Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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23 Apr 2010

Transition Network Conference 2010 Now Open for Booking!

Our home for the conference, the former Seale-Hayne Agricultural College near Newton Abbott.  A stunning venue, and we have it all to ourselves!

Our home for the conference, the former Seale-Hayne Agricultural College near Newton Abbott. A stunning venue, and we have it all to ourselves!

Forget Wimbledon, Glastonbury, or the Edinburgh Festival, the unmissable event of the summer of 2010 is the Transition Network conference at Seale Hayne, near Newton Abbott in Devon.  If the word conference usually makes your blood run cold, with visions of soggy sandwiches, death-by-Powerpoint and graphs and struggling to keep your eyes open after lunch, Transition Network conferences are an entirely different kettle of fish.  Think Open Space, a dazzling array of workshops, plenty of time to meet other Transitioners and learn from their experience, practical activities, great food, sunshine, time for games and for hanging out in the evenings, laughter, self-organisation, a deep immersive experience in this extraordinary thing we are all creating called Transition.  You will find more info here, and all the info you need in order to book.  This event will also introduce a new way of presenting the Transition model, based around the concept of a ‘Pattern Language’ which will be the centrepiece of ‘The Transition Handbook 2’, be a part of reshaping how we communicate Transition.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


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This post was mentioned on Twitter by robintransition: Booking is now open for THE event of the year, the 2010 Transition Network conference. Always a stunning occasion

27 Apr 3:13pm

Glad to see that a University of Plymouth alumnus has put the ex-agricultural dept of the University to good use. It would make a great venue for a Permaculture course too, don’t you think?

27 Apr 4:13pm

Hi Rob and all,

I’m on the fringes of Transition Bristol and was recently chatting to a skilled and accomplished green builder/designer who lives in one of the very active Transition neighbourhoods here. I asked him whether he was involved in the transition group and the strength of his answer really made me sit up and take notice. His experience of it was as a very white, middle class talking shop. He said ‘ if I have to do one more Ideas Tree I’ll go mad’ or words to that effect. HE is a do-er and is daily making practical changes in sustainable and low-carbon building every day, yet he hasn’t found a natural place (yet) in the neighbourhood-based model of transition. The view of transition as a white, middle-class movement is not un-common. Our community campaign against Tesco in the local area is the same. It is part of the culture of the indigenous white middle class to get involved in such movements and I’m sure if we looked at the British membership of greenpeace, FoE or similar, the ethnic make-up would be the same. But Transition isn’t a single concern/focus movement so I think the neighbourhood group model needs to become more inclusive. Groups at the neighbourhood level need to be supported in this.
How can Transition evolve to capture ALL the community and not just the ‘usual suspects’? I think it is the responsibility of each neighbourhood group to engage with it’s local community and to spend enough time, over the long term, on this and be conscious of not investing all it’s energy in, for example, technologically-based projects.
BUT maybe Transition isn’t actually about whole community – maybe it’s a vehicle for just those who are actively looking and ready to engage in the kind of projects and courses that Transition creates.
In which case, why didn’t the green builder see his neighbourhood group as something good, as an opportunity, as something he’d like to join in with?

Just a few thoughts. I’d really appreciate your thoughts on this too and how to make space for everyone – for all the do-ers and the outsiders.

Many thanks


I would very much welcome your views on this.

John Mason
2 May 8:45am


An interesting post there.

This whole demographics subject would make a very useful postgrad research project!

I think the question might need to be rephrased, however:

“What is most likely to influence whether a person gets involved in a community project like Transition: their class, their educational background (including upbringing) or their aspirations?”

For those of my generation (48 this year) and older, by increasing increments, class often determined quality of education. However, at the same time, and again by increasing increments, the sorts of life-skills we talk about regaining were established in the less well-off from an early age. At some point this all coalesced as mass consumerism took over, those life-skills became less and less essential and quality education became broadly similar for most.

I would suspect that Transition is something that appeals to those who for a long time have felt ever-so-slightly uncomfortable with mass-consumerism, even though there’s hardly a soul that is not embedded within that system in one way or another. Class may not be a factor: conscience may be the one. In any case, the class system is less well defined these days, in terms of prosperity (outside of the aristocracy)- with the boundary between the so-called working and middle classes blurred beyond recognition in many cases.

But yes, there are those of us, me included, who are happier when actually doing stuff as opposed to endlessly talking about doing stuff. Society has always contained both such elements. The doers impatiently push on ahead because that’s what they feel they need to do. The talkers construct their “ideas-trees” because they’re probably a bit more sociable! And the other 95% of the population carries on watching the soaps and eating their TV dinners as if nothing is going on whatsoever!

The key with that 95% is one of the original twelve steps – in my view perhaps the most important – developing visible manifestations of the project. The vital bit here is that such manifestations must have as wide an appeal as possible so that they become a talking point among people who would otherwise have little or no awareness as to what’s going on. The way to avoid being grouped as the “usual suspects” is to deliver projects that don’t have “usual suspects” painted all over them. This can call for some demanding original thinking at times, which can be more of a challenge for us Transitioneers that one might immediately think, for we, too, are quite set in our ways!

Hope that makes sense – it is a debate that is of key importance to the Transition Movement and I hope to see a few other contributions in due course 🙂

Cheers – John

10 May 1:33pm

2 points here I would comment on:

Some people don’t easily feel comfortable going to meetings and collectively deciding, through talking, they come with lot’s of frustrations about the world and a opinions on what needs to be done NOW! I understand this feeling, and would encourage people with knowledge and capacity to get stuff done to get on with things. BUT it is always much more powerful in my view if those people are willing to join in, share and most importantly listen to the concerns and ideas of others if the impact of their doing and knowledge is to spread. One of the key things we need to build is a shared sense of power and responsibility given the major challenges we face. This means empowering others if you are lucky enough to feel empowered.

Firstly, it is the ‘middle classes’ and super rich that have the high consumption lifestyles that need to change the most. Deprived communities need to be more robust in these changing times but generally speaking they are living far more sustainably than the wealthy already. So, if it is true that the ‘middle class white folk’ are the main contingent in Transition type initiatives, then maybe that is a good thing?

Starting a group in any particular place for me is best done by first celebrating the people and groups that are already trying to do good things. BUT not to stop there and always be EXPLICITLY open to others who may feel excluded and making a point of always saying we cannot acheive much with broad support and more involvement. I hope Maddy, that if this is a key concern for you, that you might join in with your local group and help build the capacity of the group to reach out to others?

No doubt those already involved in your local group will include many of the usual suspects and they will be overstretched! They would love your ideas and support, I guarantee it! HELP THEM.

10 May 1:58pm

Hi all,

a reply to Maddy’s comment from someone in Transition Montpelier’s ( group with direct experience of what you are referring to.

It’s rather unfair and out of context to make a judgement of a group referring to one person’s comment. There is no context which is important. Why did he say that and where is he coming from? What had happened and what would happen again if the talking hadn’t happened?

There were more meetings than would be normal and plenty of talking, yes.

There was an important reason for these ‘talking shops’. They were to resolve conflict that had arisen from taking on two big events in 2009 before the group had the cohesion to work together on two ambitious events, processes to resolve issues, without significant planning or preparation. Strong characters and money were involved, someone’s property was damaged in the middle of the night by random strangers. People were saying different things about what happened and who said what to who at different meetings. At no point was this conflict transparently addressed by the teams involved.

Following a series of core team meetings, a group agreement was reached, mediations did happen, and the group has emerged stronger and wiser.

A lessons learnt piece was put together so that other initiatives might learn from our experience. Bugdet templates and processes have been identified so that these problems don’t appear and risk a young initiative again.

Perhaps that is a bit more context which might help?

In other activities, the Transition Montpelier group puts on films for £2 in a local community centre, and other awareness raising events, big free open space meets to engage local folks, and project workshops to help the projects. The core team see these support actions as vital to helping projects thrive and learn.

As well as the events, there is a keen ‘growing’ group (which the builder is involved in) which is doing lots of activities, an energy group who have trained locals to do energy audits and advice for houses and now offer that for free, and are co-ordinators of a Bristol-wide ‘Green doors project’ enabling locals to visit eachother and discuss the various ‘eco-renovations’ they are up to. The Green Doors project has a clear focus on home owners, landlords and renters, is working with the council to include deprived areas and support training therein and much more.

So, hope that sets the record a little straighter, and presents the balance of support/facilitation/conflict resolution/talking with activism.

all the best,

19 May 11:14pm

Hi all,

I’m really glad this topic has come up. In response to John, I am actually currently undergoing research on this very topic of diversity within the transition town movement for my masters dissertation, so I feel I’ve struck gold here! 🙂

From my perspective, I’m planning to angle this research around the idea that although the transition town movement may be implemented with the best intentions, this utopian ideal of community inclusiveness for all has been predominantly channelled and assimilated towards a certain demographic within British society, i.e. white, middle to upper-middle class and of a certain age group. With all this in mind I, perhaps controversially, would like to suggest that by taking these issues on board, the image of ‘white privilege’ may give false pretences to the movement’s rhetoric for justice and sustainability for all.

Unfortunately, one of the main criticisms towards transition towns from environmental justice NGOs, such as Capacity Global and Black Environment Network for example, as well as some transitioners themselves whom I have had the opportunity to talk to about this subject, is this very issue of ethnic and class inclusivity. In response to Ed, I don’t think Maddy’s example is unique. I know of a fair few members from transition town Brixton who are in talks to create a transition town Southwark in protest to this white, middle class talk shop, to take words from Maddy above. Their argument was that there wasn’t space for other types of communication or awareness of how others may live, for example growing food when there are large Afro-Caribbean communities, as well as white communities, who live in council estates who don’t have access to green spaces as easily as other more fortunate members of TT Brixton, or single mothers who wanted to get involved but felt that they were being overlooked due to their heavy work/childcare commitments. In response to this, it could be said that it is not transition town’s main priority or duty to think about these kinds of issues, but it does suggest that this type of thinking is out of line with the movement’s social justice vocabulary.

It is very telling that if we look at the leaders of this movement, I think I can safely say that most if not all are white and would seem to be from a particular class status. I think perhaps that it is also safe to say that probably all of us who are writing on this blog are white (I’m not going to go so far as to suggest what class status everyone is though!) which in itself is telling, no? In response to Maddy, I think you’re very right with your comment;

‘maybe Transition isn’t actually about whole community – maybe it’s a vehicle for just those who are actively looking and ready to engage in the kind of projects and courses that Transition creates.’

I would make the same suggestion that perhaps transition towns, albeit with the best intentions, is a group movement who is affiliated towards a particular vision of community.

I know some, if not all, of the things that I have suggested above may be seen as litigious, and in no way do I want to seem like I’m seeking to rip apart the transition movement and all its achievements. I do feel that it an interesting cause which has obviously struck a cord with a lot of people, but if this issue of divsersity is discussed more fully, a lot more people would very likely get involved.

If anyone would like to discuss this further with me to help with my research please feel free to contact me on 🙂

20 May 7:43am

Dear All,

Thanks for the useful contributions to this important discussion. I get the sense from some of the contributions that there is an assumption that somehow diversity is an issue that people involved in Transition groups are blithely unaware of. My experience is very much the opposite.

In all the surveys done, particularly Gill Seyfang’s two Transition surveys (one of the UK, one of Norwich), Transition groups emerge as being very much aware of the lack of diversity in their groups, and of the challenges of broadening and deepening engagement, and as being very keen to expand engagement in what they are doing.

I do feel that some of Louise’s comments are somewhat harsh. This is a very young initiative, many initiatives less than 2 years old. In their starting-up phase, they need to work with the people who get involved and who bring energy and passion to the process.

It would be really helpful for us, Louise, if your research took the form of working towards constructive suggestions as to what a vision of community with broader appeal might be, rather than just knocking Transition for its lack of diversity. We are aware of that, and are very much trying to address it. What you are planning to do could prove to be a very important contribution to this work.

In terms of Brixton and food growing, I’m not quite sure what you mean by this. In talks I have seen by the Brixton food group, they talk largely about what kind of food growing can, realistically happen in Brixton, looking at very small gardens, balconies, window sills and so on, not spacious and extensive market gardens. I would really urge those you refer to who are thinking of starting Transition Southwark to get engaged with Brixton, and to bring their insights on diversity to that more established group, who I imagine would welcome it with open arms.

In terms of Transition Network, we recently employed Catrina Pickering as Diversity Co-ordinator, who will be looking at a lot of these issues, and developing tools and trainings for Transition initiatives around diversity, something which, as I mentioned, they are very aware of. We have been all too aware that the language in which Transition is communicated, the media used, how it is presented, which has inspired and engaged so many, has also bewildered and bypassed many others. We know that. I would very much urge anyone who feels that Transition, as it is presently configured, feels like an uncomfortable or unfamiliar place, to get involved, or to share why that it, as your insights, skills and energy are vital.

Maddy wrote “maybe Transition isn’t actually about whole community – maybe it’s a vehicle for just those who are actively looking and ready to engage in the kind of projects and courses that Transition creates”, to which Louise responded, “I would make the same suggestion that perhaps transition towns, albeit with the best intentions, is a group movement who is affiliated towards a particular vision of community”. As I say, Transition is still very young, and all groups have initially is the energy and drive of those who get involved, the early adopters who Maddy refers to. Over time though, it has to broaden and deepen.

The Co-operative movement was formed by white, middle-class men, but it was designed in such a way that over time, those who got involved, who earned their livelihoods from it, increasingly took ownership of it. We have to make sure that we have mechanisms like that built into Transition too. I would like to hear more though, about Louise’s suggestion that “a particular vision of community” is exclusive. I’d be interested to know what she sees that vision as being, and in what way it is seen as being exclusive…

Finally, I wanted to just respond to the ‘talking shop’ thread here. Since the beginning of Transition I have heard the term ‘talking shop’ used disparagingly in relation to Transition. There is always a tension when a group comes together to do a Transition initiative between those who want to do stuff right NOW, and those who feel the need to build a strong group, with good communication skills, that can think strategically so as to maximise its chances of longer term success. If all a Transition initiative ever did was sit and talk, then of course, that would be pointless navel-gazing. At the same time, if all it did was to rush out and start planting trees everywhere and making market gardens (or whatever) but with no larger strategic thinking, it would be largely pointless too (I would argue). ]

Transition is, for me, a design project, and a design project needs some time at the table designing, so that when you go out to implement that design, you are using your time and resources most effectively. I have also seen many times that the people who say “this is all a talking shop, we should do stuff” often do not subsequently turn up when practical events are organised! It is about balance, and ‘talking shop’ is an easy insult to hurl at a group doing important ‘design work’, as it were.

At the start of this thread, Maddy asked “how can Transition evolve to capture ALL the community and not just the ‘usual suspects’?” Absolutely. That is the question we are all trying to address. Some great work is happening, such as Tooting’s Trashcatcher’s carnival, and Catrina’s work will bring new depth and insight to this. There will be stories from all across the Transition Network of what different groups are doing in this area. Transition still has a long way to go, in spite of already coming a long way in a very short period of time, and we are all aware of that. Constructive input and engagement on that question very much appreciated!
Thanks all

John Mason
20 May 10:43am

Rob said:

“At the start of this thread, Maddy asked “how can Transition evolve to capture ALL the community and not just the ‘usual suspects’?” Absolutely. That is the question we are all trying to address.”

I think to a large extent the answer to this question lies not within the TM but outside in the wider community: it lies within individual and group life-philosophies and what people relate to, what makes them tick.

Why did millions of people start playing the UK lottery as soon as it was launched, compared to the thousands of people who have got involved in Transition? Simple. For the majority, it was much easier to relate to.

Something I have long considered to be the case is that society is in the claws of a form of economic slavery. Although there is little or no evidence that lots of money/consumer goods actually equates to long-term happiness and well-being, nevertheless we are conditioned from an early age to aspire to having both as a prime life-goal. This is regardless of any unseen consequences: the environment is somewhere “out there” and those who visibly campaign for its longevity are regarded as an irritation by many for whom “business as usual” is the much preferred alternative.

This situation is likely to continue in very many cases until we hit a “Pearl Harbour” moment, which may be supply-related or may involve a major environmental disaster that in either case impinges negatively upon many.

This is where practical, visible, cross-community manifestations of Transition come into their own, where casually-dropped-in hints as to why a well-done garden-swap is also a preparation for an uncertain future, where a positive piece in a well-read local newspaper will at least plant the term “transition” into a corner of the minds of the most diehard consumerists and so on. The point eventually comes – as it must – where the pennies start dropping all over the place – “ah, so THAT’S what they were on about”.

What would be an extremely useful piece of research would be an analysis of the various events organised by Initiatives countrywide and some measure of how they appealed to the general community. Do some events work better than others and why? But from personal experience, visible long-term manifestations – especially if they involve that most central thing to our lives – food – go a long way!

Cheers – John

20 May 10:49am

Thanks all,

this a good stick to beat TT with, isn’t it?

I’ve never heard anyone say that Transition is the one solution to solve all the financial, social, cultural, racial and other problems society finds itself facing. If anyone knows of such a solution, do let me know.

My introduction to TT was ‘here’s a great way to help your neighbourhood cope with climate change and peak oil. The rest we are making up as we go along’.

It seems like the ‘white middle class’ criticism is levelled against a statement Transition never made, but others want it to have made because it’s a good one to beat on; a big social weakness that I haven’t seen anyone solve to date. I think there’s a bit of projection going on here (as well as a clearly and transparently identified concern in groups that they could be more diverse (it was a point in TT Montpelier’s core meeting last night).

Have a look around the environmental sector as a whole – is it reflective of all the UK’s income, class and race demographics? Or from the other perspective – is every member of society actually interested in this topic right now? Are the newspapers helping?

I think it’s great that, following a big showing of awareness on ‘the diversity issue’ at the TT conference 2009, Transition Network actively sought funding and employed a diversity co-ordinator, who I hear was at the Black Environmental Network conference, and has been building relationships across environmental groups of all shape and colour. Also I hear she is putting together a plan for how to help TT initiatives understand and navigate this issue which they are clearly aware of and want to do something about. We in Montpelier are looking forward to this. And if you look at the 2010 conference agenda, you will see that there is a big space given over to this issue.

Other TT conferences I have been to have welcomed other environmental/carbon/etc. groups to share what they are up to and build bridges between all our different approaches.

This sounds like a sound approach to the ‘issue’ to me, better than groups splintering in response to big social problems that they are experiencing first hand.

Rev. Billy Talen
25 May 12:57pm

Rob although your writing has an unpresuming tone sometimes it rises to a soaring clarity and helps us all.

Here in the states, the inclusive question is never far away from those in resistance to consumerism. For our work, which is a choral performance group of 40 people on stage, The Church of Life After Shopping – we absolutely must stand up there looking like a New York subway car. Our population is about half non-european and it can’t be otherwise, partly because I’m a straight white male and shouting at people to stop their shopping can’t come from only me.

But you can start anywhere in the circle. Blues and jazz were not multi-cultural in the beginning, and rose to become worldwide gifts. The broadest transition up to this point would have to be the Cubans, who became a nation of gardeners after the Russians left. I think we’ll all meet up from our many starting points and no-one will be judged for where they came from. Amen?

[…] to the Open Space discussions at this year’s Transition Network conference (coming soon… get your booking in!), and want to then explore further with people who know more about this.  Anyway, some opening […]

Catrina Pickering
17 Jun 4:26pm

So glad to see this conversation arise. As Rob and Ed mentioned, I am the new Diversity Co-ordinator. Perhaps best if I start by outlining the main strands of what we’re planning over the coming months:

• Diversity pilot project: Providing intensive support to 10-15 Transition Initiatives to develop a diversity approach to their work. The idea is we’ll be delivering two workshops to each Transition Initiative to help them explore issues around difference, power, equalities and to then use that as a basis for developing a diversity action plan. We’ll also be looking at linking these Transition Initiatives up in regional events to share their stories and learnings. All of this will subsequently be fed out into the wider Transition movement.

• Inner change towards a more inclusive Transition: This aspect aims to look at how as a movement might be “hard to reach”. It looks at the kind of language we use, the tools we choose to communicate with and so on. At the moment, we’re in the exploration stage but we’ll be coming out with a concrete plan to take forward from August. For more details see:

• Partnerships, resources etc: Finally, we’re also developing partnerships with faith, Black Minority Ethnic and low-income groups that can generate joint learning for us all and that can also feed into activities on the ground. Resources wise, we’re developing a diversity primer/ toolkit which should be available in the autumn as well as online tools such as the diversity blog, a diversity newsletter etc.

Just a couple of other points which I feel may have been slightly skewered in the above discussion:

Black Environment Network/ Capacity Global: We are in contact with both the Black Environment Network and Capacity Global – I gave a presentation to the Black Environment Network’s annual conference about our plans on diversity in April and we are in touch with Capacity Global regarding potential collaborations. Both are very supportive. In Capacity Global’s recent report “Hard to Reach”, they say that environmental organisations need to learn from Black Minority Ethnic groups as much as Black Minority Ethnic groups need to learn from environmental organisations. Indeed, it is exactly this two way learning approach that we are holding as the principal building block for all our collaborations with diverse groups.

Transition Brixton: Not sure of the exact interactions between Brixton/ Southwark but Transition Brixton has keenly signed up to our pilot project and in fact will be the first Transition Initiative to undertake diversity training on 1st July. I think it’s fair to say that they’re taking the issue seriously and it’s high on their list of priorities.

Finally, I’d like to put my weight behind what Rob said about recognising that we’re a young movement and that what we’re really in need of is constructive criticism that includes solutions and ideas that can help us along the way to inclusion. I’m holding the space for diversity but really, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to need help and support from people across Transition and beyond. What we’re trying to do is not easy – we’re up against an underlying tide of inequality that has deep roots throughout our communities. However, I’m really inspired by organisations such as BTCV who have already done it – who have gone from appealing to white, middle-class traditional conservationists to becoming a people organisation that connects a hugely diverse people base to conservation. I do therefore think it’s absolutely possible and the important thing is that we make a start.

To finish on a positive note, it’s my personal belief that whoever we are, we all stand to gain from developing an inclusive Transition. As Martin Luther-King once said: “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you might be until I am what I ought to be”.