Transition Culture

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

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22 Nov 2013

Transition Thrive training at University of St Andrews: a report

St Andrews

Naresh Giangrande of Transition Training reports on a Transition Thrive training he recently co-facilitated in Scotland:

The University of St Andrews in Fife, Scotland is certainly posh, and old (it is famously Scotland’s oldest university).  So what is a Transition Initiative doing in the middle of all that? And what is a Transition University anyway? 

I was met off the train by David who is part of Transition St Andrews and the first thing he showed as he drove me from the station was an old paper mill, the Guardbridge industrial estate that recently shut down and was bought by the university. They are turning it into a bio mass plant to heat all of the universities buildings. Was it combined heat and power I asked?

Logo“No”, he said, “we have just got planning permission for a medium sized wind farm and we will get our electricity from that”. “All?” I said? “Yes”, he said. “The whole university will be carbon neutral in a couple of years time”, he casually dropped. I sat in his mini, green with envy having just been part of the thwarted attempt to erect a small wind farm in Totnes.

Guardbridge industrial estate site of new biomass plant

“How did you get that through?” I asked.  He told me that  the estates department has seen their energy costs skyrocket from £1.2million to £5.4 million in just eight years and he projected they would be around £20 million by 2020. It makes absolute economic sense to move to biomass and renewable energy. We lock in a much lower cost supply a decouple from the spiralling out of control world fossil fuel markets.     

“So where are you going from there?” I asked. He told me of their rolling fund to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings (with a minimum requirement to meet BREAM excellent or outstanding) and upgrade infrastructure. And their Transition Initiative is part funded by the university and part funded by the Climate Challenge Fund, so they had an office and five paid workers, and embedded sustainable teaching in many of their degree courses. I turned green a second time, as Scottish Transition groups have had access to pots of money from the Scottish government that English, Welsh and Northern Irish groups can only dream of.

Mandy Dean and I facilitated a Transition Thrive training with them, as part group building and part ‘let’s explore where we can go from here what’s next’ workshop. Unsurprisingly their practical project and group dynamics were their strengths, so we didn’t spend much time exploring these parts of Transition. We took this mixed group of project workers, university staff and students on a journey around the Transition model and practice, based on the Transition animal. We deepened, and planned, talked and explored. We planned a new social enterprise or two, and envisioned how they could create more engagement with the town.

What’s unique about a Transition University? Well, one of their challenges was that they have students coming and going all the time in their Transition Initiative. We helped them redesign their TI to enable them to maintain their initiative while at the same time find a way for students to take as much away with them into whatever they did next- seeding new projects new ideas and new enterprises.

I left with a feeling of hope that something established over 600 years ago is taking on board some of the 21th century’s knottiest problems , and a deep appreciation for the work they have done in preparing students for the risks and opportunities of 21st century living.

As I walked past the oldest golf course in the world, St Andrews, on my last morning, next to one of the most beautiful unspoilt towns in the British isles, I couldn’t help but be seduced by the grandeur and serenity of something that old and magnificent. I could, also feel the cold winds of change that are certainly sweeping, unbidden and unseen by most, through that old landscape.     




Inner Transition