Walking the Talk: Transition Network Conference 2012

How can communities work together to become stronger and happier? Kathleen Cassidy found out at this year’s Transition Network Conference

Hundreds of people gathered at Battersea Arts Centre in London at this year’s Transition Network Conference to explore the theme ‘Building Resilience in Extraordinary Times’. The sixth conference of the Transition Towns movement, which took place last month, saw its most international attendance ever, with dozens of participants coming from as far afield as Brazil and the Philippines.

The opening evening saw the launch of Transition Free Press, the new national newspaper of the Transition Network. A quarterly newspaper, Transition Free Press will share the narrative of Transition that is not being aired in the mainstream media. In doing so, it aims to connect campaigners and people in Transition with those that have never heard of terms such as ‘energy descent’ or ‘alternative currencies’.

The newspaper’s editor, Charlotte Du Cann, emphasised the importance of publishing in print, noting that “the printed page goes places that computers can never go, no matter how swanky the tech.”

The power of stories was emphasised in the opening address by Rob Hopkins, co-founder of Transition Network, who said that he was increasingly interested in how stories can help “breathe life into ideas”. This concept was supported throughout the conference by the team of social reporters who regularly uploaded written, visual and audio material to the Transition Network Website.

The conference programme struck a healthy balance between workshops, open space sessions, group activities and socialising. The tapestry of workshops the conferences offered catered for a vast range of both hard and soft skills, from ‘Communicating Transition Effectively’ to sourdough baking.

“The tapestry of workshops the conferences offered ranged from ‘Communicating Transition Effectively’ to sourdough baking”

The ‘What Happens when Transition Towns says No?’ workshop looked at the pioneering interplay between the activist and transition movements and ignited some healthy discussion. Some participants in the workshop felt strongly that the role of the Transition movement was to create alternatives to the status quo, rather than campaign against it. Others felt that Transition groups were well placed to do both, as they could mobilise people through their local networks to support campaigns.

Examples of how the Transition and activist movements have unified were given by members of Transition Heathrow, which uses its physical presence to oppose plans for a third airport runway.

The workshop ended with acknowledgment that Transition Towns are often capable of campaigning for a stronger ’No’ than many other campaigning groups, as they can back this up by demonstrating viable alternatives through their home-grown initiatives. However, the issue of whether it is within the remit of Transition Towns to employ such tactics was unresolved.

Having attended many progressive conferences in the last few years, it was clear to me that the conference’s structure and processes really did nourish participation. Its use of hand gestures and open space technology ensured that group meetings were creative, inclusive and productive, and enabled delegates to engage with the conference in a way that suited them, while fostering a tangible sense of community. In essence, the conference ‘walked the talk’ as it proved to be a wonderful working example of the Transition initiative: a place where there’s a community-led process that helps that town/village/city/neighbourhood become stronger and happier.