“It helped make the future visible” – Reflections on our spring gatherings

June 22, 2023

After a long time on Zoom, with online events like our Together We Can and What Next? summits and connecting on digital platforms – it felt both fabulous and weird to see each other in three dimensions! This was the first time since the pandemic and since our Transition Together project launched that we could bring groups together in person.

We face serious challenges – it was a good moment to reconnect, revisit our vision of resilient and thriving communities, where everyone has their needs met and a voice in shaping the future. It was also a time to listen to the movement as we explore the future structure of Transition in England & Wales, and how our project can best support the work on the ground.

Two regional gatherings were held; smaller, deeper events forging connections that could grow in that area. Each was rooted in the chance to see Transition in action. In May, the London gathering began with three days touring group projects, giving a glimpse of what Transition looks and feels like, and its impact, in communities across the city.

Participants visited the one acre Meadow Orchard on NHS land in Hornsey – a project started by Transition Crouch End, where bees and nature flourish along with the people who visit. Photo credit: Alice Louisa

Co-founder of the Transition movement, Rob Hopkins joined the tours – he spends his time writing, podcasting and speaking here and abroad about how we can reimagine and rebuild our societies for the future. For him, visiting Transition projects like these allows him to root those ideas in the everyday work and change already happening at a local scale.

He said:

“At one community garden, someone said what this project grows is much more important than food, it’s the connections and relationships, and that’s really core to our resilience. What these places are building is a new story about decarbonising our future, what it could be like and giving people a taste of a different future, they are bringing people together. To see it in reality was so inspiring.”

There is a makeshift fence down the middle of the picture - on the left are raised beds and tyres where vegetables grow. On the right, a group of Transitioners walk down a pathway. The garden is surrounded by trees and a large shed appears in the background.

The tour visits Transition Town Kingston’s Canbury Community Garden, where Marilyn Mason showed them around.

The bright red doors of Kentish Town fire station are visible through the young tress and raised beds of a community garden squeezed into a small area between the fire station and a main road.

Transition Kentish Town’s Greening Your Footprint garden on a small concrete site between the fire station and a main road.

Six people stand in a row, telling the visiting group about Transition Town Ilford's many projects. Behind them are mature trees and lush, long grasses of their Forest Garden on the edge of a public park.

Members of Transition Town Ilford spoke about the group’s many projects including a repair cafe, food festival and how they use their forest garden as “a community centre without walls”, where they can reach out to many more people.

In fact, several of the projects were gardens or green spaces, often the physical places which Transition groups have as they explore how local food and nature can flourish, start to bring people together, and to use as a hub for many other activities taking place in other temporary or borrowed spaces. They are symbolic of the practical action Transition groups do. One participant, Will, wrote in a poem inspired by the gatherings, about seeds of change dispersed

“In a breeze of hope and possibility… A unique expression of the people it serves. Providing the rich soil within which community can strengthen its roots.” (read all of his beautiful poem below).

Another participant Felipe, originally from Brazil but now involved in Transition in Portugal, said

“The diversity of things you can do in an urban space has been amazing for me. And to see the personality of each project – that it’s really related to the community, it’s really beautiful to see that. Seeing people really putting their lives into projects to imagine and to think about a future that’s more connected to nature – it gives a lot of hope!”

To help us capture our gatherings, we created a short term role specifically designed to open doors – and to allow us to learn from – a young person from a background traditionally under-represented in our movement. We were so delighted that Ava James, co-founder of Not a Trend, agreed to take up the role, and to get to know her and her work over both events. Ava had no previous involvement with Transition and we welcomed that fresh perspective! She joined the London tour on the opening day, at Think & Do’s Sharing Space in Camden, a take-over of an estate’s tenants and residents association hall for the community to share time, food, skills and stuff with neighbours.

Ava reflected:

“Speaking to those who ran the project, they were well aware the project was something that needed to be constantly evolving with the community, being powered by the residents and what they want to see in their sharing space.”

She found this fitted with how Transition is organised:

“Not all communities are the same, each has different needs to make their Transition Towns work and be best suited for them.  A ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work – leading to a beautiful diversity within projects across different locations.”

Three people sit around a table, which has various leaflets and a long thin cushion down the middle

The Sharing Space in action

Ava at the Meadow Orchard project (Picture by Alice Louisa)

Ava continued:

“The sharing space is home to a wide range of different cultures, which shape the activities within the space, one of which was a sewing and mending space. A community sewing machine was used to mend clothes and repurpose old fabric into new items such as draught blockers. Not only does this extend the life of items but also looks at cutting down on energy consumption. Sharing space attendees said that skills such as these are already held as important within their communities instead buying new.”

After three days of visiting projects, the London gathering concluded with a day at Everyone’s Warehouse – a huge two-storey makerspace free for residents and groups in Barking and Dagenham to use. With a catering kitchen, meeting space, workshops kitted out with tools, and a multilevel garden – think what one of these spaces could do in every community! ‘Everyone’ wanted one…

Time for discussion and sharing ideas.

Both gatherings included open space for participants.  Many juicy themes and knotty questions emerged and it was  brilliant to explore the everyday challenges of our work together and learn how others are responding. We explored the energy crisis, protecting waterways, how to reignite a dormant Transition group, resourcing work for change, how to involve young people, be more creative, dealing with waste imaginatively and much more.  The Caretaker group mined the collective intelligence in the room as they explore the shape an England & Wales hub could take.

A month later, a new group of Transitioners gathered near Wigan for the North West gathering. Ava, who attended both gatherings, was struck by the similar themes – and differences between the two gatherings. The mix of life experiences varied, more ethnically diverse in London and a rural/urban mix in the North West, and we extended the invitation to people from other grassroots organisations to join us here too, adding rich experience and new perspectives to our discussions.

At both events, participants brought questions about how to connect with a broader range of people, from other local groups, different political perspectives and how we consider wellbeing and the everyday needs in our community, so that people have headspace and freedom to be part of imagining the future.

One of Greenslate Farm’s many rescue animals, a chicken, which play a vital role in the life and learning which takes place on site.

The discussion moved outside and it was wonderful to be able to enjoy the sunshine and beauty in this semi rural setting.

Time to talk, absorb and continue the discussion at the farm’s Strawbale Cafe.

Ava also reflected on the importance of the place we met, the community care farm set up by Transition Billinge and Orrell:

“The location itself certainly inspired.  Spaces such as Greenslate farm have such an important place within the community with a multitude of different purposes: family space and place to bring school groups; a place celebrate; a place to chat with a slice of cake from cafe. However, it also acts a place for those often side-lined by society such as those with learning difficulties, who (founder and project manager) Rhiannon said are integrated as part of the community with no specific mention of why you are at the farm.”

At both gatherings, Rob Hopkins led us on an imaginary journey to 2030, a world that wasn’t a utopia, but where we had done everything possible to address the multiple crises we face. Stepping out of his time machine and into the future, “there were a wide range of responses from hope to widespread change to rebuilding from a place of rock bottom,” Ava recalled. Many felt their shoulders relax, as they glimpsed a world with less hurry and pressure, and more interconnection with other people and with nature. The bird song and insect buzz and smell of fresh, clean air were almost real (greatly helped at Greenslate by the live sounds of nature in the barn where we met).

Rob Hopkins (centre with his ‘portable time machine’ emitting a pink glow) leads the group on a journey to imagine 2030.

Imagining the future doesn’t make our present difficulties evaporate – but it gives us a north star to work towards and a collective vision of the difference our work could make. For Rob, it’s crucial to create a longing for the future, which can overcome the despair and anxiety many are experiencing. That longing and vision help us create an enticing journey to invite others to share and shape with us. We explored how we tell the stories of our work that move people – that go beyond facts and stats, to excite, engage and motivate new folks to respond. Participants created ‘invitation cards’ thinking how we open our activities to new people, and ensure they feel welcome and involved.

Colourful invitation cards crafted by gathering participants. The one in the foreground reads: "Come with me/us on a journey to the future - it will sometimes be hard - but we will be helping to create "the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible." We will dream, work, rest and laugh together. You will make us stronger. Please come."

What’s our invitation to the wider community? How do we make Transition more welcoming and relevant to all? We started to craft that invitation at our gatherings.

Our instincts told us that time together is time well spent. Amongst the useful feedback about programme and food, participants in the North West echoed the value being together in person, with space to explore:

“I already knew building connections was vital but the weekend made me understand it on a deeper level.” said one.

Another  valued

“that we can come together for mutual support”,

and third said:

“It helped to make the future visible.”

Huge thanks to all who contributed and attended our gatherings – there was a massive amount of work w behind the scenes and we are indebted especially to the Transition groups which hosted us.

The conversations and connections will continue – a meet up in London is planned for late July  (get in touch to stay in the loop), and already some groups in the North West have planned visits to learn more about each other’s work and contexts.

Vive offers a fantastic space to continue getting to know each other, support each other and share questions and learning. The spaces give you the chance to grow community in regions and around themes of common interest.

We’ll continue to offer online events – more accessible for some. A series of Transition Skillshares is planned for autumn 2023 and regular space for Transitioners to connect, held by the Caretaker Group. We are also actively exploring how to support future gatherings – watch this space!

Find out more:

Read Rob’s full account of the London gathering here and Will’s poem here. Explore Greenslate Farm here. Connect with Transitioners in your region on Vive. Revisit our Gathering page.

Chris McCartney

Chris manages Transition Together's social media and creates our monthly newsletters. She has a background in journalism and campaigning and has worked for Oxfam and Friends of the Earth. She is a founder of Repair Cafe Belfast and Belfast Tool Library, community projects which bring people together to share resources and skills and reduce consumption. She loves to tell stories that balance a glimpse of a better future and some practical steps to get there. She is a novice veg grower and fair-weather cyclist.

Tags: building resilient communities, Transition movement