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Finding the People - Sustainable Bungay and Transition Norwich

Midsummer 2008 I do NOT want to go to a film and discussion about climate change organised by a group calling itself ‘Sustainable Bungay’.

But hold on a minute. Sustainable Bungay are showing four films in two weeks: Power of Community, End of Suburbia, 11th Hour, What A Way to Go – Life at the End of Empire. All on climate change and this thing I’ve been hearing about since last year: Peak Oil.

“Do we have to?” I said to Charlotte. This looked suspiciously like a Group I Might End Up Getting Involved In. Over the years I’d been active in several community and environmental groups and helped set up a community cinema. It always took time, energy and having to Deal With Other People – I was wary.

Then again, did I want to stay in a cottage down a Suffolk lane for the rest of my life going for solitary ‘reconnection with nature’ walks, grappling with metaphysical problems and despairing about the planet on my own?

We really grappled with whether or not to go to that film. Not exactly a wringing of hands and pulling of hair, but an inner struggle nevertheless with intense conversations. It was a bit over the top – weren’t we just going to the movies?

The film was 11th Hour. I laughed as they rolled out the dancing techno-fix wizards in bow ties at the end: Look at all these terrible things human beings have done to the environment. But NOW ladies and gentleman, bring on the biomimicking-sustainability-designer-hollywood-experts-of-the-future Dan Dah Dah Dah!

It was the post-film discussion that got my attention. Kate, who started Sustainable Bungay at a local Climate Conference in November 2007, asked everyone to speak to their neighbour; what was our name, our responses to the film, why had we come? And then we had a lively exchange about climate change and peak oil. No one was rushing from their seats.

Mark and Gemma (with mullein) on a pre-Bungay Beehive Day flower walkSo the next night we went to the Fisher Theatre again, this time for What A Way To Go – Life At The End of Empire. The central image is of a train that’s headed for disaster, whilst the genteel passengers in smart clothes chat away and have food served to them, unaware of anything beyond the train. I almost left in the first half hour, feeling trapped in my seat whilst a voiceover droned on about the end of the world of the American dream, accompanied by unrelenting images of the mining, burning, deforestation, bombing and drilling of the earth. But something compelled me to stay.

It got better as the voiceover gave way to interviews with writers, artists, psychologists and friends and relatives of the filmmaker, talking about fossil fuel depletion and what it could mean for humanity. The word denial came up a lot. But it was the end of the film, when Tim Bennett walks out into the land, down to the shores of Lake Michigan in the rain and joins a group of people, that really spoke to me. His messages for the times ahead: build lifeboats; get to know the land in your area, the medicinal plants; find your people.

Afterwards there was another discussion. No one left. Some people found the film depressing. And some, myself included, felt liberated by it in some way. As if suddenly we weren’t on our own.

We are the people we have been waiting for.

I put my name down on Sustainable Bungay’s mailing list and started to go to meetings.

This was my entry into Transition.


Three of us at September's Give and Take Day carrying stuffSeptember 2011 Last night Sustainable Bungay met in the library for our monthly core group meeting, which is open for anyone to attend. We discussed our 4th Give and Take event last Saturday and whether we wanted to be involved in the latest version of the divestment of the library. We talked about next Sunday’s produce swap in the library courtyard garden and ate a cake Gemma had baked using pears from one of its trees. And we looked forward to the next Happy Mondays Community Kitchen/Cafe on October 10th (and the foraging of sea buckthorn berries to go in the salad!). Before this I’d met with Rose to go through the plants for a bee-friendly wildflower meadow we're planting up as part of our Plants for Bees project, with a view to an eventual River of Flowers corridor.

Afterwards some of us went to the pub and talked about whether or not the Independent Trader who shocked the BBC the night before with his views on the impending economic crash, was actually one of the Yes Men. And did it really matter?

It's a long time since those days of isolated planetary angst induced lanewalking.

Transition Norwich News banner

Transition Norwich
Since its Unleashing in October 2008, Transition Norwich has shifted from being an initiative of many different theme groups to one focused on projects born of some of those groups. Norwich FarmShare, a CSA scheme with a weekly veg box now up and running, came out of the original Transition Norwich Food group, for example. The annual Magdalen Street Celebration emerged from the neighbourhood NR3 group, The Low Carbon Cookbook from the Strangers' Circle.

I was part of the Strangers’ Circle (made up of people who did not live in the city), one of the Transition Norwich Circles, whose aim was to reduce personal and household carbon emissions by half (or to half the national average if they were already on the low side) between June 2009 and June 2010. The Circles are what gave Charlotte the idea for This Low Carbon Life, as a way of recording our real experiences of being in Transition in general, and undergoing personal and household energy descent in particular.

For almost two years now the bloggers on This Low Carbon Life have published between us over 650 posts on everything from house insulation, saving toads, economic collapse, addiction to love and stuff, the Uncivilisation festival and the woes of rural (and city) public transport, to celebrations, recipes, sharing meals, growing food, cycling, recycling, communications, plants, bees, lactofermentation and downshifting in low-carbon style. I’m not going to put links to all of these – but there is truly a low carbon post for everyone so do have a look.

The bloggers meet every three months to discuss the rota and forthcoming themes. This Low Carbon Life is also the model for this same Transition Network Social Reporting pilot Charlotte and Ed have set up and we’re all now engaged in.

So who am I in all this? I am the guy who greets people and does front-of-house, who'll take a group out to get to know the plants growing in the neighbourhood, who subedits and proofs quarterly Sustainable Bungay newsletters and monthly Transition Norwich bulletins and blogs (a lot!), writes posts about what it's like being in Transition and reports on events. I am the guy with the camera -  a very transitional Canon Powershot I got at SB's first Give and Take in 2009 with a strong elastic band wrapped round it to keep the (rechargeable) batteries in place.

And the guy who sweeps the room at the end of the day.

Photos: Me leading Bee and Flower walk, Bungay Beehive Day, July 2011 (Muhammad Amin); Speaking with Gemma and plants (Margaret Sheppard); Happy Mondays in Bungay - see if you can spot our Social Reporting producer Ed (MW); Charlotte, Josiah, Nick and Stuff at September's Give and Take Day 2011 (MW); Transition Norwich news banner Sept 2011; Transition Norwich Bloggers on the Bench bookcrossing Shaun Chamberlin's Transition Timeline after meeting Aug 2011; Sweeping the Room at the end of the Give and Take day (Josiah Meldrum)

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Josiah Meldrum's picture

Glad you made it!

 Hi Mark,

Thanks for this - obviously I like it because I know you, Norwich and Bungay so well - but I think you've really captured that 'should I get involved with this?' feeling (and I'm glad you did!).

And - wow - has Sustainable Bungay been really been going for a little short of 4 years: seems like no time since I met Kate and others at the climate conference - surely some sort of party is in order...


Adrienne Campbell's picture

the human factor

Lovely post, Mark. What strikes me in all you write and photograph is the human factor, the named individuals and their very particular contributions. I'm inspired by your (and Charlotte's) accounts of meals shared and outings had, celebrations marked and experiments embarked upon together. We can all learn from the intimacy of transition that you're experiencing.

Kate Jackson's picture

 Thanks Mark - I was

 Thanks Mark - I was surprised to see my name and had almost forgotten the journey!  The film last night was also a real reminder for me of where we had started and why it mattered (perhaps not even from the film, more from our discussions and slightly hysterical giggling at the chap having his moment in his outdoor bathtub!).  I had really started to lose sight of what we were doing and had definitely reached that burnout point we were warned of at the start!  But that's where all the new people come in to keep it growing, developing and progressing, whilst the 'oldies' catch their breath!