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My Foreword for ‘The Regeneration Handbook’

June 14, 2024

Don Hall’s new book ‘The Regeneration Handbook’ is now out, and I was asked to write the Foreword. You can order your copy here. Here’s what I wrote:

It is a joy to be asked to write a foreword for this delightful book. Having written most of the early published books about Transition, it is to be greatly celebrated that other voices are now stepping in and sharing their insights, learnings, and perspectives on Transition concepts, and hopefully there will be many more. To name just four highly different publications from the past decade, there’s Luigi Russi’s brilliant Everything Gardens (2015), a deeply insightful case study of Transition in practice in one single community (my town of Totnes), and Reliance (2023) by Elie Wattelet, Michel Maxime Egger, and Tylie Grosjean, currently only available in French, which is a thorough guide to what will become familiar to you in this book as “Inner Transition.” There’s also The Essential Guide to Doing Transition, a free resource published by Transition Network, now available in 17 different languages, which attempts to distill, from the experience of Transition groups around the world, everything you need to know to begin this journey wherever you are.

And then, from the world of fiction, there was David Nobbs, the famous British comedy writer, who in 2014 wrote The Secret Life of Sally Mottram, a beautiful and hilarious novel about the eponymous heroine’s attempts to bring the Transition movement to her town, having picked up some books about Transition while on holiday. These and other titles reflect the wider sense of ownership of this movement and its ideas, and of how, as Luigi Russi argued, Transition ought not be talked about as a movement, as academics who so love something they can pin down and put under a microscope tend to think of it, but as a ‘moving’.

By this, Russi means this movement’s adaptation, its “multi-dimensionality,” its playfulness, creativity, and openness to new ideas; its influences and practices, which together sit at the heart of what Transition is about, rather than the models published in those early books and resources representing little more than snapshots of a handful of people’s interpretation of how it looked at that particular moment. I have always loved the willingness in Transition to throw the whole model up in the air and to be constantly reassessing what it is and how it works. The French artist Jean Dubufet once wrote “Art doesn’t go to sleep in the bed made for it. It would sooner run away than say its own name: what it likes is to be incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets what it’s called.” I feel the same about Transition.

Some people have asked, for example, for a “revised and updated” version of The Transition Handbook, the first book on the subject published in 2008. But at this point in time, who would write it? How could it possibly capture the sheer extent and diversity of voices and ideas within this movement? It would be quite the logistical challenge! And yet the book that you are holding in your hands takes a wide, systems-level overview of the contribution the Transition movement can make, and positions it in the wider movements for climate and social justice.

As someone who has been a Transition practitioner at a local level (Transition Sarasota), a regional level (Transition Colorado), and a national level (Transition US), Don Hall is in the perfect position to write this book. It emerges from hard-won experience. I know from personal experience the blood, sweat, and tears that it can take to amass the experience that is shared in this book. This is no armchair exercise, some review of the academic literature— this is a book written from the frontlines, a pulling together of learning and insights, from things that didn’t work as much as from things that did. Creating successful Transition groups is not easy, but one of the beauties of the Transition movement is that people often share what works as much as they share what doesn’t. Insights from the experiences Don shares here, his own and that of the wider movement, will make it so much easier for you to get started.

One of the things I notice in my own work as someone who writes, whether about Transition, imagination, or the need for positive future visions combined with determined action, is that sometimes ideas I put out into the world get picked up, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes people will come up to me after a talk and say they were disappointed that a joke or a graphic or a story that I used in talks seven years ago aren’t still there. There is something about being curious and inquisitive and not wanting to be like a band that always plays the same songs, that means I keep moving forward and not getting bored of the sound of my own voice!

But it is delightful to see that the “Five Stages” model from The Transition Companion— still my favorite book about Transition and yet the one that sold the least copies and was never translated into other languages— was picked up like a ruby from long weeds by Don, here.

Inspired by Christopher Alexander’s classic A Pattern Language, still the one book I would take to a desert island, The Transition Companion reimagined Transition as a pantry full of ingredients, each ingredient something we had seen working for Transition groups. And yet, we argued, there are also stages to this, in the same way Alexander did when reflecting on how cities are designed and planned.

There are the ingredients we need when we start, the ingredients we need when our initiative is building up a head of steam, the ingredients that allow us to dream of what could be. It’s a joy to see those stages woven into this book and that they are felt to be a useful tool.

Political theorist Wendy Brown recently said in an interview with The Nation, “only a compelling vision of a less frightening and insecure future will recruit anyone to a progressive or revolutionary alternative future— or rouse apolitical citizens for the project of making that future. This vision must be seductive and exciting, and it must be embodied in seductive and exciting leadership and movements, hopefully oriented by an ethic of responsibility.” That’s what I increasingly see as one of the key roles of Transition, to speak to the future we could still create, to bring it alive for people, and to then be one of the movements that takes people’s hands and says “come on, let’s do this, it’s not so hard.” It is this combination of imagination and practical action, so powerfully captured in this book, that echoes the words of prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba: “we must imagine while we build. Always both.”

Climate scientist and activist Peter Kalmus was once asked what gives him hope. His response was beautiful: “the fact that we’ve barely tried yet.” It’s not like we don’t know what to do. The “seductive and exciting leadership and movements” Brown speaks of are what Don sets out here, as is her call that “this vision must be seductive and exciting.” “Seductive” is a beautiful word in the context of The Regeneration Handbook. How can we most skilfully make community mobilization feel seductive in a way that filters upwards, impacting local, regional, and then national government?

There are so many brilliant ideas and tried-and-tested tools in this book. It is a treasure house of riches by which you might turn your concern for this beautiful planet, your rage at what’s been done to it, to its people, and to the creatures we share it with, into practical, impactful action, while all the time building a culture in your group(s) whereby you look after each other and design for the long haul. And yes, when they’re all pulled together as Don has done here, they do offer a seductive vision of where we go from here. Let’s get to it.

Rob Hopkins

Rob Hopkins is a cofounder of Transition Town Totnes and Transition Network, and the author of The Transition Handbook, The Transition Companion, The Power of Just Doing Stuff, 21 Stories of Transition and most recently, From What Is to What If: unleashing the power of imagination to create the future we want. He presents the podcast series ‘From What If to What Next‘ which invites listeners to send in their “what if” questions and then explores how to make them a reality.  In 2012, he was voted one of the Independent’s top 100 environmentalists and was on Nesta and the Observer’s list of Britain’s 50 New Radicals. Hopkins has also appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought and A Good Read, in the French film phenomenon Demain and its sequel Apres Demain, and has spoken at TEDGlobal and three TEDx events. An Ashoka Fellow, Hopkins also holds a doctorate degree from the University of Plymouth and has received two honorary doctorates from the University of the West of England and the University of Namur. He is a keen gardener, a founder of New Lion Brewery in Totnes, and a director of Totnes Community Development Society, the group behind Atmos Totnes, an ambitious, community-led development project. He blogs at transtionnetwork.org and robhopkins.net and tweets at @robintransition.