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30 Jun 2009

Skills, Resilience and Awareness? Initial Findings from my Survey of Totnes…

questionnairecoverAs part of the PhD that I am still pretending to be doing, I have done a survey of around 215 households in Totnes and Dartington. I have just, through my rudimentary knowledge of SPSS ( a statistical analysis package), done an initial analysis of the data, and the findings are very interesting. They answer, among other questions, the one about ‘what percentage of people in Totnes know about TTT, what percentage are involved, and do people think it is relevant to them?’  The findings from this survey, and the more detailed analysis of it still to follow, will feed into the Totnes & District EDAP.  I am also looking for someone more competent with SPSS than myself to help me analyse it further (see below).

Households were selected so as to ensure a representative sample across the area. 5 different surveyors surveyed different parts of the town, and most of the surveys were conducted during evenings and weekends. In total, 213 were completed and collected.  The questionnaires were not from TTT, they were marked only as being from the University of Plymouth, so as to not ‘sway’ or influence respondents.

Attitudes to Energy Issues

Our survey revealed findings very much at odds with those who argue that most people don’t believe in climate change. 85.4% of those questioned stated that they were either concerned or very concerned about the impacts of climate change on the local level, and 89.8% were concerned about its global impacts. Only 2.7% of people were completely disinterested in climate change globally.

When asked if they were concerned about the UK’s energy security, 79.8% said that they were either concerned or very concerned. Only 1.3% of those questioned were completely disinterested in the subject. They were also asked how concerned they were about the volatility of oil prices and the steep price rises of last summer which saw prices spike at $147 a barrel. 95.8% of people were either concerned or very concerned. Respondents were also asked how well informed they felt about energy issues. This didn’t seem to be a cause for concern, 75.8% of people stating that they were either very well informed or just informed.

In order to discover the extent to which people are aware of the scale of carbon emissions in the South Hams, respondents were asked “would you say that, compared to the national average, the carbon dioxide emissions per capita in the South Hams are high, medium or low?” By far the majority, 62.8%, said medium. In fact, according to recent figures from DEFRA (based on 2005 data), the figure for the South Hams is 10.3 tonnes of CO2 per resident per year, which makes it the 15th worst out of 434 UK local authorities, in the bottom 3 ½ percent.

Respondents were asked the question what percentage of their lightbulbs were low energy bulbs. Only 5.4% of people stated that they had none, and nearly 60% of households questioned said that they had all or mostly low energy bulbs, with 22.6% having all low energy bulbs. As a way of gauging the extent to which respondents had actively investigated the potential of retrofitting their homes, as well as the extent to which an awareness of climate change and rising energy prices actually led to people taking practical steps, respondents were asked whether, without looking, they could say the depth of the insulation in their loft. Only 42.1% knew, although this answer could be affected by the status within the household of the respondent, whether the property is owned or rented, and also the age of the respondent.

Transition Town Totnes

totnes7Transition Town Totnes (TTT) has been in existence for nearly 4 years now, so we were fascinated to know the extent to which knowledge of it had percolated into the community, and also what depth of engagement it was attracting. It was encouraging to discover that 74.9% of those questioned had heard of TTT and its work.

They were then asked whether they had ever participated in any of its events. 60.6% said never, 33.3% occasionally, 3.9% regularly and 2.2% often. Taking a rough figure for the population of Totnes as 8,416, extrapolated to al the survey respondents, this means that around 155 people are often involved, 328 regularly involved, and around 2800 occasionally involved since the launch of the project in late 2006.

Those who said they had participated in TTT events were then asked which ones. 59.1% said they had attended a talk or workshop, 7.7% had had some involvement in the Garden Share scheme, 36.9% had been involved with the Totnes Pound initiative, 21.5% had taken an active role in one of TTT’s 11 working groups, 6.2% had got involved with the Transition Tales project being run at KEVICC and 12.3% had participated in the creation of the Energy Descent Plan for the area.

When asked whether they thought the work of TTT was relevant to their lives, 57.2% of respondents said it was either highly relevant or relevant. Only 11% felt it to be completely irrelevant.


The first question was “are the meals you eat cooked at home using fresh produce?”  96.7% of respondents answered ‘always’ or ‘mostly’. Next they were asked whether a member of their household actively grew some of the food consumed in the household. The results showed that food is grown in 43.1% of households in the area surveyed.  We then asked how they would rate their skills in growing food. The results were surprisingly high at 66.4%, with only 5.5% saying that they were very poor at food gardening. Access to land for growing food on is clearly an issue in the area though, as only 7.8% of those surveyed had access to an allotment.

The final food question explored the distance from Totnes that people felt food would need to be grown in order to be considered local. The largest response was the 40.9% of people who thought it would need to come from within 10 miles, followed by the 22.2% who felt it should come from within the South West of England. Only 4.4% felt that immediately adjoining the town was what defined local, and only 3.4% felt that British produce definedlocal.


We asked people whether they had regular access to a car, and 84.6% of people replied that they do. We then asked those who had stated that they had access to a car to estimate their annual mileage, with the highest response being from those who drove between 5001 and 10,000 miles per year. It is worth noting though that 22.7% of people drive less than 2500 miles each year, and only 2.2% drive over 15000 miles per year. The two principal uses of cars were to get to work and to take children to school.

As a way of starting to explore how the town might be able to perform with less availability of private cars, respondents were asked, if they were currently employed, how difficult it would be to do some or all of their job from home. 43.6% said that the nature of their work made it impossible, and only 20% said it would be possible or straightforward. Of the 40 respondents who were employed and who felt homeworking was a possibility, 47.5% of them had actually discussed the possibility with their employer.

42 respondents stated that they didn’t have a car, and of those, 45.2% stated that they found it easy to live where they lived without a car, 21.4% found it difficult but manageable, and 33.3% found it either difficult or almost impossible.

Livelihoods and Economy

Respondents were asked whether they consciously tended to use locally owned shops in preference to national chain shops. Only 2.5% responded that they never made such a preference, 13.9% said they always used local shops, 35.2% occasionally do, and the highest response was the 48.6% who often make such a conscious choice.

In monetary terms, 30% of people said they spent ‘a little’ of their weekly shopping budget in local shops, 45.1% spent ‘some’ and 22.5% of people spent either most or all of their shopping budget with local businesses.

Totnes at present has two supermarkets. Respondents were asked how they would feel about the possibility of a new one opening in the town. 61.5% said they would either think it wasn’t a good thing or would be dreadful, while 11.4% stated that they would be ‘delighted’. The largest response, 30.5% came from those who stated they wouldn’t mind either way.


The next section looked at how people perceived the community in which they lived. When asked whether they felt adequately consulted in public consultation processes that affect the area, opinion was fairly neatly divided. 50.7% of people agreed that they did and 49.3% said they did not. When asked whether they felt it was hard to get their voice heard, there was again, a neat divide, 59.1% agreeing that it is hard, 40.9% that it isn’t.

When asked whether they felt that in the event of a crisis the community could pull together, 83.2% agreed that it could. They were then asked whether the sense of community the respondent felt from their neighbours had decreased over the past few years. 65.7% disagreed or strongly disagreed with this, only 8.3% strongly agreeing that their sense of community had declined.

The Psychology of Change

Respondents were asked whether they would describe their outlook on the future on the community as being optimistic. 79.5% of people said they felt optimistic. When asked whether they considered themselves “a religious or spiritual person”, 52.6% agreed that they did, 47.4% stated that they didn’t.

The next few questions explored consumerism and respondents’ relationship to it. 55.7% of respondents disagreed that they felt the things they own say a lot about them, and the minority of people, 46.9% of people feel that buying things gives them pleasure.
The next question explored the degree of dissatisfaction that consumerism brings. Respondents were asked whether they felt their lives would be better if they were able to acquire certain consumer durables that at the moment they don’t have. Only 25.6% of respondents felt that to be the case. In the same vein, respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “I consider myself to be a frugal person?” 59.3% of respondents either strongly agreed or agreed, only 5% strongly disagreeing.

When asked whether they felt that spending time with friends and family was important to them, the response was overwhelming, 95.3% either agreed or strongly agreed. There was also a strong rejection of the idea that keeping up with fashions is important. 85.9% of people felt it wasn’t of great importance.

When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “in general I would say that I am satisfied with my life”, the question used in the World Values Survey and in other international surveys measuring happiness, 94.3% agreed or strongly agreed.


One key aspect of establishing the resilience of a settlement is getting a picture of the level of skills that people in the community have. When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “I am adaptable and can turn my hand to new skills fairly easily”, 82.2% of people agreed or strongly agreed. We then asked respondents which of a list of skills they felt a reasonable level of competence in. The affirmative answers were as follows, in descending order;

•  Cooking 91.3%
•  Painting and decorating 72.2%
•  Making basic house repairs 62.7%
•  Repairing clothes 52.2%
•  Growing food 45%
•  Storing garden produce (ie. Food) 24.5%
•  Keeping small livestock 21.1%

I have tried here not to comment of speculate too much, rather at this stage just to present these initial key findings.  The next step is to correlate different things, do older people have more skills, does the amount of television people watch per week increase or reduce their belief that their community could pull together if required?  I intend to use the data to look deeper at resilience, and will keep you posted on that.  As I said, I am an SPSS novice.  I have some budget to pay someone who is good with SPSS to do the bivariate and multivariate analysis.  If you would like to give me a hand with this, do get in touch via. the contact me link above.

Categories: General

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Mark Forskitt
30 Jun 9:11am

Well done on the survey. I remember playing with SPSS on an old ICL mainframe many, many years ago. Alas much too rusty now to help you.

I can’t imagine what the corresponding survey results would be here.

Kevin Wilson
30 Jun 7:08pm

It would be very interesting indeed to perform the same survey using the same methodology, in a variety of TTs across the world. Rob, would you consider publishing the survey questions so that could be done?

Steve Earnshaw
1 Jul 1:41am

Well done. That’s very interesting. I agree that it would be fascinating to repeat the same study in other towns around the world at different stages of the transition process. And perhaps to repeat the survey a year or two later in some towns (such as ours – Timaru NZ) that are only at the beginning of the process. I would certainly be interested in repeating your study down here in NZ.

Shane Hughes
1 Jul 11:36am


i have to say that i’m amazed (and slightly skeptical) at how positive the results are. They’re just too good!!

Will you be calibrating the results against a sample of objective indicators? eg
the actual amount of low energy bulbs in a sample set of houses or
the local throughput of fresh ingredients, pre-packed meals, restaurant food, etc

We did a study in our local TT area using the Act On CO2 questions, just to gauge our footprint and one we added a few habit based questions such as;

Do you regularly check your tyre pressure? or
Do you drive smoothly in a way that conserves fuel?

Nearly all of our respondents answered “yes” to the above, which made think that we didn’t really have a point of reference. It was very subjective, in my opinion, in our town, there’s very little tyre checking and nearly no drivers drive in a way to conserve fuel but then that is my opinion and clearly not the opinion of the survey respondents.


Eoin O'Callaghan
2 Jul 12:18pm

Hi Rob,

I found “Choosing and Using Statistics: A Beginners Guide” by Calvin Dytham very helpful when it came to using SPSS. Helps you choose the appropriate statistical test for the type of data you have and then gives you a step-by-step guide to performing the test using SPSS and also how to interpret the result.

Best wishes,

Rosie Bell
10 Jul 11:58am

Really delighted you’ve done this Rob. Very interesting and encouraging that maybe more people have noticed us than we (or some of us) thought. Would be interesting to gauge the comparisons between subjectivity and objective assessments of behaviour if possible.
A great start! And a big contribution to morale I think.

24 Jul 1:34pm

Hi Rob,
Very interesting and encouraging data

I’d recommend the book by Calvin Dytham too.

I used quite a straightforward method for multivariate analyses using SPSS that my tutor showed me, in my MSc, I’ll try and find my notes for you if that helps?

26 Jul 6:51pm

I also am amazed at how positive the results of the survey are. I’d be interested to know how the questions were formed and how the survey was carried out. It will be fascinating to hear more when Rob has done further analysis.

Shane – I think the questions your survey asked encouraged people to give the answers they thought you wanted. “Do you regularly check your tyre pressure?” asks for a “yes”, whereas “how often do you check your tyre pressure?” will get a range of responses.

26 Jul 6:53pm

I also am amazed at how positive the results of the survey are. I’d be interested to know how the questions were formed and how the survey was carried out. It will be fascinating to hear more when Rob has done further analysis.

Shane – I think the questions your survey asked encouraged people to give the answers they thought you wanted. “Do you regularly check your tyre pressure?” asks for a “yes”, whereas “how often do you check your tyre pressure?” will get a range of responses and give a more accurate picture.

Paul Cleave
28 Jul 4:43pm

I was very interested to read about your survey. I’m working on a PhD looking at the evolving relationships between food and tourism in Devon. Much of my research using archival materials and interviews with tourists indicates a strong interest in local food and its quality. The experience of food whether consumed in a restaurant or at a festival has provided some very interesting data.
Has your research indicated any interest in food and tourism?
Good luck with the PhD – I’m about to startwork on the analysis of my qualitative data.

Best regards, Paul