10 tips for great Transition celebrations
As someone who visits quite a lot of Transition groups, I see the same thing over and over. People say "we don't feel like we are making much of a difference, we've not done much". I then ask them to tell me the story of what they've done so far, and 20 minutes later people tend to be feeling rather pleased with themselves. We need to celebrate more! Take a breath and pat ourselves on the back! It's not hard, in fact it's wonderful. The key thing is remembering to do it.
This month our theme is Celebration and Transition. It's no accident that it comes immediately before August, which is traditionally our month on 'The Power of Not Doing Stuff', where this site puts its feet up and tries to model the importance, on occasion, of taking time out and being rather than doing. I was in Lewes a couple of weeks ago for Transition Town Lewes' Seven Year Itch celebration. It's seven years since their Unleashing, and so to celebrate it, they threw a big party. It was fantastic.
I get the impression Transition Town Lewes are quite good at celebrating. It comes quite easily to them. It's not always like that. I also get the impression that Transition initiatives often don't do celebration for a few different reasons:
- That it feels rather trivial compared to the work of actually getting on and making stuff happen
- We don't have very much time even for doing all the things on our 'To Do' lists, so finding time to celebrate? Forget it!
- Our attention is always on the future and the sheer bloody enormity of what we're trying to do here
- The culture around us isn't good at celebrating everyday achievements, and often pausing to reflect on things leads to the opportunity to criticise and blame, so it's easier just to keep going
- "It's just another thing to organise"
I'm sure there are others too. You might like to share yours below. However, it's a sure recipe for burnout and exhaustion. So, back to Lewes. Their Seven Year Itch was a great event. It was hosted in a rather funky arts centre in an old industrial unit called Zu, and it made me think of the following 10 key ingredients for a good celebration:
1. The invitation
The invitation needs to be clear and celebratory. People need to know it will a fun occasion, what will be happening, and what's being celebrated. The Lewes event made it pretty clear, as did the tagline on the great poster (see right), "Come and celebrate seven years of making global issues local".
Given that you are celebrating what has been created by so many people, do as much as you can to invite them personally. Be colourful, bold and inviting. This is your party after all.
2. Food and drink
It's a celebration, and celebrations need refreshment. The Lewes event featured food and drink that celebrated Lewes: beer from the local celebrated Harveys Brewery, local wines, elderflower champagne, food made by a local cafe, and pizzas made out the back from a wood fired pizza oven. Not a sausage on a stick in sight. Feast well.
3. A capturing of what's being celebrated
It's really important to name the things that are being celebrated. What has the group done? Not just the big things but also the smaller things too. Here's the chart that Transition Town Lewes created for the event:
Then there was the great exercise that Transition Ferrara in Italy did for their third birthday event, where they had written a card for each event or project they had done, and these were clipped onto a washing line in chronological order which was then passed around the room, until everyone had tied themselves in knots, and remembered the huge diversity of stuff they had done.
Or you could, like we did at, I think, Transition Town Totnes' 5th birthday celebration day, actually tell the story from scratch. Lay out a long piece of paper with dates on it, from the day you started until now, and invite people to fill in events they can remember (see pic below). It's a process that can lead to a lot of laughter and remembering. In all these 3 different approaches, it's also good to not gloss over the things that didn't work so well, but to honour them as well.
4. A look forward
This celebration is not the end of the whole thing, merely a pausing point. Where might the group go next? While a celebration might not be the best time for an in-depth strategic look forward and planning of work and projects for the next 10 years, there are fun ways to do this. In Lewes, we played a Transition version of Pictionary (sort of). Three artistic members of the group stood on the stage next to a large wall of paper, while Duncan Law (of Transition Town Brixton) and I hosted. We had 8 or so large cards, on the back of each was a word like "energy", "care and health", "food" or "livelihoods".
People were chosen randomly from the audience to pick a card, and then the audience were invited to shout out things they'd like to see in Lewes, while the artists drew them on the wall. After 10 minutes of laughter, shouting, silly and serious ideas, and lots of drawing, enough ideas were gathered to give a sense of where the future might take Transition Town Lewes. Great fun.
5. Keep it changing
At the Lewes event we had a choir, a couple of talks, some poetry, a raffle, more singing, bagpipes, dancing, the opportunity to interact with Transition Town Lewes projects, mention of the campaign for a community take-over of the site we were on, food, drink. The evening really benefitted from the "what happens next?" kind of spirit.
I remember the Unleashing of Transition Malvern Hills being similarly eclectic. First a bit of this, then a bit of that...
A good celebration really benefits from the opportunity to have a good dance. In the Lewes event, Sacre Vert (see above), whose eclectic music and mad group dancing always leave everyone in a sweaty blather with big grins on their faces, having also briefly met and interacted with most of the people in the room. The perfect, and riotous, way to wrap up a good celebration.
The celebration that followed the talk I gave in Liege recently featured a rather different soundtrack, as captured in this short video of the event:
7. A sense of context
No Transition initiative works in isolation. During its lifetime it will almost certainly have worked with other local groups, organisations and projects. Invite them along! Invite them to have stalls, whatever they like. Celebrate the web of connections and relationships you've created and the sum total of what you have produced between yourselves.
To the right is a poster we created for an event to celebrate where we had got to with the Atmos Totnes project, which explicitly thanked all the people who had contributed to our getting to where we had got to.
8. Document it!
The only regret I have of my own wedding is that I didn't really have anyone really documenting it, with photos or video or something. Such a rare occasion to have so many people you love in one place, and most likely will never happen again, so to have only a few photos of it feels a shame. Likewise with your celebration. Have someone there to take photos, or video, or to document it in some way or other. You'll be glad subsequently that you did. The ever-wonderful Mike Grenville documented the Lewes event for them. And they wrote the whole evening up beautifully on their website.
9. No graphs!
By all means have someone along to give a talk, but keep it upbeat and positive. I spoke at the Lewes event, and tried hard to create something that would fit into a celebration. The first part of the talk drew on all the things that Lewes and Totnes have in common which went down very well. On their website, TTL noted one of the similarities:
...we got a whistle-stop tour around the greater and lesser-known similarities between Lewes and Totnes. Did you know both towns are exactly 6 miles from the sea? Thanks Rob, neither did we.)
Pleasure. Keep the energy up. It's a celebration, remember?!
10. "Why are we doing this again?"
One of the hazards of doing doing doing without any reflecting is that we can sometimes lose sight of why we even started doing this stuff in the first place. It's just what we do, but why? And do the reasons we started doing it still bear any relation to what motivates us now? When I was there, I asked people involved in TTL why it is that they do Transition. Here's what they had to say. It's good to hear each other say this stuff sometimes.
Of course there's no reason why celebration should be confined to just one-off events like this. They can be part of your regular life as a group. Why not design in a standing item every time you meet to ask "does anyone have anything they feel we need to celebrate?" Why not, on a regular basis, have a time in your meetings for appreciations? Asking if there is anything anyone would like to appreciate that someone in the group has done, is doing, or brings to the process? In terms of the role food can have in celebrations, it could even be something as simple as, as we heard from Peter MacFadyen last month, the Chairperson of the meeting baking biscuits for the meeting.
We hope you enjoy the month, and we'd love to hear your stories of what celebration looks like in your initiative.
Thanks to Mike Grenville for most of the photos used above.