Transition Stroud

This is a shared history blog. Together we can write the history of our process of transition as it happens.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

What's in a word?

Rosa and I have been having a real laugh during the floods crisis listening to the way people have taken up unfamiliar words with alacrity and real joy. The most prominent of these, and a word that was unknown to almost everybody up to a week ago, is 'bowser'. I can hear how this word rolls comfortably around a West Country mouth, having vague echoes of wurzel or cider and that lovely long complex vowel in the middle.

Since these squat, blue vessels have become a ubiquitous part of the landscape of Gloucestershire the word has colonised our communications. We have had bowser bulletins, bowser location reports, bowser wardens, bowser guards, and by the second weekend of the crisis we learned that people were already bowsered out! Whether this means fed up with using the bowsers or tired of the word I wasn't sure. Somewhat ironically, the word appears to have originally meant a tanker for petrol, rather than water, and was named after its designer, one Sylvanus Bowser from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who also invented the fuel pump.

The bowser has already generated its own folk myth: that of the unruly youths who pee into or pour bleach into them. This has led to the round-the-clock guarding of bowsers in some places: we have at least learned to value water. Some people reported that they had seen sacriligeous desecration with their own eyes but, as with the best urban myths, everybody thought it had happened in their community. It gave us a chance to feel stronger together as a community of people who respected our bowser and its valuable contents.

Other popular words during the crisis have been 'unprecedented' and, that word so beloved of Transitioners, 'resilience'. The word 'unprecedented' has been used by everybody from the prime minister to the police chief, whose possession of a doctorate and the name of 'brain' has been reassuring for us all, since he is the nerve-centre of the emergency effort. The need to label the crisis as 'unprecedented' (nobody says 'unpredicted' I note) is essential to divert blame. While justified it has also been frequently abused as in 'We've seen nothing like this since 1850: it's completely unprecedented'.

So what have we learned after a week that has seen us being supported by the Red Cross and with people receiving bottled water marked 'aid use only' handed out by the police? The first lesson is how much resilience we lack in terms of vital services such as electricity and water. Decentralisation and localisation of sources of energy and water will have to the be the first change that climate change conditions require.

People have been forced to learn the difference between white and grey water and have realised how profligately we waste drinking water, that has been produced and distributed using vast amounts of energy, to flush our toilets. Many people are now using water from their water butts for flushing the toilet and for washing. I wonder how many will install rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling systems once the crisis is past? The argument for this has been made clear.

We've learned that people are adaptable. Within a week many people had rigged up systems to drain and make available the rainwater falling on their roofs. In fact, rather than being challenged many people have delighted in being called upon to be ingenious and practical rather than just going shopping.

But what about the vulnerable who do not have the flexibility to respond creatively? It appears that they have been looked after by their neighbours, even if they did not know those neighbours before the water disappeared. We have learned that people are basically good and look after each other. Perhaps most importantly, we have learned that in a crisis the most important resource we have is each other.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Sharing the Risk

One of the first things you realise when thinking about the Transition and the consequences of climate change is that you need to learn to live with the unpredictable. The suffering and difficulties will strike some people and not others. There will be no justice or reason to this.

So how should we respond? I think we should avoid the thought 'There, but for the Grace of God, go I'. This is the response of those who believe in providence, the US, individualist culture that tells you that there is a reason for your misfortune, that it is, whether as a result of sin or bad karma, your fault.

Our 'celebration' last night at The Space went ahead, just yards from the worst flood in the town that anybody can remember. We were determined not to cancel because the Transition is about resilience, about coping with catastrophes and working around the unpredictable. Ten stallholders laid our their wares, the band fought its way up the flooded M5 from Bristol, and by 11 The Space was full of ecstatic dancers. To cancel the event would have given entirely the wrong message.

But lots of people were deterred from coming by the weather, or simply stuck in Nailsworth or Cheltenham. This being Stroud, most people had not paid for their tickets in advance, so the losses stay with the organisers. On this basis it is fairly hard to think about organising another event. The punters get the enjoyment; the organisers carry the risk. I would like to suggest that sharing the risk needs to be part of our transition culture. Perhaps if you were planning to be there last night but couldn't make it you could manage to donate the ticket price? That would really help. This might be a form of mutual insurance that will make life with climate change easier, sharing risk and building the sense of community.

To end with a couple of tales of valour: congratulations to Nigel Pitel, who defied the queues of static traffic coming south from Gloucester, pushed his bike through knee-deep water, pedalled home, and came out to party! And to Fi Macmillan, who ignored the ghost-town that Nailsworth had become yesterday afternoon and also made it through to the event.

Monday, 16 July 2007

How should we manage the Core Group?

Various ideas and proposals have been flying around regarding the best ways forward in terms of how to manage the whole process of Transition Stroud.

Photo: Circle of Transitioners from all over the country at the recent Transition Network Day

Clearly what is appealing to many is it's organic nature without the structures that can hamper - but equally to be able to function and achieve the changes we all want there is a need for some sort of framework. At present some Core Group meetings have had 20 people and by the time people are updated and their voices heard it is difficult to move forward. So what is the answer?

Here is a contribution from Mike Jones who kindly let me post some of his notes here. What I like is that this focuses on getting the minimum amount of structure that we can get away with - no less and certainly no feel free to post comments with other suggestions or circulate them on the email list...

Proposal re Core Group: Next Steps

Different perspectives are beginning to emerge together with the surfacing of different assumptions– this is both a healthy and an important part of any evolving organisation. Even though it perhaps felt like we all started from the same place (at those initial Star Anise gatherings), the fact is that we were in quite different places (both in terms of what we each feel is important, the level of understanding we each have about different issues, different preferences for action versus reflection, doing versus thinking/feeling, and different past experiences of joining groups and all that they can trigger). The danger is that these differences, and the process of sense-making that accompanies such a process, could drag us down into endless meetings and potentially sap peoples energy as we struggle to find consensus.

My proposal is to put forward some ideas that might help us get focused such that TS can get into doing more of what needs to be done.

What TS is about?

Dave Cockcroft did a great summary last Saturday lunchtime at Ody’s – I hope I’ve captured at least some of what he was highlighting together with some of my own bias.

TS is about transitioning to a low-carbon, low-energy future where we live, individually and collectively, in a way which cares for nature and for each other.
The current dominant pattern (which services only 20% of the global population) is bringing us face to face with some serious limits:
1. Biological carrying capacity of the earth (we’re already in overshoot)
2. Climate chaos and the potential of runaway climate change
3. Peak Oil – the end of an era of cheap fossil fuels
4. Environmental and social degradation
Whilst the situation is disturbing, it is also exciting. As Helen Keller (author, activist) famously said, “I rejoice to live in such a splendidly disturbing time.”
We need to remake the world and build resilient and adaptive cultures. Transition Stroud provides a vehicle for this process to occur (and a way of embracing all the great stuff that’s already going on).

The coherence comes from a focus on sustainability (which includes both the social and environmental realms – social justice and a healthy ecology might be viewed as different sides of the same coin). It is also important that we place a focus on economic viability as this will help draw others in and build momentum. We might, therefore, use a framework linked to the 3 P’s,: People, Planet, and Profit – just a thought…

Given that TS is about creating a different future, we are on a journey into the unknown and having to make it up as we go along. Joanna Macy uses a helpful framework and suggests that we need activity in 3 distinct, but overlapping domains:
Activism/direct action
Creating alternate structures, new institutions
Paradigm shifting – mental models, how we view the world, what’s valued, etc
TS needs to work in a way which addresses all three of these.

The Core Group – it’s role. Some initial thoughts:

I see the Core Group as being an enabler and as ensuring that we are on the best compass bearing. It’s role might be one of asking questions and noticing what’s happening and recognising what might be needed (for example, in relation to Macy’s framework above)
Are we headed in the right direction?
What’s working / not working”
What are we learning and how can this best be shared?
What might make a significant difference/create a big shift?
Where might there be opportunities for greater collaboration?
What’s missing?

A key role could be to help build the conditions whereby greater and greater numbers of people feel they are able to take responsibility for making things happen – this might include tackling barriers as well as identifying things which might be enablers.

I see it as quite a small group (maybe maximum of 8), where people occupy the role for a fixed period and are then reappointed or there is a recognition of the need for different people with different skills, energy, etc. Given it’s role as a ‘communication hub’, then each core group member might have a formal role of liaising with a couple of sub groups as a way of gathering information and sharing what else is going on. I would see the need for this group to meet every three weeks, at least for the next six months.

They might also have a role of protecting the integrity of TS (this could include a number of things which would become clearer over time).

The essential purpose of the Core Group is to serve the wider Transition process and to support/enable the sub groups and the various projects which emerge.

If I look at Totnes as well as the Transition Network group, it strikes me that there is too much reliance on too few people meaning that those people are overwhelmed, unable to respond and inadvertently slow things down and sap the energy of others. We need a greater distribution of influence and leadership. A downside is that such an approach is not always efficient or smooth, but on the upside, it provides the potential for fast change and breakthroughs. We need to stay light on our feet.

Which people / where next?

Always a tricky one as hits people’s buttons about inclusion/exclusion. We need to be objective about this – what skills are we looking for, what experiences/understanding might be needed, who has got the necessary time/energy/focus, are they able to work cooperatively, etc. My suggestion would be that people either self-select, or are nominated and we see what names/numbers we have at next meeting on 2nd August and make it an ‘open’ meeting so that whoever wants to be involved can be. A decision could be made, following some exploration, about what and who and a suggested trial period.

Local Government Liaison becomes Business and Government

The fashion when Transition Stroud was first established was for several of the groups to go through various name changes as they tried to really focus on their role and what they wanted to succeed. Even Transition Town Stroud has now become Transition Stroud (but we've kept this blog address for all those regular readers).

Photo: On second dose of cappuccinos

Anyhow last Thursday saw 4 of us (2 apologies) in the Local Government Liaison Group have a 9 to 12.30 meeting in Star Anise cafe to focus on the role of the group and how best to maximise the changes needed locally. It became clear from this meeting and previous ones that we also needed a name change: we are now the Business and Government Group - this hopefully will reflect more our role.

Martin and I fed back on the Green councillors meeting with the lead Strategic Officer responsible for the Environment Strategy. Mike fed back Stroud Town Council's endorsement of Transition Stroud and agreement to look in the future at how they could support TS more.

There was much useful discussion and a raft of actions that include following up formerly our contacts with the District Council, the Chamber of Commerce and the Severn Wye Energy group.

One interesting discussion was whether we should seek District and Town Councils endorsement and possible sign up for the Oil Depletion Protocol - we had originally thought this would be the best way forward. However it was agreed for the moment that we need seek no ones permission or endorsement - other organisations will choose to sign up or not for themselves. It has been observed in the past that some organisations are happy to sign but then do little or nothing to make the changes necessary: we need active commitment to change. We will no doubt return to this discussion.

The meeting concluded with Fi and Mike summarising our purpose and aims which I have just added to the Wiki Transition Stroud site:

Purpose of Business and Government Group

To effect Transition Stroud objectives, we will create shifts and new possibilities within business and local government through a focus on high-quality relationships

This group will work as follows

• Acting as a resource to interpret, link, enable and support relationships between Transition Stroud and business/local government
• Actively seek to influence policy and thinking within business/local government
• Identify opportunities for meaningful engagement between TS and business/local government.

Only just getting the hang of that Wiki stuff. Indeed it wasn't long ago I was asking 'What is Wiki?' Here is a description for those still wondering:

Wiki is in Ward's original description: The simplest online database that could possibly work. Wiki is a piece of server software that allows users to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser. Wiki is unusual among group communication mechanisms in that it allows the organization of contributions to be edited in addition to the content itself. Like many simple concepts, "open editing" has some profound and subtle effects on Wiki usage. Allowing everyday users to create and edit any page in a Web site is exciting in that it encourages democratic use of the Web and promotes content composition by nontechnical users.

This Business and Government Group would welcome other members and look forward to sharing more with the rest of the Transition groups about possible ways forward to achieve the change we all want and need.

Monday, 9 July 2007

We met at Ody's to talk through the process and specifically improving the function and focus of the core group. Here are some notes of what we came up with.

Relevant ideas/words/thoughts

* Sense of coherence, individually, subgroups, TTS as a whole and the whole wider community.
* Resilience
* Care for each other, care for the planet
* Sustainability –as individuals, subgroups, whole group.
* Thriving not just surviving
* Experimentation – lots and fun
* After an event we need a debriefing and learning session
* Learning from the elders
* Envisioning the future
* Catalyst
* Enabler
* Awareness raising
* Paradox is often the same as something interesting going on

The question arose of having a physical base. Mike mentioned the fact that Aonghus Gordon had offered to pay for a shop front and his brother Alastair had offered space in the Centre for Science and Art for teaching.

The importance of creating real livelihoods for people through the process was stressed. But TS is not an organisation in itself, rather it should enable other things or groups to happen.
It needs to be a resource not a product. Can we establish links with the Social enterprise center,
and local business?

Question: what is not working about the core group?

Who needs to be on it and why?
What are the criteria?
Should it have a rotating membership?

It should gather information from members and disseminate it: be a Communication Hub. It needs to check that ideas are not being duplicated and to identify what people's strengths are and establish how we get the right person for the job. It is important to be aware of the tension between rhythm and routine in our work.

Proposals for events need to be submitted to the core group. A decision will be made as to whether we support the project. If we do the project can use our Logo and name and we will then put them on the newsletter (when it is established)

We may need to set up a central email address (info@ TTS or similar) to be monitored by the chairperson or administrator. This would be a first point of contact for potential members or queries.

Chairperson’s role – needs to follow email threads and keep an eye on what each group is doing.

Important roles for the core group are:

* Forward planning
* Overview
* Plan newsletter for the next 3 months
* Money?

Friday, 6 July 2007

When is a Lime not a Lime?

I wonder how many transitioners know the beautiful song Linden Lea by Vaughan Williams? He was somebody who followed Rob Hopkins's stricture to 'respect the ancestors' as he pedalled around the pubs collecting folk songs. He was also a local lad from Down Ampney in Gloucestershire.

The linden tree is more often called the lime tree, which can cause great confusion since it does not produce green citrus fruits but lovely, fragrant white flowers--and then in another month or so a sticky goo that destroys any vehicle parked underneath. Clearly a transition-friendly tree.

The linden is called 'tilia' in Latin and this gives its name to the most popular French herbal tea or tisane known as tilleul. Now is the time to pick the fresh flowers of the native European lime which are making themselves known by their smell even in this miserable weather. Pick a few fresh flowers and add boiling water for a delightful refreshing and relaxing tea.

Richard Mabey says you can also dry the flowers on trays for a couple of weeks until they are cripsy and then store them in jars to use for the rest of the year. Mine appear rather browned and shrivelled but the fresh tea is a delight!