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Towards Transition Glasgow is five years young - Part 1

Sometimes it seems that not much has changed in Glasgow over the five years since the Transition energy first took hold yet I and many of my fellow Transition’ers do experience a difference in what’s happening around the city. So how much of this change is to do with Transitions presence and how do you evaluate its effect on a city or community over time?  

Glasgow is a growing city of nearly 600,000 residents, with a strong history going back generations as traders, manufacturers and retailers. So that grounded working ethos and a “can do” approach should stand us in good stead. 

TTG logoThe first impromptu meeting of a fledging Glasgow group was on 8th December 2007 after the Climate Change March when Ben Brangwyn stirred us into action. Of the 15 or so Glaswegians keen to get going Neil, Abi, Rae, and myself [Luci], together with more recent members, Kristina and Annie will share our perspectives on Transition in Glasgow now and over the last five years.

Luci’s perspective: City wide collaborations

I’m Luci and I have been active in Transition since that fateful day in 2007. Over the intervening years I have worked in different ways to fuel mine and others exploration of Transition in Glasgow – as a paid community development worker with Transition Scotland Support and Glasgow Transition Support, now as a freelancer doing similar things and throughout as a volunteer with what became Towards Transition Glasgow.

StitchUPs first birthdayA few years ago a Totnes Transition’er told me that there were a few things happening every day of the week locally and some evenings they had to choose between attending three really nice community events. I wasn’t really so surprised, but I was definitely jealous. Oh, to have that choice in Glasgow of even one local event a week. Now, a few years on there’s at least one event/group of a local nature to go to most days of the week in my own community, Govanhill, and that’s not so unusual to experience all over Glasgow. That’s a phenomenal change. There is definitely a groundswell of projects, community activity and behaviour change in local food, upcycling, choirs, draught busting, nature awareness and more. 

Last year my role as a Glasgow Transition Support Worker was to link up new and active community groups as well as key individuals to support and share their learnings in becoming more collaborative and resourceful. Many of the communities I worked with had Climate Challenge Fund Support, one of which was Govan Together [GT], a partnership of five local groups working through the Folk University – Education in the Community - who sought funding as a community already with a very low carbon footprint, due to low disposable incomes, which had an equal right to access funding in order to build resilience for a high well being community.

The CCF ask for CO2 reductions and Govan Together chose their community garden partner LEGUP’s reuse approach, which was highly successful. Community resilience was developed through weekly communal eating and discussion evenings and regular larger community events drawing on the range of approaches and skills in the creative arts, community development, practical making skills, participation and inclusion and harmonious communication. At the end of the learning journey they shared their understanding of the difficulties in working together with hope that others can learn from their experience.

StitchUP ringsMany of their ways of working are very aligned with Transition’s and yet they aren’t coming from a Transition perspective as such, their ethical, open and fair community approach has grown and evolved through each projects experiences of doing well what they each do, locally. There are many similar projects across the city in the many areas of economic, social and ecological deprivation that are just getting on with what they do and are open to input / support from like minded people. These are the types of people and projects that we have encouraged to be part of the Towards Transition Glasgow [TTG] social networking site.

One of the themed groups in TTG was The East End Transition group, based in my community of Dennistoun. It started when I put a notice in local shops to see who would come forward. Three films and 5 people later , we attracted 15 people to meet in a café to watch In Transition 1, followed by another meeting looking at local food and a local food day was born. On the day of the food event we weaved a permaculture walk through Dennistoun from the local allotments to barren land, to another allotment for fresh tea and cakes and back for a film and chat! Success in itself, but the walk brought together a local housing association’s unused back green and the group’s need for communal land to grow together and so Dennistoun Diggers was born. Not formally a Transition group it nevertheless has its roots in Transition, choosing to focus on the growing food and developing participation. 

An early incarnation of a West End group was fuelled by my disbelief that Transition wasn’t happening in that area [it seemed to be the most likely area in Glasgow for a TI]. After hearing and seeing the interest locally I invited people to gather for a few evenings of chat and then backed off as they got going. I came to realise that their energy wasn’t mine and after a year people went their own way. Hearing of Annie starting a new West End group is exciting, but I am keen to stay at arms length with support and let them make their own way, which is how the idea of a Glasgow Hub was supposed to work.

A few years back the Southside Transition group met every two weeks to watch films and chat about Transition related themes. What came out of this was a group of people who have gone on to set up other transition related projects, some of which are discussed in this blog. We all keep in touch and often still work together, like on the TTG five years on event, the Glasgow Local Food Network and the Council’s Communicating Climate Change events as well as supporting each others projects.

StitchUPThis group introduced me to the Southside where I now live and my focus to host more personal responses to living locally, not necessarily with the Transition banner. One such project is stitchUP, a monthly evening dedicated to skill sharing creative ideas of reuse to domestic life, which I co-host with Donna, a local mum. Born of our love of textiles, creative design and resourcefulness and shamed and inspired in equal measures by the practical use of discarded everyday domestic items by the local Romany community, we got going.

Mums are at the centre of the changes in behaviour because they have a very big say about what the household budget is used for and that is something we are actively tapping into and supporting by visiting many other groups city wide to run workshops and inspire their start up too. The “can do” approach is generating positives like “I’ve only ever sewn once and thought I was crap at it. Now I am excited to try out some new things” to a local family [Mum, Dad - who had recently lost his job-, two kids and gran] all making and darning with the eldest child sitting with her homework amongst a table of 30 makers.

After 16 months of intentional voluntary input and relying almost entirely on what we already have we are moving into the heart of Govanhill to the Community Baths Trust, where we can develop stitchUP in our diverse community of 47 different languages. Rather than setting up a TI in my area with 4 or 5 interested people I have chosen to work alongside other locals whilst learning from each other about our needs. I have learnt that by starting collaborative things in my community that nourish me to stay I need to be in the moment whilst also realising this is for the long term. I can’t change things quickly if I am collaborating – it’s the relationships and process that are important, a necessarily slower process where I will be changed by working together. StitchUP I was sure was a Transition Southside project because that was what I brought to the table, but as Donna and I have worked together I have relaxed some of my need to inform people about the problems in the world fuelled by my fears and focused more on the activity of making and resourcefulness. I still feel hopeless when I hear the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has risen by 30% since 1990 levels, but I have Transition and other community colleagues and friends to share my fears and hopes with. Or at the very least take comfort in that they too are experiencing similar feelings.

Abundance in actionTransition can work anywhere as a set of growing and evolving tools and approaches to help us explore and be creative with making positive change in even the most disillusioned communities. The challenge is how we creatively adapt the principles and approaches in each community and that’s up to our imagination, passion, energy and ability to connect with other people. What has gone before is just a guide and inspiration for us to adapt and be brave in doing just that. If it isn’t working perhaps we need to change what we do or how we relate. It doesn’t have to look like a Transition Initiative or even a constituted group, it can be like we have in Glasgow, a loose knit group of activists, enthusiasts and supporters, whether groups or other lone workers who are continually exploring and seeding Transition and Permaculture and any other useful ideas to long term life affirming local behaviour change, day in and day out. Five years on I can see that Transition has and is playing a part in bringing about positive changes in Glasgow society, maybe at a slower rate than we had hoped for, but successful in it’s own unique way.

Photos: StitchUPs first birthday party in Queens Park, button ring creations, a family StitchUP session and abundance in action with a fantastic haul of autumn berries from Bellahouston ski slope (all Luci Ransome)

Neil’s perspective: Online Social Networking - Joining the dots

Not long after the first series of meetings to look at establishing a Transition group for Glasgow it was decided that we needed an effective (and cheap/free) way of sharing and exchanging information. The meetings had highlighted the fact that Glasgow was a big place, there was already a lot of community and Transition-type activity happening and there was a need to keep people connected. Therefore it was decided to set up a social networking site using the Ning platform which would:

  1. Promote and raise awareness of the Transition Towns movement
  2. Allow people to connect with each other, both with people in their neighbourhood and with people with common interests
  3. Share and exchange information in a public arena (rather than being lost in emails and in boxes!)

TTG NingAt the time the Ning platform was a free solution, which provided a lot of the services that we wanted without being overly technical. As with all these sites they are only as successful as the people that use them. Also at the time Facebook was still a whipper-snapper (with only 100 million users) and it was competing with the likes of BeBo, MySpace and other solutions such as Wikis and Google Groups. Even now it provides a lot more flexibility and control than the likes of Facebook. And so the Towards Transition Glasgow Ning site was born.

In March 2009 the site was given a major overhaul and at the same time Google Analytics was set up to allow us to monitor the number of visitors to the site. Since then nearly 17,000 people have made over 35,000 visits to the site. The monthly high was 1900 visits.

There are currently over 430 members on the site with average visits of 1000 per month, half of these being from new visitors. Every month an update is sent out to all members highlighting upcoming events as well as latest news and blogs about Transition related activity across the city and beyond. In addition there is also a Facebook group which has over 160 members.

As we approach the 5th birthday of Transition in Glasgow although we still don’t have an official Transition Initiative in Glasgow I feel the site is part of the solution which has strengthened community based activity in the City and helped to join the dots!

Kristina’s perspective: Transition related projects

Transition in Glasgow has many faces and it is an underlying theme to many projects across the city. Whether completely grassroots initiatives or funded projects, these are all working towards enabling a smooth transition to a more sustainable, or should I say sensible, way of living for all. An abundance of projects means parallels and also contrasts. And that is where the power of collaboration & networking strengthens the work of the ‘sector’.

The Climate Challenge fund, which has been mentioned in previous blogs, is a great way to boost ideas and enthusiasm by funding and refunding projects focusing on different aspects of resilience. As a result a network of sustainable transport and food projects along with energy conservation projects is created. In one way or another many of the projects are creating accessible spaces for learning and understanding the way things and systems currently are and show sustainable alternatives.

Cookery workshopFocusing on the practical side of the positive transition we all want to see as soon as possible, projects are being set up and starting work on the ground reaching members of various communities without delay and too much dwelling on why we need to change the way we do things as a community, society, country or world. Without focusing on the ‘sacrifices’ we might need to make but instead normalising lower impact, healthier, less dependent on oil and more community-focused regeneration.

As a newcomer to the area last year I was thoroughly impressed with the array of environmental initiatives taking place in Glasgowand the opportunities for collaboration and support this meant. As someone who is involved in a similar project  (Transition UWS) I have since managed to use these opportunities to the benefit of the community I work with as it is much more practical and less energy intensive (I mean human energy) not to reinvent the wheel all the time but make the best of resources available.

Here is a brief introduction to some projects and organizations in and around Glasgow, which are all in one way or another steering towards transition in the city:

Glasgow Bike Station have been doing fantastic work towards promoting cycling and boosting the cycling confidence of people across the city. They delivered their Dr. Bike service at UWS during the first phase of the project and their expertise was much appreciated by those who benefitted. This also helped raise the profile of the Transition project- a win- win!

Playbusters have been working for a number of years in the East End of Glasgow to build community resilience.

Glasgow Harvest and The Hidden Gardens are great examples of using art and creativity to celebrate food growing and eating. Glasgow Harvest events are a great way to showcase what has been happening with food growing in the city to those who have no awareness of such initiatives going on.

Apple picking missionsThe new Glasgow University Environmental Sustainability Team is a group of active students who managed to secure support from the University to roll out a number of low carbon initiatives.

Willowbank Community Garden lead by students from Glasgow University to bring students and the local community together; it’s situated around the corner from the already established Woodlands Community garden.

Locavore is a local food shop with a twist- this Community Interest company is also a hub of activities. What a better way to show what a local (food) economy would look like other than doing it? Locavore has been supporting the Transition UWS project through providing local organic produce for cookery lessons and demonstrating that local seasonal food is in fact not as ‘boring’ as it might seem to students.

Glasgow Abundance is following the example of many groups in urban areas across the UK Glasgow and set up a small urban fruit harvesting group in Glasgow. Based at Locavore we managed to secure some capital funding which will make harvesting fruit and demonstrating the endless possibilities of what you can do with your harvest easier and help attract more Abundance volunteers.

For more info on Transition UWS visit http://www.sauws.org.uk/transition

Photos: Transition UWS cookery workshop with Locavore (Katja Brinschwitz) and Kristina on an apple picking mission with abundance (Kristina Nitsolova)

Contributors to Part 1:

Luci Ransome

Neil Lovelock

Kristina Nitsolova

Co-edited by Luci Ransome and Kerry Lane


Part 2 coming tomorrow...

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