News from the North
It’s always best to be honest, they say, though painful. So let me start by admitting that what I know about Transition in the northern region would fit on the back of a postcard. Just blogging about Lancaster is a challenge to me what with trying to keep up with all the activities of our Transition groups, not to mention the many other allied and interlinked from Occupy, through Incredible Edibles to Lancaster University.
So here’s what I know - close by Lancaster we have two new initiatives: Transition Morecambe, just over the river, with key members who often come to Lancaster meetings and Garstang Transition, 9 miles south. Lancaster Transition members have had a role in supporting and encouraging both and that’s a good feeling. Further north and much longer established there is SLACC Towards Transition, an active group across Cumbria whose newsletter is always worth a read. Looking to the east there is Transition Town Clitheroe with a good, straight talking website whilst to the south we have South Ribble Transition Towns who have their Green Directory, envy of us further north. Probably because these places are all under 30 miles away contact is easy - occasionally their members come to some of our events and we go to theirs.
Back in 2009, before my time, there was a regional conference for the North in Slaithwaite hosted by Transition Marsden and Slaithwaite but as far as I am aware, no regional events since. Members of our Steering Group have been invited to far flung northern places such as Wilmslow and Hebden Bridge to speak at meetings or support growing initiatives. Opportunities like these don’t and often can’t filter down to the “grassroots” where I am generally found, which poses the question – do we need to cultivate more general links between people within our region? Whatever happens, I know my answer is yes, it’s time for a change of attitude - I shall be cultivating links with other parts of my region from now on.
the Golden Triangle by Marion McCartney
My guest regional blogger is Marion McCartney who represents the far south of the region -100 miles from Lancaster, in Derbyshire, where she is involved in several local Transition initiatives
I live in the ‘Golden Triangle’ of what I think of as the south of the North, the three towns of Belper, Matlock, and Wirksworth (in their turn surrounded by the cities of Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester). You could say that this area of Derbyshire is where it all started to go wrong. It's known as the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, a World Heritage site containing the world’s first successful water-powered cotton spinning mill. Now we’re hoping that the area can play a role in turning things in a different direction. So when I heard yesterday that Transition Belper is one of seven groups across the UK selected to share £200,000 of support from the Community Energy Challenge launched by the Co-operative in conjunction with the Centre for Sustainable Energy, and read their aims of “exploring and developing community-owned and run hydro power projects in the Derwent Valley world heritage corridor”, the revisiting of the power of water seemed well worth celebrating. I’ll be reporting on this in more detail in the future.
I live in the small (pop 350) village of Whatstandwell, pretty much equidistant from all three towns. Hence the dilemma: which Transition group to join? I am strongly drawn to each of them for different reasons. So that’s why I describe myself as a bumblebee (inspired by talks by the bee enthusiast Brigit Strawbridge, moving around finding nectar, i.e. opportunities to help, support and encourage within my capabilities and expertise. My own Transition-related project is a website (www.dreamthefuture.org.uk) for sharing ‘positive’ visions of the future, which I launched on 20th June, and for which I’d appreciate both feedback and contributions.
I decided to start by talking with two local activists. First, from Transition Wirksworth Rosemary Blenkinsop shared her experience of the Growers Group and Community Garden. What advice would Rosemary offer people starting a similar group?
“Prepare the ground; in other words put plenty of work into getting to know each other. We visited each other's gardens to offer advice, and shared both food and recipes.”
Planning meetings were often more of a challenge than the work days, with passionate discussions about water harvesting and sheds. Good facilitation was essential; she recommended using the consensus process as although it wasn't always easy it ensured that people felt their views had been taken into account. Future plans include developing a forest garden and selling starter crops to help inexperienced local gardeners. The challenge as always is to hold the vision and not become caught up completely in the practical tasks.
“People are often surprised at the way we share out the crops,” said Rosemary “It seems to me that generosity spreads generously.”
Meanwhile in Matlock, Transition members have been getting involved with projects instigated by local people. When Helen Cunningham was invited to a town traders meeting she could see them getting bogged down in their application for Portas pilot town funding. So she suggested an alternative which they could get started on straight away. The Totally Locally campaign, offers a campaign plan and templates of support materials to be adapted locally.
For the launch event the suggestion of Movies in the Park was enthusiastically adopted. The cost of hiring a screen seemed daunting but Irfan Shabir of Maazi restaurant went round local businesses and raised more than enough money in sponsorship. So only a month after the initial meeting, on the day that the six Portas “winners” were announced, a large crowd was watching Puss in Boots, dancing to Mamma Mia, and learning about both Totally Locally and Transition Matlock.
If the Transition group had been organising the event themselves they would undoubtedly have chosen different films and means of generating the power to show them. But it wasn't. Should they have refused to have anything to do with it? As it was, by the end of the day a large number of people understood and felt positive about the Transition movement. The Totally Locally manifesto (described by Helen as “very transitiony”) is displayed in a large number of shops, and a spirit of co-operation and mutual support is evident.
Who knows where it might lead? Invited by the Rotary Club to suggest an alternative to a £250 voucher from Sainsbury's, traders came up with the idea of “Matlock Money” vouchers which can be used in shops in the Totally Locally scheme.
“If this works we could have our own local money,”
one shop owner suggested. Helen – with a smile - agreed.
Pictures: the SRTT Green Directory, Steve Jenkins TCL speaking at Hebden Bridge launch, wirksworth Growers, Matlock Movies in the Park, Matlock Portas launch
This blog comes to you with two acknowledgements firstly to Marion for sending me her photos at least four times before we got them right and secondly to Mark at Black Box Lancaster for replacing my computer and retrieving all the files in less than 24 hours.