Are you thinking about starting a new Transition initiative in your town, village or city? I was among those who initiated Transition Dartmouth Park, in North London, around a year and a half ago.
We recently held a core group away day, and after a shared, home-made and home grown lunch, we sat down to reflect on what we’d achieved over the last year, what had gone well, and where we needed to focus energy next.
Mostly, once we looked back at the projects we had managed to set up, how they were going and the events we had held, we were pleasantly surprised.
But of course not everything goes to plan and for every great success there will be things you could have done better, or would have been better not doing at all.
So from the relatively recent experience of starting a new initiative, here are some take-home tips:
- Think about it a lot before doing anything
I first considered starting Transition Dartmouth Park about nine months before I actually did anything. Similar in time to pregnancy (!) that time was well spent in preparation for the actual process. Initiating Transition in your neighbourhood is a huge undertaking, and will take all of your spare time and more besides. So far I have found it to be worth the commitment, but initiators are with the process for a good while, even once others are on board, so it’s worth being sure it’s a step you’re ready to take.
- Map your area
Lyn (who initiated TDP with me) and I did this in several ways. We looked at the geographical area, whether a new TI was needed – as we already had neighbouring groups, what was Dartmouth Park, and where the grey areas where. And then what hubs there were – the two parades of shops, the library, the primary school, farmers market, secondary schools, the six or so council estates – where was community located?
- Get to know your neighbours
We considered what pre-existing groups were in the area – political parties, the Conservation Area Committee, the Friends of the Library (which had just fought a successful campaign), the PTA. What were the main age and social groups? This thinking was invaluable as it gave us places and people to start talking to and an idea of who we needed to get to the initiating meeting. It also gave us a ready-made list of people and organisations to network with once we began. And although one of the things which came up at the away day is that we still have a lot of this work to do, and not enough capacity to do it; in our first eighteen months we have achieved good working relationships with the primary school, both community centres, local councillors, the library, Conservation Area Committee and several tenants associations. And so far our core group has representation from many other local organisations.
- Start projects
We made a decision before our launch event that we wanted to start projects as soon as possible. Although much of the advice from the Transition Companion and Transition Network website is geared towards spending a good amount of time awareness-raising through events first, before building up capacity for projects (which is reasonably sensible); we felt that the best way of letting people know what Transition was and how it was different, was to actually start doing it – but to locate projects in community hubs where people could see them and hopefully get involved. Mostly this has worked – the food growing project we started at a local community centre, our monthly knitting and making group, and the after school gardening club we started with the primary school are all still going strong, are attracting people and are now in their second year. But prepare for the fact that not everything will work – Lyn and I started a growing project on our council estate and although I ended up with a great crop of vegetables, few people got involved.
- Don’t have too many meetings
Most people don’t have a culture of going to meetings outside of work, meetings sound like work and can be dull or alienating. We have one core group meeting a month, we keep it short (an hour and a half), and have tried to keep those meetings casual and inviting. So sometimes we bring food to share, once – memorably – Lyn arrived with hot rhubarb crumble, made with rhubarb she had picked in our garden that day, and try not to be too rigid about the agenda and process. Our project groups don’t have meetings, we talk while we’re gardening or knitting. Our home energy metering project have meetings that are also events, so they’ll have a speaker or show a film and then talk about next steps for the project.
- Use the Transition Network website
For the first few months particularly, and for a lot of the first year, I found the Transition Ingredients invaluable for advice on how to do things and the next steps to take. We didn’t follow them religiously, or really in order (see point 4) but there’s lots of practical advice (like how to set up an email newsletter), and the experiences of others, which is great.
- Talk to other Transitioners
We were lucky to have several neighbouring groups – people from Transition Tufnell Park and Transition Kentish Town came along to our launch event, and Jo Homan from Transition Finsbury Park spoke at our first film night. But if you don’t have a nearby group, most Transitioners are pretty approachable and have email addresses, and there is of course, the social reporting blog – a wealth of stories, experiences and contacts to draw on!
I don’t want to sugar coat it – it’s incredibly hard work, not everyone sticks around, sometimes nobody will come to a workshop, and it’s hard to have time to do all of the things you need to do to get people knowing about it and to make it all work.
But so far we’ve had a lot of fun, begun to make some small changes in the area and contributed to the sense of Dartmouth Park community, so I’d say it has definitely been worth it.