Thursday 1 November 2012

Transition towns - should Cameron be jealous?

Honey produced in a cemetery, an installation of The Three Little Pigs made from plastic bottles and a sewing master class. Three small projects but a big agenda.

TTT's approach explained in flower form
Transition Town Tooting (TTT) was set up in 2008 and counts over 900 supporters in the local area. Their projects are centred around food, transport, energy, education, housing, waste and the arts. The aim is simple: "moving from oil dependency to an era of resilience".

TTT is part of a global network of community-based organisations looking to respond to climate change, economic hardship and shrinking supplies of cheap energy.

Some 364 initiatives in the UK are registered under the umbrella Transition Network - either official groups or still 'mulling' - including 37 within the M25 ring.

At this stage of reading you've probably classified this initiative as lefty hippie mumbo-jumbo. But these issues transcend politics and, whisper it quietly, are not far from three of David Cameron's most famous policy ideas.

Whether you look at his green pre-election promises, the Big Society or the happiness index, the prime minister shares many ideas with the Transition Network - although he has been much less successful in delivering on his agenda.

While Cameron - assuming he did actually believe in these ideas - faces a succession of obstacles in the form of right-wing backbenchers, dwindling public support and increasingly hostile coalition partners, TTT's only red tape is apathy.

"It's the opposite of sitting in our armchairs complaining about what's wrong. Instead, it's about getting up and doing something constructive alongside our neighbours," says the organisation.

Cameron in greener days
Cameron is often accused of basing his vision of The Big Society on the well-off community in which he grew up, but transition towns are succeeding in an era of economic difficulty.

Having volunteered for humanitarian organisations in some of the poorest parts of Latin America, it dawned on me that those who face the biggest struggles are often the most content - they would score highly on Cameron's happiness index.

That happiness comes from inter-dependance: people are constantly exchanging goods and services without passing through a monetary system. By default, people are producing locally, recycling, avoiding waste and forming a stronger community - which are all values shared by transition towns.

Western society has a gift for provide everything while happiness remains elusive. But maybe transition towns can bring something of what I saw in Bolivia and Costa Rica to Britain.


  1. I found a similar situation while volunteering in a rural community in Nepal. Although I was there to 'help' the people living in the village I stayed in as part of a charity community resource programme, I met many who were living contented, connected lives. People were resourceful, co-operative and inter-dependent, sharing their time, labour and skills. This came from the necessity of living in poverty (in a monetary sense) but made me appreciate the value of family and community connectedness.

    1. It's very true. And it's really interesting that thousands of people in the UK are starting to bring that approach to their lives - partly because of economic necessity and partly because they realise it makes them happy.

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