If Transition is to succeed – to deliver on its promise of happier, more resilient communities – then it’s always seemed obvious to me that the work we do is fundamental to this change. If we can find ways to create enough work that contributes to the resilience of our area, that is more fulfilling, in tune with our own particular skills and values, and that pays the bills, then many of the outcomes we want will naturally emerge.

So I’ve been involved with shaping the REconomy Project, a national Transition Network project, for the last year – writing the initial funding bids, building our project team, and helping shape and deliver the approach. The REconomy Project aims to help grow the capacity of Transition Initiatives (and other community groups) to build themselves a new local economy. Working with 10 TIs around the UK – a range of different sized places at different stages of Transition – we have developed a framework to help support this new economic activity at community level.

The framework include leadership (how to build a willing coalition of local strategic organisations, including the councils and Chamber of Commerce, for example) and visioning (how to then develop a collective vision for your local economy), working with existing businesses (how to help them transition to a new economic paradigm) and starting new enterprises (that aspire to meet Transition principles).

Via our soon to be public website (April 2012), we hope the REconomy Project will provide the inspiration, processes, knowledge and tools that can help a TI as it undertakes this challenging adventure. Our golden rule is not to duplicate what’s already out there, so we have links to other organisations where useful.

People are already creating new livelihoods for themselves, and inspiring stories are emerging about community-based energy companies, bakeries, bus companies, food hubs and so on around the country. It’s wonderful that these new enterprises are appearing and succeeding and some are looking at ways to replicate their models more widely.

While individual social-community enterprises are a great start, we feel that in order to respond at the necessary scale we also need to foster a general culture of enterprise in our Transition communities, offer support and investment options to those that emerge, and act with a strategic intent that encourages core resilience-building enterprise as a priority.

For example, one of the REconomy activities currently underway is developing and piloting an ‘Economic Evaluation’ process which I am running here in Totnes. It’s one of the things I love most about my work – that besides working for the Transition Network, I am also involved at the other end of the scale, and actually get to do some of the work at the local level.

This starts with an analysis of our current economy – how many businesses, what they do, how many people they employ, what skills they need today and so on. We will then identify the vulnerabilities and opportunities of our local economic system, given the assets and resources we have in our unique area. In particular we focus on opportunities around local food, retrofitting homes, renewable energy and some public services and attempt to quantify the potential value of these sectors if they were re-localised (as well as social and environmental impacts).

This then acts as an awareness-raising tool for those who currently lead and plan our economic strategies. Ideally we can get everyone to line up behind a new local economic strategy that is viable given the challenges we face. For example, we can put in place the support that’s needed to best stimulate enterprise  – this might include publicising the new enterprise opportunities to encourage entrepreneurs to come forward, offering them training and advice, linking them with investors and proving the right infrastructure (shared processing plants and local distribution hubs for example). Some of this is underway with our imminent Local Entrepreneur Forum.

We are working with Geofutures who are helping provide the data needed for the analysis stage via an online data mapping and visualisation tool. This tool will also help us track our progress against a set of economic-resilience indicators.

“Ah yes, but there you go again thinking that how things work in Totnes will apply in other places…” I hear you cry. Good point! To address this we are also doing the Economic Evaluation pilot in Manchester and Hereford. We hope that by learning how this process works differently for a market town, a city and a wider rural area, we can come up with the most widely applicable process and learnings.

The Economic Evaluation process is just one of the many resources that will be made available via the REconomy project. We hope this demonstrates one useful way in which we can act strategically and collaboratively. Transition cannot do this economic transformation alone, we need to work with the other players. We also hope you will be encouraged to share with us, via the REconomy website, social media and national/regional gatherings, your own experiences and resources that we can then make available to everyone engaged in this work.

Personally I’m feeling very excited but equally daunted by this project – after all, what do I know about economics? Isn’t it a massively complex subject that mere mortals like me don’t understand? But I increasingly realise that actually, I don’t need an economics degree to look around me and see the issues with our current economic system, right here where I live. Where at least 2/3 of the money spent on food and drink goes through one single supermarket and then straight out of the community, for example. It’s not difficult to see the solutions to this, and the potential impacts of those solutions on jobs for local people and perhaps most critically the youth, as well as environmental benefits. I don’t know what the answer might look like where you live, but I bet you’ve got some good ideas already. So I encourage you to collect some companions and put them into practice. People are hungry for an answer to our economic woes, and we think we’ve got one.

As is common with Transition, the other wonderful thing that happens in that people pop out of the woodwork to help with just the right skills at just the right time. As we were building our local economic strategic partner group and wondering how we might get this diverse group to work, along came Richard with time to volunteer and a strong background in building partnerships including councils. So there is also something I have learned about trusting that what is needed will appear.

We’re looking forward to sharing the REconomy Project more widely as soon as the technical bits are complete, and we offer it up with the hope you find it useful and if you don’t, that you will tell us. News about the release of REconomy will be posted via the Transition Network website, newsletter and Transition Culture.   Fiona Ward

Fiona Ward is REconomy Project manager and co-founder of Transition Training and Consulting, as well as an active member of the Transition Town Totnes Business and Livelihoods group.  She will be speaking at the REconomy Project Local Entrepreneur Project Totnes.

Images: REconomy Project home page screen shot; GeoFutures screen shot