The recent Transition Together ‘Transform Our Future’ regional gathering in London was a delightful affirmation of the power of community activism.
Our four day immersion in London Transition activities started on Thursday evening at the Doreen Bazell Hall, a Tenants and Residents Association (TRA) Hall on the Goldington Estate in Camden, to visit one of the weekly meetings of Camden Think and Do, an initiative created between Camden Council and Transition Kentish Town. Think and Do happens here every Thursday, offering a free lunch as well as workshops on a range of things, from repairing clothes, to energy efficiency advice, to advice about the cost of living and benefits, and much more besides.
We spent the afternoon with the community members there, meeting Maria and Tuli who coordinate the Think and Do sessions, and Halima who runs Sharing Space Eats from there, a social enterprise providing catering to local businesses.
Debbie Bourne of Transition Kentish Town shows off her newly-henna’d hand at Think and Do.
Thanks to Nadira who cooked the food, and Hasna for her sewing workshop. In the evening we had a meal together, and met different people who are part of projects that have spun off from Think and Do, such as Communitrees, which is planting trees on estates across Camden, including Musa, a young man who is acting as a ‘community forester’, looking after the trees that have been planted. There are many TRA halls on estates across the country that are rarely used, and Think and Do gives a dynamic sense of their possibilities.
The first stop on Friday was the Canbury Community Garden, a project of Transition Town Kingston, an initiative that has reached the venerable age of 15! A beautiful community garden in a park, we were shown around by Marilyn, and introduced to its raised beds, chickens, fruit trees and bushes.
It’s a garden supported by local volunteers and other groups and, as Marilyn told us, reaches many people that otherwise TTK wouldn’t see, as does TTK’s new Repair Café.
Second stop was the Hogsmill Community Garden. A beautiful and very well-kept garden with polytunnel, beautiful plantings, structures created by local architecture students, an insect hotel, and a boat-shaped compost loo. Very impressive. The garden has been in place for about 7 years and again, is entirely run by volunteers. As Julie, who showed us round, put it, “this garden is quite a lifeline for people”.
Julie shows us round Hogsmill Community Garden.
Next up was the ‘Save The World Club‘ in Kingston, a huge warehouse of reclaimed/second hand stuff recently re-opened in a big warehouse after having to move. Des Kay, who set it up originally 35 years ago, showed us around and his enthusiasm was infectious. You want it? They’ve almost certainly got it.
Furniture, clothes, books, tools, everything. And they fix stuff too. And distribute surplus food from local supermarkets. And they gave us lunch. Thanks so much to the crew there for such a warm welcome.
Last stop for Friday was the Transition Town Tooting Community Garden. It has been in place for 12 years now, and has played a key role in many of their community projects. Located in the back garden of a large building used by Mushkil Aasaan, a local Muslim community association, we were greeted by Tooting Community Garden Coordinator Barbara Griessner, alongside Lucy Neal, Hilary Jennings and other members of the group who showed us round. A real oasis of calm in the city.
Lucy explained how their experience of doing Transition is that “one thing always leads to another, and to insight moments of ‘well if we did this, then what else could we do?’” They work with the spirit of diversity, migration, reaching out to different cultures, seeing that as one of their key strengths. A fitting end to an inspiring day.
Saturday began in Goodmayes Park in Ilford with Transition IG3, a relatively new Transition group. We met with a group of amazing women from the community and spent an hour learning how to transform old t-shirts into, well, pretty much anything!
Pots, coasters, plant hangers, cushions. People were engaged with their heads down, creating and chatting. A great way to start the day.
Then, over in a corner of the park, permaculture teacher and part of the event organising team Rakesh ‘Rootsman Rak’ set out a vision for a forthcoming community forest garden he hopes to spark in the park.
We headed back into Ilford for a delicious Indian lunch with masala dosa, amazing mango lassis and great conversation before setting off for our next stop.
We were being hosted by Transition Ilford in their emerging community forest garden. Lots of members of the group came along, and we heard tales of their Repair Café (“we find all kinds of strange things in toasters!” – “we tell people we can fix most things, but not relationships!”). They run an Energy Café giving advice on saving energy, a food coop, cooking workshops, composting workshops and even teach people how to do worm composting.
The project we were visiting started in 2019, focusing on both growing soil and also growing community. Ros, from the group, told us they see the garden as being like “an outdoor community centre”. They partner with lots of different organisations, including refugees. It’s not all plain sailing. There is some vandalism and quite a lot of plants get stolen.
From there we headed to the Meadow Orchard Project. This was set up in Spring 2010 on 1.5 acres of beautiful land behind Hornsey Health Centre in Crouch End. The NHS designated the land for community use and it is now managed by a team of volunteers and is managed as a community garden, with a beautiful cob and strawbale community building, a pizza oven, orchards, veg beds, herbs, regenerating woodland, a conservation wildlife meadow. A tranquil oasis. Beautiful.
Our penultimate stop was Transition Kentish Town’s ‘Greening your Footprint‘ garden by the street outside the firestation. It had been on the other side of the road on a ‘meanwhile use’ site, but when it had to move, following a chat with the station Commander, it upped and moved across the road to grace the fire station. It’s a beautiful container garden with fruit, herbs and veg, and gave us the opportunity to hear about the group’s many projects.
Transition Kentish Town have an amazing diversty of projects. There are their various community gardens, in doctors’ surgeries and by the train station, there’s Bee Line, which is working create wildlife corridors between their various gardens, the Kentish Town Veg Box, which started in 2012. There’s Powering Up North London, a community energy project.
There’s a Library of Things, an urban forest, solar panels on local churches. As Debbie Bourne, one of the group’s founders told me, “we’re like a Mother Tree”. We listened to poetry and stories, drank mocktails and sloe gin, and I felt so impressed at what a relatively small group of people who dedicate themselves to building networks and to rolling their sleeves up, can achieve.
The day ended with pizza, drink and a social in a social incubator hub round the corner. Everyone was quite tired by then!
Last day we were all out in Barking, at Everyone’s Warehouse, which describes itself as “the UK’s largest public maker space for stimulating an inclusive and circular local economy in Barking and Dagenham”. It was a fitting venue for the day, which brought together Transition activists from across London and the South East, as well as a few from further afield.
We did some mapping to see who was in the room, I led a spot of time travelling, we did two very productive sessions of Open Space, followed by a short workshop on storytelling, and a session on how to move forward with the London Transition Hub. All beautifully supported by Marcy’s Healthy Mind Healthy Grind, who catered for us with delicious, amazing, vegan food.
It was such a delight to connect with Transitioners old and new, from far and wide, and to visit projects on the ground. Yes, sometimes it doesn’t work, sometimes the energy gets stretched too thin. Yes, sometimes projects fail and things don’t go smoothly. But to visit projects on the ground reminded me, once again, that when we talk about community gardens, for example, the community bit matters much more than the garden bit. The networks and webs of connections and relationships are the most important things here. And to see it in reality was so inspiring.
Will Abramson, who came on much of the tour, summed up his response to it in this beautiful poem which I will finish this blog with:
Seeds of change, dispersed across London.
Across the UK, and around the world.
In a breeze of hope and possibility.
Sprouting, growing, blossoming and emerging.
Nurtured with loving care.
Stewarded by passionate, determined people.
Bringing life to forgotten, overlooked spaces.
Each an oasis of calm.
A unique expression of the people it serves.
Providing the rich soil within which community can strengthen its roots.
Deepening and expanding the web of relationships that sustains it.
Whilst navigating the constant ebb and flow of transition.
As we chart a course towards our imagined futures.
Inviting and inspiring others to join us.
Deepest thanks to the whole Transition Together team, Ava (Comms Assistant), Chris (Comms lead), Emily (Event Coordinator), Rakesh (Event manager) and Rich (Event producer), as well as to everyone who came and who made it possible. We’ll be doing it again June 10th – 11th in Billinge and Orrell near Wigan. Come join us!
Our deepest thanks to the National Lottery Growing Great Ideas fund for making this possible.