If nothing visible happens early on in your Transition initiative, it will become a talking shop, and people will start to drift away.
Your initiative must, from quite an early stage, roll up its sleeves and start making things happen. A Transition initiative with dirt under its fingernails will gain credibility, and the sight of things changing can be a great way of attracting new people. These early projects should be uncontroversial and photogenic; surprising and engaging. Good promotion will increase interest and involvement...
From an early stage, get visible projects going, making them playful and unthreatening, and ensuring they are well publicised and sited where they will be seen, so as to prompt people to consider a low-energy future optimistically.
Your initiative must, from quite an early stage, roll up its sleeves and start making things happen. A Transition initiative with dirt under its fingernails will gain credibility, and the sight of things changing can be a great way of attracting new people. These early projects should be uncontroversial and photogenic; surprising and engaging. Good promotion will increase interest and involvement. The forms they could take may include:
- Productive tree plantings in urban spaces.
- Growing food in unexpected places, as brilliantly modelled in the work of Incredible Edible Todmorden.
- Community gardens, such as Transition Newton Abbot’s – converting a piece of waste ground owned by the council into a food-growing space.
- Draught-busting workshops, such as those held by Transition Belsize
- Urban gardens, such as Transition Town Brixton’s – involving community members in making a food garden.
- Acquiring land for a community allotment, as Transition Town Forres in Scotland did – they bought land around the town to create a new community allotment as one of their first activities
There are hundreds of projects you could undertake. When putting on a public event to showcase what you have done, think about ways to make sure that they have high visibility. Invite the media, make it a celebration, and document it with photos or, ideally, a short film. Designing these practical manifestations is a great way to link with local businesses and other organisations.
For example, the Transition Town Totnes Nut Tree Project[v] is supported by various local businesses, including a local solicitor, who pays for one tree for every new will signed up at his office. It is a simple scheme and has in three years planted over 200 nut and fruit trees, some of which are already bearing nuts. It is creating an important infrastructure in an unthreatening way. John Croft, a community-led change specialist, recommends that members of the project group ask each other whether, if the project doesn’t come off, they would be personally happy to cover any losses. The result, seen in many initiatives that have come through his Gaia Foundation of Western Australia, is a greater determination for the project to succeed.
Transition in Action: Draught-busting workshops
by Sarah Nicholl of Transition Belsize
Draught-busting workshops are hands-on, fun and practical, encouraging people to save energy, reduce their heating bills, learn and revive useful skills and have fun in the process, by learning how to install draught-proofing products to wooden-framed sash and casement windows and doors. The workshops started life as ‘Draught Busting Saturdays’, created in South London by Sue Sheehan and a group from Hyde Farm CAN (Climate Action Network). In February 2009 I met Sue, who inspired me with the idea, and in November 2009, after an eager wait, Hyde Farm CAN set up a workshop so we could learn what draught busting was all about. The next week we began delivering our own workshops in North London. At the end of 2009/early 2010 Camden Council was part of a London-wide scheme called HEEP (Home Energy Efficiency Programme), which it was piloting in the Belsize area of Camden. The scheme offered residents free home-energy-saving advice and products, including installation of water-saving devices, hot-water-tank lagging, radiator panels, etc.; however, it wasn’t able to offer any specific draught-proofing advice or help during these particular visits.
When the scheme came to an end, Camden was aware that many residents had expressed an interest in draught-proofing their homes. As we had already met Camden Council's Sustainability Team earlier in the year, and they were very keen on what we were up to, they asked us if we would like to work collaboratively with them to deliver a series of ten workshops to Camden residents using money allocated from the pilot scheme. We put together a proposal where residents attending the workshops would each receive £20 worth of materials (enough to do roughly two windows and a door) and the person hosting the workshop would receive £50 of materials, and we, the draught-busters, would be paid for running the workshops – so it was a win-win situation for us all
We began the workshops in July 2010 and, amazingly, there was a huge demand even though it was the hottest July in years! We also began to realise that for various reasons some people were not actually able to fit the products themselves, so we put together a proposal for a service where we could offer residents the option of either us fitting the products for them in their homes or us offering a smaller, more personalised, workshop to help them fit the materials. This new ‘tailor-made draught-proofing service’ is just finding its feet, and, at the time of writing, we have installed the products for local schools and several local residents. We are developing this, in combination with delivering the workshops, into a social enterprise, which will include a donation of any payments received to Transition Belsize, salaries for those carrying out the installation work and a continuation of skill sharing energy saving and community participation, connection and collaboration.
We have delivered workshops to Transition / Low Carbon groups across North London, including Transition Kensal to Kilburn, Transition Crouch End, Transition Stoke Newington, Transition Bethnal Green, Better Archway Forum and Islington Council – these groups are all now offering workshops/demos to residents in their areas. And by the way, the Transition Belsize Draught Busting team are just regular, everyday folk, we’re not experts, we have good hammering days and bad hammering days, but we’ve all been bitten by the draught-busting bug, which is very much a two-way process, where we not only really enjoy sharing skills, we also learn so much too, and most of all it is very heart-warming to see people enabled and inspired to get on with it themselves. We are also in touch with other South London Community draught busters and are building up a supportive network of shared experiences and ideas for good practice and ways to take forward the workshops.
Transition in Action: Transition Malvern Hills’ ‘Gasketeers’
Malvern is home to some of the UK’s most beautiful gas lamps, said to have been C. S. Lewis’s inspiration for the lamp in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that greets Lucy when she first arrives in Narnia. However, the town faces a problem. The 104 lamps are poorly maintained, often produce little useful light, and cost the council £580 each per year (£130 for gas, £450 for maintenance), but they are listed and seen as central to the area’s heritage.
Enter the Transition Malvern Hills Lighting Group, who set out to find a solution to the problem. The group, comprising local and international expertise, who have become popularly known as the ‘Gasketeers’, surveyed the lamps, did research and developed a clever way to keep and refurbish the lamps (using local subcontractors), improving their light output and preserving their unique character whilst significantly reducing their gas consumption, carbon footprint, maintenance cost and light pollution. Through the use of timer controls, new electronic ignitions, more efficient burners and reflectors they have reduced the lamps’ gas requirements by an average of 84 per cent and have reduced the maintenance requirements to just one visit per year, so that the lamps now cost just £70 each to run annually (£20 for gas and £50 for maintenance). The lamps are ten times brighter than before, and now create no light pollution at all. They will also last 100 years, compared with 30 years for conventional sodium lamps. The Gasketeers have even begun exploring how the lamps could instead be run on biomethane, to improve on the carbon footprint of electric streetlights.
They calculated that if they were a professional consultancy, their work would be valued above £20,000, but they offered it free to the councils and the community. They found that the most effective way for a grassroots organisation to achieve success with such projects was to research and demonstrate feasibility, and obtain the support of the town and parish councils. These bodies could then influence the decisions of any overruling authority. All repairs are done by Lynn Jones, the UK’s first female gas lamp technician, who does her maintenance rounds with everything she needs (including her ladder) on a bicycle trailer. C. S. Lewis would have approved.