1 Jun 2007
Transition Network Inaugural Conference, Ruskin Mill, Nailsworth.
Representatives from 35 communities up and down the UK crammed into the beautiful surroundings of Ruskin Mill, in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, on Thursday 31st May for the Inaugural Conference of the Transition Network. The event was both an opportunity to network the many Transition Initiatives springing up around the UK and also an opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary momentum that the concept is generating. Despite the occasionally cramped nature of the space due to its being filled to its capacity (many more people were unable to come due to lack of spaces), it was an amazing day, full of energy, hope and possibility.
The day began with an introduction from the director of Ruskin Mill, **Anghous Gordon**, who talked about the story of the place, and the work that it does. In essence, he told the delegates, Ruskin Mill is a Transition College, and a walk around the place bears testament to that, with its trout ponds, coppice woods, vegetable gardens and its cob pottery building.
Transition Network founder **Rob Hopkins** then welcomed everyone, and began by observing that although widely adopted, the term Transition Towns has become largely irrelevant, as within the room were representatives of Transition Village, Cities, Towns, Boroughs, Postcodes, Valleys, Peninsulas, Regions and Hamlets! The initiatives gathered were all at different stages, some at quite an advanced stage, and others having just done their first End of Suburbia screening. He spoke of the role of the Network as being to support, inspire, train and network all these initiatives, and how the aim of the day was to hear how that can best be done.
Everyone getting involved in the Transition model is essentially, he said, part of an enormous research project, testing out the simple idea that the future with less oil could be preferable to the future, each in their own way in their own communities. He closed by quoting a lady who attended an Open Space day in Totnes, “whenever I think about what TTT is doing, I feel so full of hope I could cry”.
This was followed by a session where each initiative had one minute to introduce themselves and what they are doing. While this could have been frustrating, it was actually really energising, and gave an insight into the scope of the movement, some groups only just showing the first films, and others quite far advanced. It was an amazing insight into how dedicated, deep and broad the movement has become in such a short time.
We then introduced the tool of **Open Space**, and invited people to come up with questions in answer to the question “How can the Transition Movement best achieve its potential?”. Within 10 minutes the agenda was full, and the crowd took a break to sample Ruskin Mill’s fabulous cakes. Then we reconvened, and self organised into groups for the Open Space session. Group conversations ranged from “how can we avoid burnout” to issues around funding, ‘what is an Energy Descent Plan and how do we do one” to the best ways of engaging those who are currently unengaged. The sessions were fantastic, really dynamic. The notes from the groups are being typed up and will soon appear on the Transition Network website.
After lunch there was a choice to two sessions. The first featured **Pamela Grey** from Penzance and **Vav Simon** from the Isle of Wight, who explored the impact of peak oil on medicine and healthcare, for people and animals respectively. In the main room downstairs, **Richard Heinberg** gave a short peak oil overview and then offered the rest of the session for people to ask the questions they get asked in their communities but struggle to answer. This proved very useful, and discussion was lively and informative.
This was followed by a second split session, where delegates chose between **Nick Weir** of Transition Stroud talking about the town’s exemplary Community Supported Agriculture schemes, and **Richard Heinberg** again, who gave a fascinating look at the relocalisation and peak oil response initiatives underway in the US, but prefaced his talk by observing that, in his opinon, what the Transition movement is doing is further ahead and more inspiring.
After a final break and opportunity to sample the lemon polenta cake, **Rob Hopkins** again offered an overview of the Transition process, beginning with the concept of resilience. He looked back firstly to the recent history of urban agriculture in Totnes, and then to what is happening in Cuba, observing that resilience is not a new idea, rather something we had here until recently and which wtill exists elsewhere in the world but is under enormous threat. He took the delegates through the 12 Steps of a Transition Town, and then gave a potted history of what is underway in Totnes.
Finally **Ben Brangwyn** of the Transition Network talked about what the Network existed to do, and how it exists to support and enable the work of all the groups present, and of many not present. He spoke of how as a child he had always wanted to explore new places, but everywhere he went someone had already been, until now. This was followed by a discussion about what people would like from the Network. We then all trouped out to a nearby open area, took a group photo, and then concluded with a Whoosh! If you have never done a Whoosh! and don’t know what one is, have a look at Mike Grenville’s film of it here.
It was a quite extraordinary day. The setting was perfect and the diversity and energy of those attending was wonderful. Part of the Transition concept is to make events feel historic, and this one certainly had that feel to it. It felt like the beginning of something extraordinary. The sense that this process unlocks something unstoppable was a common one. There was widespread agreement that the next such gathering should be longer, and open to more people.
A deep thanks should be expressed at this stage to 3 key people, to Ben Brangwyn for organising the event so well, to Anghous Gordon for his support and for making Ruskin Mill available to us, and to Richard Heinberg, for bringing his wisdom to the event. Also to Mike Grenville for the first photo here, and to Philip Booth for the rest of the photos, unfortunately I couldn’t find my camera in the mad dash to get to Nailsworth, so have to rely on other peoples’!
For another take on the day, have a look at Philip Booth’s website Ruscombe Green.