National Transition Conference (2011)

Thanks to all those who supported my trip to the conference 8-10th July 2011. There were only a few people from the North East in attendance, and very few people were in their 20s so I was glad to be representing two minorities. I am also grateful for the hospitality of the Jelks Family – Transition Liverpudlians who put me up for the weekend and to Durham University for paying my travel costs.
At a ‘journey group enquiry’, myself and three others from Brighton, Barcelona and Liverpool shared our Transition journeys. The others in my group were impressed that we were a functional, dynamic, food-eating, sociable group, as they told me about their disputes and strains of meetings (every week!), of holding meetings in each others’ houses, and burn-out etc. So either I am an eternal optimist, or Transition Durhamers all deserve a pat on the back. I really do think we are doing very well and have a lot to be proud of.  The group members all decided they would adopt some of our techniques (especially the food, the beer and the monthly meetings).
I attended presentations on ‘Creating Local Food Systems’ by project leaders around the country.  Another talk by a coordinator in Totnes covered ‘Starting your own Transition Streets Project’ – micro Transition groups between a few neighbours, who help one another to take practical action to change their behaviours and houses (something that works best in areas where people own their houses).
During leisure time I went on a herb walk (plantain commonly found in lawns can be made into a tincture or used instead of a dock leaf on stings) and a tree walk (most common British tree is the Sitka Spruce). Feel free to test me on my new found knowledge of tree and herbs. Speakers included Jay Griffiths who spoke about her book ‘Wild’. There was also story telling, drama, singing, open-mic and the opportunity for socialising over meal times. Some memorable conversations included topics such as ethics, allotments, inner transition, transition jobs and re-economy – the latter two aspects being the buzz throughout the conference.
I went to the hot topic enquiry ‘Scaling up’, where we explored how to start making businesses from Transition inspired ventures: “We come together inspired by the vision of Transition, we start tree planting projects, re-skilling groups and so on. If we are serious about making Transition happen on the scale required do we need to step up a level to make new businesses, livelihoods and infrastructure happen? Are those initially drawn to Transition equipped to take that step? What holds us back?” Here are the photos and the recording (using the fishbowl technique): http://transitionradio.posterous.com/scaling-up-ttcon2011. Despite the speaker after me ignoring what I had contributed to the discussion about participatory action research and the potential it offers for entrepreneurship for our university leavers (in the context of a lot of jobless degree holders), my words were not said in vain, as I was later approached by those who were interested in what I had said.

The most memorable experience of the entire weekend, as participatory and captivating as many of the presentations and workshops were, was actually doing some sightseeing in Liverpool. I often say that you do not necessarily have to travel abroad to experience inspiring, and world-view altering, people, cultures and communities. A short trip to a largely unoccupied area of Toxteth, (known for the 1981 riots which seem to have been associated with the poverty, unemployment, drug addiction, racial tension, racism and police in the area) of 129 unoccupied and 70 occupied houses was a bittersweet sight to behold.  The council want to bulldoze the lot and put the site up for redevelopment, but  they cannot afford the demolition costs. We visited a family who were living there and determined to make the community a good place to live. The sense of community was great and their was such a sense of optimism and pride about the community amongst the people I met.

Neighbours had put tables and chairs and trailers for growing veg in out in the middle of the terrace street (due to lack of cars) and a 10-house housing co-op was being set up (Radical Routes was recommended to me for this). Residents were taking action to improve the look of the street and had painted the boarded up windows of unoccupied houses with curtains. One lady was painting an end terrace house which was due to bulldozed the next morning  but which she believed should stay. There was debate amongst the locals on whether this was the best use of paint ever, or the worst! This community appeared to be almost entirely marginalised from the state and it sounded as if the council had lost hope in it, but here were people building something from their own resources.
On our trip back to the conference I took in the cathedrals and the Three Graces and learned about Liverpool’s past: a city recognised by some as the second most ‘important’ city of the Empire. At the Albert docks (now full of bars and tourist attractions) our guide invited us to imagine how the docks will probably need to be redeveloped to take boats once again when air and road transport systems become unviable and most trading relies on waterways.
I feel that I benefited from practicing my listening and participatory skills, and experiencing new ways of discussing issues such as the fish bowl techniques. There were certain hand signals which I found to be valuable.  For example twinkle fingers/jazz hands can be used in agreement at what is being discussed without disrupting the speaker. Another great technique was if the room was bustling with chatter, the speaker would stand up and raise her hand. The audience then realises someone wants everyone’s attention so they raise their hands in return, until the whole room has their hand in the air and the room falls silent, which saves shouting to get people’s attention. Another technique was to end the meeting early for 5 minutes to recap on how the meeting went for everyone.
That’s the whistle-stop tour. Do email me if you would like to know more: amym@transitiondurham.org.uk
Amy Mycock

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