Considering Transition community events as cultural and creative acts
Last month as part of the Playing for Time project, a convergence of artists, theatre makers, writers and tutors met at Lumb Bank, the Arvon Foundation's centre in South Yorkshire. We were collecting material that will form the core of the book - the practices and projects of community-led creative action. To help shape the week and to introduce Transition, I mapped out the following events in the light of the work.
Dear contributors to Playing for Time,
I am writing a few notes on three Transition events, so you might consider your own projects and practices in the light of one very ordinary Transition initiative.
If you don’t know much about the Transition movement, this is one way of looking at it in action. Every initiative differs according to its town or bio-region, but all of us work from the same premise: to help create resilient communities that can adapt to the shocks of climate change, peak oil and economic downturn. In many ways we are working in preparation for hard times ahead - creating a low-energy future that people might want to live in, rather than fear. And one, for sure, where none of us feels on our own.
I have included links to blog posts about these three events if you would like to check them out later (no pressure!)
Looking forward to working with you all this week.
Who we are
Sustainable Bungay is based in a small market town in Suffolk, in the Waveney Valley. We are unfunded and without any formal links to any organisation, or public arts body. None of the people taking part in this initiative would consider themselves artists, or these events we put on as art forms; yet thinking about creative collaboration within the context of Playing for Time, everything we do has strong creative base. We are deliberately forging a new culture for a new time, a culture not made up of operas or fine wine or complex poetry.
Our work comes from necessity, rather than theory: it’s grassroots, vernacular, based on gatherings, rooted in time and place. It doesn’t have a hero writer or diva centre stage, with an audience gazing passively upward, but takes place in a room full of participants, with an organising, often invisible, core. Everyone belongs in this space and time. Everyone has a voice.
In Bungay we all bring something to share and we all take turns. Our events are organised by one to five people and everything else self-organises. We don’t do visionings or have strategies. Most of us learn on the job. None of us are rich or influential. We have a core group of 15-20 people with several sub-groups, who have been working together for five years, producing a regular monthly programme of talks, walks, workshops, film showings etc. that are open to all the community to attend. These include a twice-yearly Give and Take Day, monthly Green Drinks, and seasonal celebrations, such as summer picnics and seed, plant and produce swaps. Our activities are based around the local library where we built and maintain a community permaculture garden, and hold many of our meetings.
All these events were photographed and written up afterwards in a series of blogposts. Keeping a record is part of our communications work.
Monthly meal for 50 people, cooked from scratch using local, seasonal and mostly organic produce. £5
Crew: 16 (5 cooks, 2 front of house, 3 servers, 3 set-up/flowers, 3 washers up)
Venue: local community centre
All of our meals have a theme and sometimes this is a country. Last September I directed a meal, based on Mexico (where I once lived) that took place just after Mexican Independence Day. Most of the food was locally sourced, including several kinds of chilli. Our maize, onions and runner beans were from a local allotment, blackberries from the common, Mexican sunflowers and cosmos from local gardens.
Our Abundance table was truly abundant, filled with Indian summer sweet corn and chilli plants, tomatoes, peppers, raspberries, apples, garlic etc. Mexico is a great place for convivial gatherings, and this was the theme of my short talk between courses, as well as Beans and their place in a low-carbon diet. We also had a Spanish-singing Transition a capella crew, singing the mariachi standard, Cielito Lindo.
All simple stuff. Yet it’s this attention to detail and celebration of ordinary and beautiful things at your feet and working alongside your fellows that makes such events joyful and satisfying in a way a Hollywood movie never can be.
A daylong “celebration of the honeybee and the flowers they love”, as part of the town’s annual festival, held at Castle Meadow (one of the town commons). Free.
Crew: 16 (one event manager, one stalls manager, 3 cafe organisers, 10 set up and breakdown/stall keepers, one grower of bee-friendly plants)
Activities: stalls, workshops, plant walk, film, talks, cafe, children’s corner
Venue: festival marquee, under the trees and around town
The Bungay Beehive Day is organised by members of Bungay Community Bees - the first community-supported apiculture in the UK. The group keep community hives in different gardens and orchards around the town, teach children about bees, give talks about pollinators to local groups, work with a local nursery to promote bee-friendly plants, build their own top-bar hives, train beekeepers and have bee-related events.
Beehive Day invites several speakers, ranging from the professional (Heidi from the Natural Beekeeping Trust) and amateur (Philip, ex-surgeon and local bumblebee “expert”) to local beekeeping groups and the day includes discussions, a film and readings. The stalls sell honey and organic plants, have demonstration hives, info about pesticides etc. and there is a honey cake competition and a bee-flower walk around the town.
Beehive Day is visited by between 600-800 people, and like other SB events, is self-funded.
BCB also grow their own stock of bee-loving plants and have planted a wild flower meadow, with a local landowner, as part of a “River of Flowers” project around the town.
A series of knowledge, skill-share and reconnection with nature events, based around a Herbs for Resilience plant medicine bed at the local library. Donations.
Crew: 2 (organiser and event manager)
Venue: community library and courtyard garden
Each year the Library community garden central bed has a different theme and is curated by a different member of the group. In 2010 this was Plants for Bees and Butterflies, this year The Edible Garden. In 2012 the bed was abundant with wild and garden medicine plants, from a huge burdock to stands of tiny thyme flowers.
Each month between eight and forty people came for a talk, walk or workshop on the theme of plants as medicine. Each Plants for Life session featured a guest‘plant person’ speaker and included medical and lay herbalists, authors, organic and biodynamic growers, and home winemakers.
“We looked at the medicine under the ground as we connected with our roots in January, learned growing tips in February, adopted a herb to focus on for the year in March, walked with weeds in April, heard about hedgerow medicine in May, made midsummer wildflower oils in June, went on a bee and flower walk in July, had our world shaken by 52 flowers in August, made autumn tonic tinctures in September, medicinal wines in October and French tisanes in November.” (Mark Watson)
We tasted, talked, foraged, shared tips and teas and exchanged seeds. Transition medicine is as much about plant knowledge and maintaining well-being, as it is about getting in synch with the living systems - not as a solitary practice but as a communal one.
Images: creatures made from clay behind our backs - workshop led by Julia Roundtree (Clayground) at Lumb Bank ; Sustainable Bungay crew with van, Give and Take Day, 2012; Abundance table at Mexican Fiesta, Happy Mondays, Sept 2012; bees in one of Bungay Community Bees top bar hives; poster for Plants for Life, Oct 2012
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