19 Nov 2012
The evolution and practice of the ‘Transition Town Anywhere’ activity
For many people, the highlight of the 2012 Transition Network conference was the ‘Transition Town Anywhere’ activity, where a resilience local economy was built, lived in, celebrated and then taken down again over the space of one morning. Ruth Ben-Tovim, one of the event’s organisers, tells us how the event came about, how it worked, and how you could do a version in your community. She started by asking “how many people does it take to build a town?”
“About 240 in the case of the 2012 Transition Conference. Over five hours, the very large Grand Hall at Battersea Arts Centre was filled with a self–built, living breathing Transition Town Centre Anywhere. Many of you who were there and many who weren’t have asked for more details about this activity, so as promised, here it is. Also in response to several requests, at the end of this post there are details about how you could bring the Transition Town Centre Anywhere group activity to your Town if you would like to.
How many people did it take to design the process?
It took about 5/6 people to design the activity over a period of four months, and at least six to run it on the day. So here is the story of the creation of the Town blueprint as well as the making of the Town itself. We’ll start the story at a Transition Conference planning meeting about two months before the conference itself. Until this point the idea had been to do a ‘Cook Up’ social enterprise event, which was becoming increasingly complicated and unweildy. The conversation (between Rob Hopkins, Jo Hardy, Chrissie Godfrey and myself) went something like this:
Rob “Are we really sure we want to do this Sunday Cook up, Transition in action, indoors/outdoors, community engaged public event where over 24 hours we to set up a living breathing world of Transition in 24 hours?”
Jo “Even though we’ve been planning it for a few months, I still can’t fully see it and when I really listen in I’m not sure its really what delegates need”
Chrissie “It’s a relief to hear you say that, I feel a bit anxious about it but was prepared to make it work”
Myself “Its been a bit like pushing something uphill, yes perhaps it is time to change direction”
Quite far in to the conference planning process (with not long to go until the event itself!) we take a bold and slightly scary step to change course, let something go that felt really exciting but the signs were really starting to show that it wasn’t quite right for 2012 conference. It felt rare to be part of a team that was prepared to take risks at this stage in order to try to really respond to what feels right.
So, the conversation then explored, “what else?” “What could this years big group process be?”
The idea of a more condensed Transition In Action activity emerges, focusing on the High Street of the future, inspired by New Economics Foundation’s ‘Five ways to Wellbeing’, connected to the REconomy momentum, and with the theatrical flavour of the Energy Descent Action Plan in Two Hours’ led by Lucy Neal at the 2009 conference, which had also been at BAC.
That was the brief. In little over a month! Chrissie are I are charged with designing this activity, and we rope in Shane Hughes who is part of running the REconomy day, and Lucy Neal to help with the initial ideas. Jo Hardy and Rob have pulled together the workshop programme already and Jo, Chrissie and myself, who are this years conference faciliation team, have already done much of the shaping of the conference working, closely with with BAC and conference organisers Sim and Kristen. Even though time feels short, we think we can pull something out of the bag!
Several Skypes later, with really useful input from Shane and Lucy, Chrissie and I spend the summer putting the flesh on the bones of what had become called the ‘Transition Town Anywhere’ activity. We hadn’t worked together before, but the combination between my participatory arts practice, with its approach of “Let’s build up participation slowly, working from the individual, going through neighbours, street then to the town and aesthetically let’s have no post-its, hundreds of blackboards, chalk, cardboard, string, clear space, emptiness, one colour and lets make it a story”, and Chrissie’s experience as an arts producer and a facilitator, more like “we need to pare it down, things will take longer than we think, let’s go and stand in the space and walk it through, imagine the timings, the changeovers, see how people can get into groups to make the town centre without it being chaos, oh and the overall shape of the activity needs to be like a banana”, had a certain alchemy.
Early September, with the conference getting close, we get fine tuning input from Jo, Rob, Sophy Banks and Lucy, and with the generous support of a donor of 364 handmade blackboards, the activity is designed and we are ready to start getting getting all the materials ready.
We arrive at BAC a day early and park ourselves up on the balcony above the Great Hall. Our ‘to do list’ is very long, it’s like preparing for a show. BAC have kindly provided us with a designer/ artist to help out, Kirsty. She makes the map, the key, the bunting. Lucy is on the celebration details, and late Saturday evening in Lucy’s kitchen she finds pieces of long red ribbon, a stick for our opening ceremony. and she makes Map rosettes. We are all ready, and early Sunday morning an amazing team help set the Hall up; Amber, Sophy, Jo (who also DJs), Lucy, Paul and some early conference delegates.
I am really excited, and really really nervous. This activity hasn’t been done before, it’s a complete experiment, and there is a huge amount of trust put into our hands by Transition Network, and by the other members of the conference team and by the delegates who we deliberately keep a little in the dark, feels like a big responsibility.
But I have trust in the idea, I feel very very well supported, it’s been passed through many peoples’ hands, like dough, it’s been kneaded and stretched and pulled into shape. It’s an offering and so we step into a different mode from designers to facilitators, holding the space, guiding the journey, getting out of the way enough so that the process can unfold itself, so the bread can be baked and enjoyed by many…
Transition Town Anywhere
“Please come in …. Thank you for joining us, this morning we are going on a journey together, a journey into the near future, look ahead of you into the empty space, into the future, we are heading for transition town centre anywhere….all we have to take with us is our experience, each other and our imagination, we have the chance today to build a thriving, connected, town centre together, … are we ready to go?…….once we cut the ribbon we will be there” …
Stage One….. Home
“Find a place in the room that you could make a home….. draw the outline of your home using the chalk….. take a blackboard and write down something that gives you a sense of wellbeing or connection in your life …. go on a walk about around your town…. take a look at who you are living here with”
Stage Two – Neighbours
“Meet your neighbour, someone who is nearby. Come together and on the back of the blackboard there is a list of story themes, tell each other a personal story based on one of these themes then write down a sentence about what you have heard”
These relationships and personal stories are the foundations of our town..
Stage Three – Street
“Gather together with three of four other groups of neighbours … explore between you what you could do to make your lives easier, more sustainable, what don’t you need the high street for, what could you do yourselves … remember also that successful groups spend time deciding how they are going to work together not just what they are going to do … go on another walk about to see what other streets have come up with”
Stage Four – Leaving home
“We are going to build a town centre together… a town needs different things; food, governance, education, innovation, enterprise, celebration … what would you like to see happen in your town under these headings? … write your requests on the walls…
Stage Five – Finding your role
“Go to one of the headings you are most drawn to and use a blackboard to write what role you would like to play today in response to the requests that have been made. Self organise between you into smaller working groups”
Stage Six – Building your venture
“Use the Tenants Charter provided to check you have thought of everything you need to build a venture – what is it, who’s it for? … once you are sure what you want to do go and visit the Map Mistress and get a plot number … take materials from the stockpile and build a 3D version of your idea”
Stage Six- Town Centre opening
Time to open the Town Centre, one venture is randomly selected to receive the key to the town, people run up and down the street with ribbons to celebrate, everyone cheers … “We are ready to go. Go and visit other ventures, see how you could work together, what could you exchange, some of you stay at home to host other people to your venture”
Stage Seven – Town Centre picnic
“Have a picnic together in your town.. share the cake that marks the opening”
Stage Eight – Time travel
“Go back to visit the neighbour you first shared a story with, tell them about your experience, what you’ve seen, learnt, observed, felt….then all walk back down the High Street back to the place we started… back to where it all began…count down back to 2012”
Stage Nine – Reflection, tidy up
“Look back into the space. It’s full, full of your imagination full of what we created together … you can take a souvenir from it to remind you, but no doubt it will stay in our memories… now let the big clear up begin”
I have never felt so supported in facilitation than I did on the day of this activity. From the broader team, from participants, from the space itself, something happened in the space between us all that afternoon that was heart opening, made me cry and smile and feel optimistic about the future. It was so powerful to see what can happen with the power of our imaginations and our collective effort. We have everything we need at our fingertips to create the Town Centres of the future.
If you would like a version of this Transition Town Anywhere activity to take place in your town, working with your initiative, then we would be happy to talk with you about the possibility. In 2013 I would be willing to come to your initiative and run a Transition Town Anywhere activity with you. You would need to provide a small team who would run this activity with me, which would include an on-the-job training, which would mean you could then run it, or something like it, again in the future. I could adapt the activity for your specific audience and needs. We will look into trying to fundraise to cover some of the costs of running this but that’s not guaranteed so you’d need to cover some of these costs i.e. travel and facilitation fees. Please contact Ruth @encounters-arts.org.uk 07870 698333 if you’d like to discuss the possibility.