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If not Transition, then WAT?

As I mentioned back in April, I live 25 miles from Edinburgh and am a transitioner-without-initiative. But I've made it through the ranks of Guest Blogger and am going to try my best to keep you updated on what's happening with me and my initiative. I guess my journey differs from that of many Transition Initiatives in that I did not start with a group of 'like-minded' people. That said, the energy to embark on this journey came from a gathering of like-minded people and as I said in my post, if your community is not ready for Transition, what is it ready for?

Dearg surveys his surroundingsThe decline in energy availability will mean that cooperation becomes essential, but cooperation is a skill like any other - it can be lost. So it's never too soon to start working together, although I must confess that I am wary of banging on about 'the environment'. I am sure that many people ignore or deny environmental issues as a defence mechanism - they simply cannot cope with the idea that the future will not be rosy and we're the cause. Environmental issues are not why people are getting involved here and it's easy to put people off unless you make a project relevant. So we don't go there. Yet.

I'm a bit of a plodder - if something's worth doing, it's worth doing right. Quality not quantity and all that. We agreed a name early on: WAT IF?. As soon as I saw that suggestion, I loved it - more than my own suggestion, which I forget now. WAT IF? stands for 'Woolfords, Auchengray and Tarbrax Improvement Foundation' - a bit of a mouthful but I find the name inspiring - what if we did...? So far, we've held seven public meetings to attempt community consensus concerning the basics. Our name was voted on from a small selection of six or so suggestions and we've collected ideas ranging from growing food and planting flowers to more ambitious community projects such as converting a disused church into sheltered accommodation for the local elderly and even bringing mains gas to the area.

That last one is a particular challenge because I see not having mains gas as an advantage - you don't miss what you've never had and we know, dear reader, that the price of gas is only heading skyward, fracking or no. But in these days of convenience, some consider not having mains gas as a breach of their human rights! Our infrastructure in general is not what many have come to expect from the 21st century, with no public transport at all, no shops or pubs within 4 miles and, of course, no mains gas. But one must be careful what one wishes for. This area was mined for coal and shale oil in the past. I want to keep the word gas out of it altogether.

So far, we've avoided dominant voices from taking over, in part because our meetings involve relatively small numbers and I get the feeling that many are surprised we're still on the go. We usually have 12 - 15 people although our December meeting saw just five brave souls making it through the snow. While the same faces appear, there's usually someone who hasn't been for a while - or at all.

May saw our local elections deliver new local Councillors. They seem determined that at least one (of three) attend every public meeting, which sounds very supportive. However, I know that our group will ruffle feathers and one Councillor even let slip their feelings by saying "you can't just set up a Trust". Well, actually, we can! When challenged (did you just say...?) they back-tracked but I know we have to expect some 'officials' to resist our community's attempt to become more resilient. Actually, it's not our potential resilience that's the problem but our potential success in accessing windfarm money the local authority would rather have. But that's another story.

What if it's a hoax cartoonOne member of the group runs their own business and took to fundraising like a duck to water (albeit a duck who would rather stay on dry land!). We have, in theory, been granted the money for our community consultation although the local election followed by summer holidays has meant that we still await this money, which was agreed months ago. I know this frustrates some but I think it's important for the group to just be. Yes, we need money but we should also consider what we can do without money. I said this at a meeting once, only to be met with a bemused silence. That said, the community has received its first instalment from the two-turbine extension that started this process off. The developer lives locally and is a private developer rather than some far-flung multinational. His bank wanted all sorts of documentation which we just don't have in place yet. So the developer worked around that - we know this is not usual.

So all in all, we're doing alright and next time I write, we should be well on the way to charitable status and have a clearer idea of our development plan. It would be good to receive feedback as I am very aware that our initiative could hardly be further from Transition with respect to some of the deeper issues pertaining to ecology, consumption, personal feelings and so on. But we are still a bunch of individuals who are coming together to achieve positive change in our local area and that has to be a good place to start.

Images; Dearg surveys his surroundings (Woolfords & Tarbrax bing top right)”. Dearg is Gaelic for ‘red’ and is pronounced Jerek – just fyi!


Caroline Jackson's picture

All power to you

I think it's great the way you are going it alone as a community so all power to you.  The attitude of your councillor made me think of a TED talk by one of the founders of Incredible Edible Todmorden - their cheerful disregard for officialdom is wonderful.  You might like to send the link to some of the other members of WAT IF.

Kerry Lane's picture

Working with the community

What an inspiring story Mandy. It might not feel like 'transition' to you, but I don't believe that Transition techniques suit all communities and working with the community and empowering people to take local action is very much the essence of what Transition tries to do.

Good luck! I look forward to hearing what WAt IF? get up to in the future.

Catriona Ross's picture

Way to go, WAT IF!

Aye, good on ya Mandy, you're going for it and that's the whole point!  Here on the Black Isle a dynamic group of like-minded people worked their socks off to get TBI off to a strong start - greatly boosted by some high profile events and top notch guest speakers and panellists like yourself.  We're reaching out and I know we've done loads, but getting across what we're doing and why and getting more active volunteers on board, can sometimes feel hard going. Your wariness of 'banging on about the environment' is wise, focusing on positive change in your area is the way ahead.  Slainte mhath - here's to WAT IF!

Mandy Meikle's picture


Good to get feedback. I guess the thing I'm finding most concerning is that I'm not being upfront. I score low in 'professionalism' - what you see is usually what you get, which has pluses and minuses! Communities need to realise that being a greenie isn't just for others. It's self-preservation, in my view. But many people would run to the hills at my gloomy view of the future. Any wise suggestions out there?

Mark Watson's picture

A Great Place to Start

What strikes me in this piece, Mandy, is what is being slowly built up through the WAT IF group meeting regularly over an extended period of time. People getting used to working and being with each other is really key.

I really liked "Yes, we need money but we should also consider what we can do without money."

Most of Sustainable Bungay's projects are done with no external funding (though there have been a few small grants here and there). A lot of us have been meeting up for several years now, and are always open for new people to come along and join in. And they do and the group slowly builds.

So very best wishes to you all at WAT IF from the flatlands of East Anglia.