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?
The 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.
One 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!