also fundamental for many deliberative scholars around the world.
I spent almost two months in each local community, participated in group activities and meetings, and interviewed Transition participants and other community actors. There is a great variation in terms of groups’ characteristics from a deliberative democratic standpoint. Whilst in some groups discussions had a lesser role, some case studies developed discursive processes that showed desirable characteristics from a deliberative standpoint and had a fundamental role in coordinating the various activities.
The internal features of a group and the relationship that it establishes with the surrounding context both seem very important to determine its deliberative and democratic qualities. When there is a firm commitment to democratic norms and when it is perceived that communication at group level is important to affect the community, groups are capable of developing high quality interactions. My findings, along with similar ones on other contemporary movements, challenge the view that the public is incapable of quality democratic engagement.
The good news in terms of the impact you are having is that Transition initiatives can actually promote democratic forms of engagement at the local scale. On the other hand though, there is no ground to claim that this is always the case. Groups establish original relationships with their surrounding environment and forms of engagement that is neither particularly deliberative nor democratic may prevail. This seems more likely to happen where the focus on ‘getting things done’ clearly prevails over other concerns (whilst more active groups are not necessarily those with a more pragmatic approach).
With regard to this latter aspect for instance it is worth noticing that often deliberative and democratic characteristics are not required in collaborating with local institutions. Actually, managing the relationship with local institutions puts under particular stress a group’s capability to develop democratic engagement. In line with other studies my work suggests that an environment where institutions are particularly responsive to citizens’ activism is not necessarily beneficial to the development of democratic interactions within groups and with the broader community.
My findings of course cannot speak for the Transition initiatives all over the world or the Network. However, even just in my study it seems that Transition means quite different things to different people. In the face of specific challenges participants have to make decisions on how to interpret Transition’s ideas. These choices not just affected the democratic qualities of groups but also their overall activity. Interestingly, those groups that tend to adhere closely the Transition guidelines have a good platform to build good quality and democratic interactions.
Although I have no recipe to develop deliberative democratic engagement in groups I think a few essential ingredients may include the following:
Quite normally some people tend take responsibility for different tasks. Some may talk to politicians, some may run activities, and some may contact other organisations... Make sure that someone takes care of nourishing engagement among actual people within the group and in the rest of the community.
Aveiro em Transição is a Transition initiative in Portugal. When they heard we were looking for tales of the impact Transition initiatives see their work having, they sat a group of people down who are active in the initiative and asked them the question. Here's what they had to say.
O que é a Transição? O que é estar em Transição? Perguntei-me há um ano atrás e, dia após dia fui encontrando as respostas entre desconhecidos que tornaram-se amigos, entre reuniões, oficinas e tertúlias. Começo a fazer coisas nas quais não tinha pensado antes: a plantar uma horta, a tricotar acompanhada de pessoas da cidade que nem sabia que existiam, a fazer pão em casa ou a colher plantas selvagens para fazer uma salada. Dou por mim a ouvir com atenção, a partilhar, a agradecer e a relembrar o quanto é importante “sonhar, fazer e celebrar”.
Dou por mim a ser feliz, pé ante pé... em transição.
What is Transition? What is being in Transition? I asked myself a year ago, and every day I found answers among strangers who have become friends, between meetings, workshops and gatherings. I started doing things they had not thought of before: to plant a vegetable garden, knitting accompanied by townspeople who did not know existed, to make bread at home or harvesting wild plants to make a salad. I find myself listening, sharing, thanking and remembering how important it is "to dream, do and celebrate."
I find myself to be happy, step by step ... in Transition.
Ana Jervis Cunha:
Já não sei o que é viver sem Aveiro em Transição, e começámos há menos de 1 ano! Era algo que sentíamos que tinhamos de fazer e, no momento certo apareceram de vários lados as pessoas/projectos/associações certas! Vemos crescer o número de participantes nos eventos e no grupo central, recebemos propostas, louvores e testemunhos de desconhecidos, que passam a amigos e parceiros, de como foi importante algum dos nossos eventos para melhorar a sua vida ou como querem colaborar na oficina de freeskilling. E isto melhora a nossa auto-confiança, auto-conhecimento e senso de comunidade, há um empoderamento (empowerment) mútuo!
Aprender a fazer iogurte em casa com um amigo de Paredes em Transição mudou a minha vida...e é tão fácil! Diminuí a dependência do supermercado em vários produtos alimentares e cosméticos. A criação do grupo Educação Livre Aveiro nas Mães de Transição Aveiro tem promovido uma rede de debate e apoio entre pais, filhos e educadores que aguardavam este momento com esperança numa educação alternativa mais ecocêntrica para as crianças. Profissionalmente recebo na quinta pedagógica onde colaboro, voluntários e formadores através de Aveiro em Transição, com quem temos uma parceria, e que nos estão a dar uma grande ajuda a construir um projecto de Educação Ambiental e Sustentabilidade único em Aveiro, onde as pessoas podem cultivar as suas hortas, aprender sobre os polinizadores no apiário e sobre a fauna e flora na floresta e charcos.
I just don’t know what is to live my life without Aveiro in Transition, and we’ve just started less than 1 year ago! This was something we felt we had to do, and at the right time the right people/organizations/projects came up! The number of people in the core group and attending the events is rising, and we receive proposals, appreciation emails and messages from people saying how important one of our events was in order to improve their family life and others willing to share their knowledge in a freeskilling workshop. And this has strengthened our self-confidence and sense of community, there is a mutual empowerment! Learning how to make homemade yoghurt with a friend from Paredes in Transition changed my life… and it’s so easy to do!
I’ve become more independent from supermarket groceries. The Alternative Education Aveiro group, born from Mothers in Transition Aveiro, has promoted a network of parents, educators and children to discuss and create a non-traditional education. In the pedagogical farm where I work, I receive volunteers and educators from Aveiro in Transition, as part of a partnership, and they (we) are giving a lot of help building a sustainable environmental education project, unique in Aveiro, where people can grow their vegetables, learn about honeybees and pollinators and local fauna and flora.
Ana Sofia Pereira:
A iniciativa de Transição ajudou-me, acima de tudo, a saber trabalhar em prol de causas e preocupações que já tinha de forma mais organizada e motivada. É incrível a força que a união de pessoas interessadas faz. Por causa da Aveiro em Transição, ganhei força para dinamizar o Mães de Transição Aveiro, um grupo informal de entreajuda para mães e famílias na zona de Aveiro. E a partir disso, surgiu a Educação Livre Aveiro, um grupo de famílias e interessados dispostos a criar um projecto educativo alternativo que abarque a problemática da transição desde muito cedo e na escola. A Aveiro em Transição abre caminho para muitas sinergias maravilhosas entre famílias e movimentos. Pode-se dizer que somos uma grande família, todos a crescer e a caminhar no mesmo sentido e todos a ajudar-nos mutuamente, tal como fazem as famílias.
The Transition initiative helped me, above all, to know how to work in favour of causes and concerns I already had in a more organized and motivated way. It’s incredible the strength of a union of moblized people. Because of Aveiro in Transition, I found the motivation to create Mothers In Transition Aveiro, a mutual help informal group for Aveiro mothers and families. And through that came Free Education Aveiro, a group of families and people interested willing to create an alternative educational project which includes transition issues from early on. Aveiro in Transition makes way to a lot of wonderful synergies between families and movements. You can say we are a big family, all growing and going in the same direction and all helping each other, just like families do.
Through our initiative ELA (Education Livre Aveiro) we have been able to get our homeschooling project started. It really makes a big difference working as a group/ community. Also the free seminars about making bread, eating wild plants etc. have been very useful and inspiring. My sense of community has change so much since I have been participating in Aveiro in Transição. What a wonderful idea for wonderful people (us). Hugs Jason
Com a formação Iniciativas de Transição, passei a reflectir e a agradecer regularmente todos os contributos (de pessoas, da natureza, da tecnologia) para que cada dia seja único e especial. Com este exercício diário, passei a ter mais consciência da interligação das nossas acções e a valorizar mais a simplicidade e os aspectos positivos de cada dia.
Partilha de Saberes
Com as oficinas de partilha de saberes promovidas pelo grupo de Aveiro em Transição tenho adquirido novos conhecimentos e competências muito úteis para o meu quotidiano e da minha família. A oficina que nos ensinou a fazer pão revolucionou a minha vida. Desde a participação nesta oficina, passámos a fazer pão em casa, a alimentar a nossa criatividade e a deliciar-nos com o produto final sempre único. Desenvolvemos o gosto de saborear aquilo que criamos e confeccionamos em conjunto.
Since the Transition Initiatives Training, I reflect and thank all contributors (people, nature and technology) to make my days unique and special. With this daily exercise, I've become more aware of the interconnectedness of our actions and focus more on the simplicity and the positive aspects of every day.
I have acquired new knowledge and skills useful for my daily life and my family with freeskilling workshops promoted by Aveiro in Transition. The workshop where we learnt to make bread just revolutionized our life! We started to bake bread at home and feed our creativity. We’ve developed a taste to savor what we create and make together.
Impactos da transição em Aveiro:
As oficinas de partilha de saberes estão a capacitar os cidadãos aveirenses nas mais variadas dimensões (e.g. fazer pão, croché, ervas aromáticas, ervas comestíveis e hortas verticais). Constatamos que participam pessoas que desconhecem conceitos como cidades em transição e permacultura e é cativante ver a sua curiosidade e sede de saber mais. O grupo participante está a crescer a olhos vistos e as cadeiras começam a ser poucas.
Impactos da transição na minha vida:
A minha presença no grupo leva-me a confirmar a ideia de que existe uma solução para tudo e que é na partilha que está o ganho. Juntos, podemos fazer da vida e do mundo o que quisermos. Somos cada vez mais a querer uma comunidade saudável e feliz e é muito reconfortante este sentimento coletivo de identidade e de contribuição presente para o futuro.
Impacts of Aveiro in Transition in the community:
The freeskilling workshops are capacitating the citizens in Aveiro in varied ways (e.g.: homemade bread, aromatic herbs, vertical gardens, fixing bicycles). We realize that cities in Transition and permaculture concepts are not familiar for the community and it is pleasant to notice the curiosity and the willing to know more. The group is growing step-by-step and the venues start to be "not big enough".
Impacts of Aveiro in Transition in my life:
My integration in the Transition group in Aveiro gave me the feeling that there is a solution for everything. Sharing is all and the group/team atmosphere nurtures the certainity that together we can build the community we want to live in. We are more and more with the wish to build a happier and healthier world and there is a warmth feeling of contributing today for the present and also future.
Maria José Valinhas:
I have been in transition for a while but the feeling of being part of a community feels great and reassures me that this is the way. Being part a community has opened "doors" in my life and others trough the sharing of knowledge, skills and help. It makes sense an Aveiro em Transição!
One of the most fascinating recent studies into the impact of Transition was Local Communities Leading the Way to a Low Carbon Society, a report published by AEIDL (Association Européenne pour l’Information sur le Développement Local. It looks at Transition, permaculture and ecovillage networks, what it calls the "Silent Revolution", "a potentially powerful driver of pro-environmental behaviour change". We caught up with Eamon O'Hara, who created the report, to find out more about it, and about his conclusions.
How did you create this report, and what research did you do for it?
I have been working at European level on programmes and initiatives dealing with local development for almost 20 years now and around 2008/2009. I started to become more aware of Transition and other similar movements that were developing around Europe. It struck me at the time that not much was known about these grassroots movements at European level, at least in Brussels, where I was based at the time.
There was some really great work being done, some great examples of local projects and communities that were transforming themselves, but it was off the radar for many people. Of course there was nothing abnormal about this. These were grassroots movements, developing organically at their own pace and normally this would be fine. But climate change and the drive for sustainability are issues that need urgent responses, so it seemed to me to be important to try to promote awareness and a wider replication of these initiatives in communities across Europe.
From other programmes I worked on I knew there was considerable experience, and tools and methodologies, that could be drawn on to facilitate the exchange of good practice and ideas, but a necessary first step would be to build awareness around this movement and its potential. Over the next couple of years I began to make contacts within Transition, the Global Ecovillage Network and within other community-based initiatives focusing on climate change and sustainability. Then, in 2012, I received support from AEIDL, a Brussels-based association that I have worked closely with for many years, to carry out a preliminary study.
This study was a combination of desk research and interviews with key people in the countries targeted. I focused mainly on 13 countries where I knew there were community-led initiatives focusing on climate change and sustainability. The study was essentially a mapping exercise, focusing on, firstly, identifying initiatives where they existed, and then trying to better understand the scope and scale of their activities. I had a limited budget, so this study was by no means exhaustive but I think it was an important first step in terms of developing an understanding and awareness of this fledgling movement.
How has it been received since you published it?
It has been really well received. A lot of people have expressed surprise that they hadn’t heard about the initiatives featured before, especially given the scale of activities that now exist across Europe. It has certainly got the attention of policy makers in Brussels and I think this is something we need to build on.
Another important outcome of the study, however, is that it allowed me to build up a strong network of contacts across the countries studied. These contacts represent a wide range of initiatives and I sensed there was a strong interest and desire among them to work more closely together. In some cases there had already been informal interaction, but there was a clear interest in taking this to another level. So, in follow-up to the study I set about coordinating a discussion between these contacts and from this discussion the idea of establishing a formal network emerged. This has since progressed to the establishment of ECOLISE, the European network for community-led action on climate change and sustainability.
I think this is a hugely important development. ECOLISE now brings together all the key stakeholders involved in community-led action on climate change and sustainability in Europe and I think it is well placed to build on the awareness the study has created and really set about the task of championing the cause of community-led action on climate change and sustainability in Europe.
What is your sense of the impact that Transition has had since it began?
Transition has been pivotal. It has opened the door for ordinary people to get involved in reshaping their communities and in so doing reshaping society. That opportunity always existed for people, but Transition has provided the “how-to” guide, and by leading through example, has inspired people and given them the confidence to take action.
However, I think Transition’s best days are still ahead of it. The challenge now, however, is to take Transition from being an initiative that is still largely limited to pioneering communities to a concept that is mainstreamed in the thinking and actions of every community. Of course Transition is not alone here. There are also other initiatives, such as the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), Low Carbon Communities and others, and there is also considerable knowledge and experience available in movements such as Permaculture, but the essential principles are largely the same and I think this knowledge and experience now needs to be disseminated on a much larger scale.
You write that lobbying and advocacy "remains a relatively minor part of their activities and the focus is more on local rather than higher level decision making". Do you see this as a weakness or a strength of the Transition movement?
For me this is a weakness, but not just of Transition, of community-based initiatives in general. It is completely understandable, as I mentioned above, as Transition is a grassroots movement and there are obviously limited resources and capacity, but I think this is an important activity. To achieve the kind of scaling up I mention above, I think the Transition approach must essentially become part of mainstream policy and thinking and for this lobbying and advocacy are essential.
But I think this can best be achieved by initiatives like Transition and GEN and others working together, and this is why I think ECOLISE has such an important role to play in facilitating this scaling up.
You mention what you see as the "important catalytic effect" Transition can have, and how it has the "potential to change social norms". Could you tell us more about what you meant by that? By what mechanisms do you observe that it does that?
Again, this applies to community-based action on climate change and sustainability in general, not just Transition. The catalytic effect is essentially about one community being an inspiration for others. Communities that have been successful in developing community energy projects or in reducing their carbon footprint are an important source of ideas and information for others. These communities demonstrate what can be achieved and in this way give confidence to other communities to follow suit.
Various studies have also shown that community-based initiatives tend to have a longer term impact, which goes beyond the immediate effects on carbon emissions or other indicators. These initiatives are generally more holistic in nature, covering a wide range of issues, such as food, transport, energy, etc.. so they can impact on more than one aspect of people’s lives. But the group dynamic aspect of community-led initiatives is also important. Norms are established by groups, not individuals, so this potential for growth and learning within a group environment is an essential precursor for wider behavioural change.
Having created this report, what do you see as the keys to Transition being able to go more mainstream? What, for you, might its next steps look like, and what support would most skilfully enable that?
I think the most important thing now is for Transition to work with the other partners in ECOLISE to create the conditions that will allow for the mainstreaming of community-based action on climate change and sustainability. This is a formidable task and one which can best be achieved by working together. It requires a coherent dialogue with policy makers on why and how community-led action on climate change and sustainability should and could be mainstreamed and what supports are required. It also requires a concerted effort to promote awareness of the potential of community-led action and to make available to communities across Europe the information, tools, guidance, training and advice they need to make this happen.
It is important to be aware however that not every community will necessarily want to become a Transition town or district, but I don’t think this should be an issue. The key thing is to mainstream the approach, to make available the learning and knowledge and to allow flexibility for communities to use this and adapt it to their own circumstances.
How impressed were you by the evolving evidence base for Transition? Do you think researchers are asking the right questions, and is there a good body of evidence already would you say?
Some really good work is being done in this area but I think more is required, not just for Transition but for community-led initiatives in general. To get policy makers on board and achieve the mainstreaming that is needed we need a more convincing argument as to the benefits. There is strong anecdotal evidence and some interesting studies have been carried out but we need to build on this and provide strong empirical evidence that supports the argument for mainstreaming.
We also need to better understand the potential for replicating community-led approaches in different contexts across Europe. Local conditions on the ground vary considerably from one country, or one region, to another so we need to better understand how existing approaches can be adapted to different contexts.
As an extension of this, we need to know what works and what doesn’t in different contexts. We need to be able to provide advice and guidance that is context specific. All of this requires a coordinated transnational approach to research and knowledge development, which is developing but still in the early stages.
You concluded that: "Community-based approaches should not be seen in isolation. Their role must be seen in the context of wider action and an appropriate support framework must be established in order to assist the further develop and replication of these approaches, without losing their essential local, bottom-up ethos". What is the role that Transition groups play do you think that none of the other scales can do?
Transition groups and other local community-led initiatives play a key role in engaging with and mobilizing local communities. By engaging local people they can unleash a resource that other levels can rarely unleash and facilitate the development of ideas and projects that are tailored to local needs and conditions. Policies and programmes developed and implemented at higher levels rarely if ever achieve this.
However, if higher levels of governance and decision making recognize this important contribution of community-led initiatives then policies and programmes can be designed in a way that makes space for and facilitates this local, bottom-up approach.
There is already a precedent in terms of EU rural development policy, part of which is implemented through a bottom-up, community-led approach. The European Commission has also proposed that this approach (community-led local development, or CLLD) be extended to other policy areas in the 2014-2020 programming period. This opens up a real opportunity to establish community-led approaches as an integral part of the EU’s response to climate change and sustainability.
Hosszúhetény is the most populous village in Baranya county, in the south of Hungary, with 3400 inhabitants. It's situated in beautiful natural surroundings at the foot of the Zengő peak of the Mecsek hills. People who live here are traditionally very proud of their natural environment, one famous example of which was in 2004, when fierce resistance from locals and green groups made the Hungarian government abandon a plan to build a NATO radar on the peak. While this event made Hosszúhetény somewhat famous, sustainability did not become a priority in everyday life of the inhabitants afterwards.
Things began to pick up in 2007, when the local government became a founding member of the Hungarian Climate-friendly Association. Around this time a civilian climate-friendly club also started in the village, which after a few years led to various initiatives to promote local and sustainable consumption and living. A group of around 20 people worked on various projects. A local marketplace was created with weekly market days from local producers and in 2012 a Local Exchange Trading System (LETS) started. We have annual seed swap events and we have organized various informative programs such as movie screenings and talks about sustainability and climate awareness, gardening workshops and lectures, health days, among others.
In December 2012 we held a screening of In Transition 2.0 (see photo below). The realization that there was a whole movement out there with the same objectives and ideas that we had was a heart-warming and encouraging experience. By this time we also knew that the real challenge is to keep the great ideas and projects running (the local market and the LETS had both become non-functional), and we wanted to learn how to achieve this.
Eventually, a group of dedicated people participated in a Transition training weekend in October 2013. This training has given us valuable insights into the structures and dynamics of our local community and it has started us on a new way to Transition. We are now in the process of learning how to get the most out of ourselves and our ideas. We are improving communication with the local government, finding ways to reach more people, helping to make the local events sustainable, raising awareness on food self-sufficiency.
We have also entered a 2-year project organized by Transition Wekerle, through which we will learn from and teach other transition communities, as well as build our local and national transition network. We believe the next years help us to strengthen our local community, learn new skills and set up new initiatives which help to make our village more resilient.
By Zsanett Roozental-Pandur and Zoltán Hajdú
It's time for a rant about SACAT. "About what?" you might most reasonably cry. 'Semi Attended Customer Activated Terminals', that's what. In plain English, it's those self checkout things that are taking over shops up and down the land. In 2008 there were 92,600 such units in use worldwide, by the end of this year it is expected to top 430,000. In the UK, 32 million shoppers now use them every week, over one third of Tesco's store transactions every week are self checkout. I recently went to WHSmith at St Panchras station in London, the first shop I've been into that is 100% self checkout. No staff. I turned around and walked back out again.
It's bad enough on the occasions when I visit my local Co-operative store, who have now just two tills with actual human beings. The rest is all self-checkout. According to Geoffrey Barraclough of BT Expedite, who installed the system in the WHSmith store at Kings Cross, such systems are great because because they:
Enabl(e) shoppers to pay for goods quickly by making more till points available is a proven means for retailers to help boost footfall, service and sales levels".
That may be the case, but surely the main reason is that they need to employ less staff and thereby make more profit? Whenever I go into a shop which has self-checkout, I refuse to use it. I make a point of telling whoever is at the till that I am refusing to use it because I don't want even more staff to lose their jobs. It's a solidarity thing. But when I go to a shop that doesn't even give you the choice, sorry, they just lost a customer.
A few years ago I did a series of oral history interviews with people, asking for their memories of Totnes in the 1940s and 50s. One woman told me of her experience of doing the week's shopping:
I used to go to the grocer’s and I could sit down, lovely. They’d go through your list and say yes, yes, we’ve got some new whatever it is, would you like to taste some, you’d have a little snippet of cheese or something, great, yes, we’ll have that. Now we’ve got a tin of broken biscuits, but they’re not too bad, half price you see, would you like them? As soon as you put a biscuit in your mouth its broken isn’t it?! Then they’d say “now Mrs Langford you’re going to the butchers yes yes and going to get some fish? Yes yes, and paraffin? Yes yes, and they used to say to me now bring any parcels in, we’ll put it in the box with your groceries, and bring the lot up for you. And they did you see.
When I go shopping, I want to interact with people. Even the act of popping in to buy a newspaper involves a few words, a "how you doing?" or even just a "thanks". It's interaction, it's communication, it's the glue that sticks us together. A study in the US looking at why people use farmers markets found that 'social interaction' was one of the key reasons, people who shopped there having 10 times more conversations than people shopping in supermarkets. It quoted one shopper as saying:
"You end up talking a lot more to other people than you do in a grocery store. I mean, typically you go to the grocery store and you don’t talk to anyone. Even the checkout people, I mean now you don’t even need to see the checkout person, you can just go through the automated line".
And if I'm checking myself out, I am doing the shop's business for them. Not content with assaulting high streets with out-of-town shops, and then moving onto those self same declining high streets to add "vibrancy" to them, they have now, with most of the opposition neutralised (97% of all UK groceries are now sold through just 8,000 supermarket outlets), they are getting us to do the checking out for them! What next? Stacking the shelves? Sweeping the floor on our way out? Perhaps giving the bathrooms a lick of paint?
We wouldn't expect to do those things unpaid, so why doing the check out? It's not as though they offer you a choice whereby if you check yourself out they give you a few percent off your bill.
Of course, many people might say "actually Hopkins I rather like going shopping and not having to talk to anyone", but for me that's tragic. Think forward. Imagine if we get to the stage where every business, in order to remain competitive with the staff-less chain stores, installs self checkouts? Imagine the day when you can do all your week's shopping without ever speaking to anyone. Something is lost, something as fundamental to our wellbeing as being able to hear the birdsong on a Spring morning. As hearing the sound of children playing. Civility, community, humanity, all start to unravel.
So I say "no more!" Shun the soul-less cash extracting electronic leeches! Refuse to spend any money unless a human being is involved! Turn around, walk out and walk on. The kind of world we want our children to inherit is being shaped by the choices and the decisions we make today every time we go shopping. Choose community and people and conversation over blatant money-grabbing and unemployment generation.
Or even better, you might use them for a month or so, keep a note of how much time you spend operating their checkout system, and send them a bill for your time, charging them the Living Wage for your time (which is, by the way, £8.80 in London and £7.65 an hour elsewhere). Let's see how they like that.
I'll leave the final word to the great Jonathan Richman who, in four minutes and forty five seconds puts it far better than I can:
Here is a great story from Derbyshire. Whistlewood Common Limited, the locally-owned cooperative set up by Melbourne Area Transition, has been celebrating its purchase of almost 10 acres of land near Melbourne. The society’s inaugural event – a “woollies and wellies” party on the land on 2 November included a bring and share lunch, a unique “beating of the bounds” ceremony involving both young and old, and the planting of the first tree.
Whistlewood, a not-for-profit community enterprise, was set up to purchase land on Melbourne Common. The land bought by the group was last held in community ownership before 1791! The group quickly attracted grant funding from The National Forest Company, but still needed to raise a further £50,000 to meet the asking price for the land which was on the open market, and establish a credible plan to manage it.
Within just 16 weeks the group had formed an Industrial & Provident Society (IPS) (a type of co-operative), to hold the land and raised sufficient funds to put in a successful bid for its purchase.
Whistlewood now has nearly 150 members drawn from or with links to Melbourne. This group of individuals and community organisations with an interest in resilient and sustainable local enterprise, will now determine what happens next. Amongst ideas already put forward are orchards, wildlife areas, a food forest, an outdoor kitchen, a celebration space and camping for local youth groups.
I particularly loved the page on the group's website that read "So many of the projects that we “dreamed” about two years ago when we first started are now fully up and running". Whistlewood Common Limited is no doubt one of them.
Every now and then a funding opportunity comes along which looks ideal to Transition groups, or at least to one aspect of their work. We were excited to see the other day that the A Team Foundation, Funding Enlightened Agriculture (FEA) and Buzzbnk have come together to create a funding solution which will enable food and farming projects to get the funds and support they need to move forward.
If you feel that your project might qualify, and this looks like just the kind of enlightened funding you've been looking around for, find out more about it, and how to apply, on the Bzzbnk site page.
They are looking for projects in the following areas of agriculture:
They aim to support small enterprises that are in line with the principle of Enlightened Agriculture which is that: “Farming, horticulture and food distribution be expressly designed to provide everyone everywhere with food of the highest quality, nutritionally and gastronomically, without wrecking the rest of the world”. The basic approach is that of “agro-ecology”.
If you feel that your project might qualify, and this looks like just the kind of enlightened funding you've been looking around for, find out more about it, and how to apply, on the Bzzbnk site page.
Established organisations as well as new enterprises and new entrants to the field will be considered. Do let us know how you get on.
Here at Transition Network, we are always on the lookout for innovative tools for enhancing local economies, so here's a fascinating initiative underway in Dorking in Surrey. Mary Portas, 'Mary Queen of Shops' and creator of the recent 'Portas Review', visited the town recently, guest of Transition Dorking, as part of the build up to the launch, this Saturday, or their 'Golden Ticket' promotion. It's an inspired idea for boosting the local economy in the run-up to Christmas, encouraging people to get behind the town's independent traders, an approach that could be adopted in many other places.
If the words 'Golden Ticket' bring to mind Wonka-esque unwrapping of chocolate bars, think again. Transition Dorking describe the scheme like this:
The Dorking Golden Ticket event is based on a very simple model. All participating shops are invited to choose a minimum spend and a prize for the day. At the close of business on the 9th November all participating shops will draw their one golden ticket and a winner will be chosen. Transition Dorking will publish the winners on this website and the Dorking Advertiser will also carry the information.
I spoke to Sally Elias, who is one of the key drivers for the initiative, who told me that initially one of the key discussions the group had had was around whether or not they should be promoting consumption and consumerism. She told me:
"Although Transition does not promote consumerism as such, we are acutely aware of the fragility of many of our local independent businesses. Many of them tell us that without a boost this Christmas they may not be here next Christmas. As a Transition initiative we strongly see the importance of supporting our local economies. People often feel they need to leave Dorking to do their Christmas shop, assuming that some key things they need they won't be able to get in the town. What we're saying is "Try Dorking First", have a lot of fun while doing it and support your local traders".
The Golden Ticket has proved a dynamic tool for inspiring great creativity in the town. Traders have been asked to offer a "prize that money can't buy", something imaginative and playful. One barber, who also makes short films, is offering the opportunity to cut his hair, and also to appear in one of his films.
A furniture repairer is offering either a few hours of his time or to teach people some of his skills so they can do it themselves. You can see the other prizes being offered by other traders on the Golden Ticket Facebook page. The local Council have even agreed to waive the parking charges in the town for the day! For Sally, seeing this depth of enthusiasm for the project has exceeded expectations:
"What it has really brought home to me has been hearing how much people love this place. It is different, it is distinctive, and that matters to people. Once people understood the idea and the word got out there, it's been amazing to see the reaction, the degree of support, and the creativity that has been unleashed".
Currently 40 businesses are signed up to take part, more joining every day. This weekend's event will be launched by local MP Sir Paul Beresford, who will be going walkabout and doing his Christmas shopping in the town. When asked for her advice for other Transition initiatives who might like to do something similar, Sally's advice was to just go for it:
"We deliberately designed this to be as simple as possible. We wanted something that didn't take 40 minutes to explain, that people could quickly grasp and could see the advantage of. If anyone anywhere else wants to do this I can only recommend it, it has been an amazing experience, and also a great way to build connections and contacts across the town".
The REconomy Project is running a training soon on how to do an Economic Evaluation for your community.
We've written before here about Economic Blueprints/Evaluations, and their potential for really refocusing on the possibilities of a more resilient and local economy.
REconomy's Fiona Ward takes up the story:
If you don’t know what we mean by an Economic Evaluation (sometimes called an Economic Blueprint), then we suggest you read this first. If you know what it is, and you think you want to do one for your own place, then we have developed an online course that can help you.
A successful EE process will help you do the following things:
The webinar will be delivered by Jay Tompt (EE course co-ordinator) and Fiona Ward (REconomy project manager).
Several Transition Initiatives have already conducted an Economic Evaluation activity (called an Economic Blueprint in some places), and more are in the process of doing so. It’s early days, but so far the results have been very positive, and we’re learning quite a lot from this experience as well.
We are seeing growing interest from TIs around the world who want to do their own Economic Evaluation (EE). So we have assembled the processes, experiences and learnings into a course that provides support and training to TIs (and similar community groups) who want to do their own EE.
This course is designed to support a small number of TIs (called the cohort) as they actually do the local Economic Evaluation work in their own community. Most of the work is self-directed activity over roughly a 6 month period (though the best timing is still being established).
The participants attend monthly skype sessions with the cohort and those with experience of doing an EE, and support each other. One on one support from those with experience is also available, and a step-by-step handbook is provided with examples and templates. Each cohort then becomes part of a growing network of local REconomy change-makers.
Here’s an overview of the course. It’s currently in its pilot phase, and we hope to launch the first public course in Q1 or Q2 of 2014.
Transition is based on community-led change. The EE process is designed to be facilitated by a community group such as a Transition Initiative, and other community groups with similar aims are welcome to apply. It is not suitable for an individual.
We strongly suggest that your group should have sufficient funding in place to undertake the Economic Evaluation process. This includes a small contribution towards the costs of the course. It can take at least 3-6 months to raise funding. The first 3 TIs to do an EE each had a budget that covered around 75 days worth of effort, plus some costs – roughly £10,000-£15,000 depending on your day rates. We don’t feel it’s viable to run this process based on volunteer effort alone.
Ideally, you have some existing relationships with key organisations in your community, and some track record of catalysing change there.
These conditions will help ensure your EE is as successful as possible – but if you don’t have these things yet, don’t worry! We are planning ways we can help you build your capacity, for example, to help you gain the skills you need to fundraise, or to build partnerships. You might need to do some of this capacity building work before you undertake an EE.
Transition Italy recently held the first gathering of Transitioners from across the country, to celebrate 5 years since Transition first arrived on those shores. We are very grateful to Deborah Rim Moiso for sending us the following report of the event:
About a hundred Transitioners and their friends assembled in Passignano on September 20-21-22, up in the oak-covered hills above Lake Trasimeno in Umbria, Central Italy, to celebrate 5 years’ activities of Transition Italy, our national hub, in a three day “Transition Fest” aimed to empower and strengthen the national web of initiatives… as well as to have a lot of fun!
The 2013 “Transition Fest”, the first such gathering in Italy, was designed through an online Dragon Dreaming process (for more on Dragon Dreaming, see here, the design method created by John Croft and his team to integrate planning, dreaming, acting and celebrating in a single flowing web. Pierre Houben, from Transition Ferrara, was the initiator of the group:
“Once the partying was over, I really wanted to thank everyone for their help in making my dream come true… but I was at loss for words. How do you talk about a dream which is collective, whereby everyone came together to make everybody’s dream a reality?”
Together with Deborah Rim Moiso, from the national hub and trainers team, Pierre assembled a team: Manuela Trovato, of the Sicilian Permaculture Group, is from the deepest South, and brought inclusion issues and great ideas on how to facilitate participation from the far-flung corners of the nation. Valentina Bortolussi, with her Porto di Transizione group clustered in the vicinity of Venice, was the Inner Transition voice for the team. Participating, she says, strengthened her resolve to work with other groups with a focus on the inner dimension of the “Great Turning”. Federico Carocci, from the nearby Transition Trevi steering group, lent a hand with local affairs.
First things first, a place was chosen, the unspeakably beautiful environmental education centre Panta Rei, with its view over the lake, wood and cob architecture, fantastic cuisine accommodating all tastes, flexible room use, guaranteed sunshine (seriously!!) and even tree houses! If you need a venue for a gathering in the Mediterranean countries, look no further!
Feedback forms distributed at the end of the event confirmed our suspicions: Transitioners love to do things themselves, and the best thing you (as facilitators) can do is clear the space, set the boundaries, and let the fun begin. Activities offered by participants as “giveaways” to this temporary community included circle dancing and meditation in the morning, building board games to explain systems thinking, workshops on non violent communication and facilitation, and even a huge Mandala made of coloured salt which we then all danced on to return the colours to the Earth (and to most everything we stepped
on for the rest of the day).
Whole-group activities (and this was a BIG group!) included daily opening and closing circles, music around the fire in the evening, a “Marketplace of possibilities” morning dedicated to networking, and an amazing evening of “Pecha Kutcha” presentations from all over. We really recommend this format, which ensured the flow of the evening was fast-paced, never boring, and helped everyone keep their presentations to the point. It certainly facilitates fun and laughter. Perhaps a time for discussion and reflection could have been incorporated afterwards (in this case, it got late at night and we all went to bed in our wonderful wooden cots decorated with willow branches).
Much good use was made of the space, with participants encouraged to decorate, hanging up posters and flyers from these past 5 years in Transition, trading clothes, seeds, books and useful material such as the brilliant Transition Cards (which in Italy we’ve taken to calling “The Transition Tarot: it can’t really tell you the future of your initiative… or can it?”).
A Press Office team was assembled for the occasion, with the mission of gathering photos and videos of the event and getting the press interested (we had journalists buzzing around… and getting involved as well). Their work, by the way, was also enabled by the Transition Network through dedicated funding for this event, so thank you all (Filipa, Ben, that’s you!).
Looking for a way to put all this in words, I turn to systems thinking: each element of the net is strengthened in opening itself to others. In such a gathering, so much information was exchanged, and so many hugs, smiles, encouragement and laughter, that we emerged really sensing how much stronger our Italian web had become as an outcome. In the words of Roberto Salustri, a participant and core member of the Castelli Romani Transition group:
“It so happens when we come back from a meeting related to practical ecology that we feel accomplishment and we’ve learned something new, but this time I’ve come back home really happy! Happy because I was there and I was able to participate in working groups, I met new people and I found again old friends. Happy for not always beeing “in agreement” with everything but with the absolute certainty we could look for a solution in order to find common ground. Happy about talking and discussing with so many people allowing me to learn about new experiences! Happy because dreams can come true and we have begun to do so and because there are millions of people who are already doing it. I felt invincibile not as a person but as something greater than the individual, something that lasts, something that was already there and there will always be as long as there will be the humanity. The Blessed Unrest that will save the world. I’m glad I spent three days with great people, the same people I see every day, but I was able to know in the most positive way. Leaving was really sad because I was waving friends but at the same time I was happy because surely we will meet again. May be I will not see the better world that I’ve helped to create but I’ll be happy anyway! A hug to everyone, those who were there, those who could not come and to those in the future. See you soon, Roberto”
Lastly, here are some rather fetching portraits of some of the people who came...