by Valentin Schipfer
When my flat mate, an architect, came back from one of his field trips from Great Britain last week, he seemed kind of enlightened. Some minutes later his story has also infected me. Together with his colleagues he had visited the Transition Town Totnes – the live response how to build resilience. “It’s fascinating! It’s a grassroots community that creates alternatives in response to peak oil, climate destruction, and economic instability – without appearing hippiesque at all”, he told me in euphoria.
I was surprised by his discovery. On one hand everybody is talking about resilience. On the other efficient answers are still pushed in the background too often. Until that moment I have never heard of this spot in rural Southwestern England before, even though Transition Town Totnes is just the tip of the iceberg. To this day, the idea has already been adopted many times in hundreds of initiatives in more than 30 countries.
So what is the idea about? According to a Wikipedia entry Transition Town is a brand for environmental and social movements founded upon the techniques by the permaculture teacher Rob Hopkins and Naresh Giangrande from a college in Ireland. The main aim generally, and echoed by the towns locally, is to raise awareness of sustainable living and build local ecological resilience in the near future. Communities are encouraged to seek out methods for reducing energy usage as well as reducing their reliance on long supply chains that are totally dependent on fossil fuels for essential items.
The knowledge about how to reach this aim is accessible for everybody on the website of the international Transition Network . Today’s blog entry will deliver a selection of initiatives from Transition Town Totnes which you can also find here.
Every citizen has his own competencies but in many cases they are not shared with others. That’s why the project Do-it-ourselves skillshares project aims to make the most of all the valuable skills in the community, and to give everybody a chance to experiment and practice generosity. Skillshares wants to provide practical, fun and free opportunities to share skills in a relaxed setting and to form connections in the community.The workshops, discussions, meals or short-term apprenticeships contain themes like bread making, gardening or chicken keeping for beginners and food tree grafting.
The Foodlink Totnes project aims to install a more resilient local food economy by building confidence and loyalty between local producers and retailers. Therefore Foodlink Totnes tries to increase the availability of local food, by linking local farmers and producers with retailers and restaurants in Totnes. The project leader proudly states: “I am keen to get all of the parties involved in food production and their end-markets talking together, in order that everyone understands each other’s issues and what is currently preventing greater availability. By getting everyone around the same table to discuss these issues jointly, we hope to come up with creative solutions that maximize the amount of locally sourced food in the town.”
Chips’n Fish go local. The Responsible Fish Restaurant initiative, launched by a restaurant owner and a fisheries scientist, encourages chefs to think about replacing over-fished species with alternatives. It helps to find more local fish, by setting up a direct relationship between chefs and selected fishers who use sustainable methods of catching. The Responsible Fish Restaurant initiative does this by sourcing fish locally and seasonally, by directly supporting fishermen who help to rebuild fish stocks, by improving the quality of fish available to chefs by supporting better fishing practices.
Further together with an architectural office Totnes has formed the Transition Homes Trust to deliver a development of low-impact homes for local people. To address the issue of food security, houses will be integrated with shared growing areas. Ecologically designed systems will deal with water and waste. The houses will sit lightly in the landscape and will be simple, compact and of efficient design, requiring less materials, energy and maintenance.
In order to supply these and other homes with energy a scheme was invented to develop the local renewable energy resource under the democratic control and ownership of the local community. The Totnes Renewable Energy Society Ltd was born out of the very early stages of the Transition Town Totnes. It has been set up as an innovative, cooperative company devoted to the profitable local development of renewable energy for the benefit of Totnes and environs. The company’s structure is that of an industrial and provident society for the benefit of the Community, which allows for maximum public participation in its running.
Another new form of cooperation can be found in the Transition Streets initiative. It enables citizens to take a number of effective, practical, money and energy- saving steps together with a group of neighbors, friends or family. In Totnes several projects have been implemented with numerous people who have joined the 7 session programme at each other’s houses in their local neighborhood. The name Transition Streets can be seen as reference to bringing neighbors together who live in the same street, for example.
In my eyes, there is much to learn from these small-scale projects in rural towns like Totnes and I am sure that there is even much more to discover on the Transition Network website as well as in Rob Hopkins’ Transition Companion. It’s increasingly important considering how to adopt these ideas in urban areas, at least on a community-level in different city quarters. The transition town movement is definitely an option of action for the strategic positioning of small and medium sized cities. Also regarding Inpolis‘ project in Brandenburg these examples are a welcome inspiration.