A transition town? It’s one of those groundswell movements that started from tiny beginnings in a small town in Devon and has grown to 35 countries around the world.

In fact, it began only five years ago when a group of like-minded people would work on creating a more sustainable community to reduce their dependency on oil. Today, it operates from Latvia to Thailand, Nigeria, India and the US and South America.

In an interview with the Indie, its founder, Rob Hopkins, said the reason for this explosive growth is obvious. “Communities are realising they are more vulnerable, and the current situation means people are less complacent about where the economic activity of the future is going to come from,” he says. “Transition doesn’t wait for permission to get started; it is about ordinary people making things happen within a bigger strategic context.”

Most important, the movement is apolitical.

A big thank you to Emma Jacobs who has kindly submitted the follwing article on Transition Towns

Transition Towns – Their History and Ethos

Congleton is extremely proud to be a Transition Town. Put very simply, a Transition Town is a place with a conscience, which wants to exist in harmony with its environment and the world in which it lives. It’s a growing movement, with an interesting history, and Congleton has experienced great success in implementing sustainable initiatives to reduce the human impact of Congleton upon the planet. However, some may be confused as to what sort of things being a Transition Town entails, and whether it will impact negatively upon their lives. Here, therefore, is a short explanation of the history, aims, and implications of the Transition Town movement.

Early Irish Beginnings

The Transition Town initiative first took place in Totnes, Devon. However, the birth of the movement was a few years prior to that. It all began in Kinsale, Ireland, in 2004, when Totnes native Rob Hopkins encouraged permaculture students at the Kinsale Further Education College to think of ways in which they could reduce the town’s reliance upon unsustainable resources like oil. The report produced describes it as “the first attempt at setting out how Kinsale, a West Cork town of about 7,000 people, could make the transition from a high energy consumption town to a low energy one.”[1] The main aim of the game was to implement sustainable policies before the world reached an oil peak and subsequent energy crisis – “The impending peaking of world oil production will lead to huge changes around the world, and Ireland will not be immune to this”.

Growth in Totnes

Proud of their work, the students and their teacher duly took their report to the Kinsale town council, who supported the findings and promised to work towards sustainability. Kinsale was later to become Ireland’s first Transition Town, and remains an enthusiastic participant[2] in the Transition Network. However, it was not until Hopkins moved back to his native Devon that the Transiton Towns movement truly spread its wings. The first Transition Town in the world was Transition Town Totnes – an initiative inspired by Hopkins’s work, which grew out of what Totnes describes as “open space” meetings[3] for the whole community on the topic of sustainability. Over the course of these meetings, several themes would emerge which would go on to become the core concerns of the Transition movement – “food, transport, energy, business and livelihoods, health and wellbeing, building and housing, and inner transition”. It did not take long for a working Transition model to be developed, which would be applied to the town’s infrastructure with excellent results. Now, Totnes is described as “the most forward thinking eco-settlement in the world”[4], and hailed as the future of post-oil reliance living.

The Movement’s Spread

The success of Totnes and its Transition initiative proved inspirational for towns worldwide. In less than a decade, hundreds and hundreds of towns all over the world have been declared Transition Towns and committed to the ethos thought up by college students in Kinsale. The movement has even taken off in Japan – a world away from the little Devonian town of Totnes – where there are reportedly a staggering “48 groups…active nationwide”[5]. In the UK and Ireland, where the initiative started, the movement has grown to encompass an enormous number[6] of our towns and cities – among them our own Congleton. Cycle paths [7], solar panels [8], and all round renewable initiatives are the order of the day.

Growing Green Consciences

The idea has even taken hold for those people who do not (yet) live in Transition Towns. Seeking sustainable solutions to everyday problems has become a matter of course for many. Renewable energy is a particular fulcrum of the Transition ethos – as Money.co.uk point out, “Looking after the environment and using sustainable, green, alternative energy sources is becoming more and more important to many of us”[9]. There is considerable evidence that concern for the environment and the sustainability of our future is rising amongst the populace – perhaps due to more education on the topic in schools, perhaps due to the possible impending energy crisis, but almost certainly partly through the inspirational example of Transition Towns like Congleton. People are recycling, switching to renewable energy sources and, according to a recent government press release, making stringent efforts to “choose greener ways of travelling”[10]. Providing greater accommodations for bicycles, walkers, and public transport users is one key concern for many Transition Towns, and it seems to be spreading into the wider world.

Congleton’s Transition

Congleton itself became a Transition Town just a few years ago[11], after a lot of good work by the Congleton Sustainability Group[12]. Ever since, the town has been working diligently to bring about a more eco-conscious, sustainable [13] way of doing things in Congleton, bringing Congleton into harmony with the environment and its denizens. The Sustainability Group is a community-based initiative comprising local people, schools, community groups, environmental campaigners and individuals with a conscience. The community-led aspect of the Transition ethos is a big part of what has made it so successful and appealing. Congleton is no exception. In particular, Congleton has been extremely successful in Transitoning its schools. Congleton schools are largely part of the Eco-Schools project, which gives ‘Green Flag Awards’[14] to schools which show exceptional commitment to ecological improvement. Of Cheshire East’s ten green flag schools, five are in Congleton. This is especially good for the children of the town, who are not only learning sustainable methods of living which will serve them well in the future, but also find their journeys to school and around the town much safer due to initiatives aimed at improving walkways and cycle paths while simultaneously reducing the traffic. Indeed, only last year the Council voted to implement a variety of new traffic-related measures, including “To relieve existing town centre congestion” and “To reduce traffic related pollutants”[15].

A Hopeful Future

All in all, the Transition Towns initiative has come a long way in under a decade. From its humble beginnings in small towns in Devon and Ireland, it has spread worldwide, sweeping up in its wake places like Congleton. That Congleton shall benefit from its sustainable ethos is little in doubt – already the environmental health and wellbeing of the area is reaping the rewards, while the town’s citizens feel that, through the Sustainability Group, they can have an active say in the direction their town takes. It is to be hoped that the good work continues and grows, until Congleton is truly sustainable and ready to face anything the changing climate throws at it.

[1] Kinsale Further Education College & Rob Hopkins, “Kinsale 2021: An Energy Descent Action Plan”, Kinsale Town Council, 2005

[2] Leo McMahon, “Transition Town Kinsale leads the way in Community-Supported Projects with Local Farmers”, The Southern Star, 14th November 2013

[3] Transition Town Totnes, “History

[4] Lucy Siegle, “Totnes: Britain’s Town of The Future”, The Observer, Sunday 6th February 2011

[5] Winifred Bird, “All Change – For A Transition Town Near You”, The Japan Times, 15th March 2014

[6] “Official Initiatives By Number”, Transition Network.org

[7] “National Cycle Network“, Sustrans

[8] “Solar Panels“, Energy Saving Trust

[9] “Looking after the environment and using sustainable energy sources”, Money.co.uk

[10] UK Government Press Release, “More People Choosing Greener Journeys”, Gov.uk, 13th December 2013

[11] “Congleton Becomes An Official Transition Town!”,  mybeartown.co.uk,

[12] “Congleton Sustainability Group”, Transition Network.org,

[13] “Ecological Surveys and Advice in Congleton, Cheshire“, United Environmental Services

[14] “Green Flag Award Criteria”, Eco Schools

[15] Cheshire East Council, “Decision Details: Congleton Transport Infrastructure Study Revised Objectives”, 17th April 2013,

 

 

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