Transition: A write-up of the 2012 Transition Network Conference. The best yet…

Transition Culture

Transition folks from around the world gathered last weekend at Battersea Arts Centre for the 6th annual Transition Network conference.  In a week when the Arctic ice reached its smallest ever extent, scientists warned that the world’s weather could be on the verge of running amok and it was suggested that Saudi Arabia, always meant to be the ‘swing producer’ on whom the rest of the world could depend for reliable oil supplies, may become a net importer of oil by 2030, the theme of the conference was, appropriately, ‘Building resilience in extraordinary times’.  Unlike previous conferences which had spanned two, perhaps three days, this was, in effect, a 6 day ‘Festival of Transition’, and it turned out to be an extraordinary event which deeply affected those attending.


Thursday began with the first day of a Transition Thrive training, and Friday featured the second day of that training, attended by 35 people from around the world, as well as a Youth Symposium and the REconomy Day.  I arrived on Friday lunchtime, gave a short talk for the Youth event, and dipped into the REconomy day, so I can’t say much about either.  Fortunately, thanks to the various people who documented the event, you can see some great photos of the REconomy day here and read Jay Tompt’s reflections on it here, and here Caroline Jackson reflects on the Youth day.

Isabella Menezes from Transition Granja Viana, San Paulo, Brasil addressing the REconomy Project Day

Both events brought a very welcome input of different kinds of energy to Transition, having more young people around was wonderful, and the focus and economic practicality of the REconomy day, especially, according to many of the people I spoke to, the session in the morning where a series of people gave 7 minute talks about their social enterprises, were amazing to see (I was already seeing people on Twitter raving about it before I even reached London!).

The launching of The Transition Free Press on Friday evening

The other key event of Friday was, at 7pm, the official launch of Transition Free Press, the new quarterly newspaper for the Transition movement.  All the team behind bringing it into the world were there, and speeches and celebration marked its emergence, with a great deal of cheering, applause and back slapping.  There was even some home made herbal cordial stuff, a kind of hedgerow Pimms, which went down very easily.

Peter Lipman welcomes people to the conference.

The conference proper began on Friday evening with an introduction and a welcome.  Peter Lipman, Chair of Transition Network welcomed everyone:

… then I gave an overview of the event and why we chose its theme…

… and lastly David Micklem, Director of BAC, welcomed everyone and spoke about why hosting the conference meant so much to them …

This was followed by one person who had attended the Youth event and another who had been at the REconomy day feeding back about their key learnings and insights.  Social reporter Ann Owen wrote about how for her, the Transition ethos showed through from the very start of the conference:

“As soon as the Saturday sessions of the Transition Conference 2012 start, you can tell that this is not just any old conference. It sounds and feels different, it looks different. People are welcomed with the suggestion that they take a moment or two to fully arrive, have a few deep breaths and focus on the reason they are there”.

Various mappings were done, and it emerged that around half of those attending were from outside the UK, a first for these conferences.  Friday evening ended in the bar, with anticipation high for the following day.  Here are Mike Grenville’s photos of the day.


Saturday began with people forming into ‘Home Groups’, groups of 4 people who would meet back up with each other regularly during the event and this then led into an explanation of how Open Space works and an invitation for people to put forward topics for discussion in that forum.  The usual flurry of writing and suggestions produced a huge number of suggestions, which were, during the following sessions, collated into the number of conversations the timetable (and the venue) could accommodate.

Yes, it’s that annual impossible decision, which workshop to go to?

Then it was off to the first round of workshops.  Some  of those on offer included communicating Transition beyond ‘the usual suspects’(which Jay Tompt has blogged about here), Playing for Time, which looked at the role of the arts in Transition, local currencies including the about-to-be-launched Bristol Pound, and Sophy Banks on how to make a happy, healthy, human culture and why sometimes we don’t (you can hear the audio from that workshop here).

The workshop on local currencies.

Some people went off with Simon from the Handmade Bakery to learn how to make sourdough bread.  With workshops 12 to choose from it was a difficult call for most people, who could quite happily have gone to them all (hopefully by now those who wrote in prior to the conference to ask if it would all be streamed live are getting a sense of why that just isn’t possible for a Transition Network conference!)

You can hear the audio from the ‘Power to the People’ workshop which looked at community energy companies here.   Social reporter Kerry Lane went to Sue Milner and Iona Fredenburgh’s workshop on conflict, and blogged about it here.

Juan del Rio and Filipa Pimentel at the workshop on Transition and austerity.

I chaired a workshop called ‘Should we be reshaping Transition for times of austerity’, with Filipa Pimentel and Juan del Rio.  It was a fascinating conversation, which you can hear in full here, and which raised fascinating questions and discussion about Transition and how it might look in differing economic conditions.

After lunch it was time for Open Space.  The diversity of topics for discussion was, as usual, eye watering.  Social reporter Ann Owen blogged about one she attended on how the concept of the Gift Economy can be balanced with the need for jobs.

One of the Open Space conversations

I had to pop off during the Open Space to do a questions and answers session via Skype to TEDx Madrid, with Juan del Rio, which went really well and which I’ll post the video for as soon as it has been posted online.

Presenting to TEDx Madrid from one of BAC’s bedrooms.

This was followed by the second session of workshops.  Offerings included how to turn local food initiatives into social enterprises, an introduction to Transition Thrive training, one called ‘What happens when Transition says no’ which looked at those initiatives that have also had to campaign against something which they felt undermined their community’s resilience and Chris Vernon’s exploration of the question ‘is peak oil dead?’

I chaired a workshop looking at localism, which was very powerful and thought-provoking, especially Dave Chapman’s opening presentation on what the new localism agenda means in practice for communities.  Thrilling and chilling in equal measure, here’s the audio of Dave’s presentation:

Caroline Jackson went to the workshop on mentoring for Transition, and blogged about it here.

People then wandered off for some down time, either games on Clapham Common, sitting in the sun on the front steps of BAC, or wherever their feet took them, and enjoyed slices of the warm sourdough bread that had just emerged from the baking workshop.

At 8pm everyone reconvened for the evening’s cabaret.  Hosted by Matt Harvey, the evening featured poets, writers and music, concluding with a rather wonderful band, who weren’t the one we were expecting (I still keep expecting to hear that they have been found bound and gagged in a cupboard at BAC) but who were fantastic, and had the place wildly leaping about much to everyone’s delight.

The band played. The crowd went wild. Really wild.

You can see Laura’s photos of Saturday here, some others here, and Mike Grenville’s here.


Sunday began with an event that had been (deliberately) shrouded in mystery, apart from the odd teaser about what possible use we might find for 384 blackboards.  This extraordinary group process deserves, and will get, a blog post all of its own, but in brief, over the space of 4 hours we built (literally) a high street and local economy for Transition Town Anywhere.

We began with the neighbourhoods, identified the key elements of the economy we needed, identified the businesses that we wanted to run, and then built, from cardboard, sticky tape, laughter, newspaper, sticks, determination and string, a local economy.

We explored the relationships between the different businesses, what was missing, how it might all work.  We had an official opening where our High Street was declared open, which certainly brought a lump to my throat.  We held a street party, the ‘Transition Town Anywhere High Street picnic’.

People met each other in this world we had created, got lost in it, danced in it, brewed imaginary beer and baked imaginary bread in it, generated energy from their cardboard solar panels.  It was utterly magical, a firsthand taste of a new economy, a new way of doing things.

As someone said to me during the event, “you could take all the photos of this you like, but you had to be here, this is one that goes in here (tapping his heart)”.  Several people I spoke to afterwards became very misty around the eyes just at the mention of it.  Amazing.

As I said though, I will write this up in more detail later (although you can hear the audio here and watch a lovely slideshow of Laura Whitehead’s images from the event here).

After our street party picnic, the High Street was dismantled and the hall put back together for the final session.  This began with people in their Home Groups reflecting on how the event was for them, followed by a go-round for feedback and comments on how the event had been for people, which you can hear here.  One of the most stimulating suggestions made was that, given that Transition is clearly now an international movement, should next year’s be outside the UK?  A fascinating question, one to ponder over coming months.

Part of the closing circle.

It was a very positive session, which captured what a powerful event it had been for everyone.  Then Sophy Banks offered her closing thoughts on her experience of the weekend, I gave some closing thoughts, and then Peter Lipman wrapped up.  Audio of all three talks is here.

We then watched Paul Birch’s wonderful short slideshow ‘This was your conference’ which combined music, images from the conference and snippets from overheard conversations.

The 2012 Transition Network conference closed with a group song led by Inez Aponte and then slowly people headed off, and some stayed behind to tidy up, as captured in Mark Watson’s blog about the sweeping of the hall.  You can see Mike Grenville’s photos of Sunday here, Chris Croome’s here and Laura Whitehead’s here.


Personally, I think this was the richest, most complete, and most powerful conference we have yet run.  Certainly as the team that holds these conferences grows larger, and more experienced, the depth of what it is able to hold deepens by the year.  The workshops reflected the maturity of where Transition has got to over its six short years, the High Street activity was just extraordinary, showing the magic that can be weaved with the right facilitation, and the whole place fizzed with discussion, conversation and insight.  I struggle for words to describe what amazing event this is every year.  It went to places that you really had to be there to experience.  Thanks to everyone who came and made it the event it was, to the fabulous team who held it so wonderfully, to the people at Battersea Arts Centre who were the perfect hosts, and to everyone who came to run workshops.

The conference described above was then followed by a 2 day meeting of the international Transition hubs.  So, there is an archive of audio here, and a slideshow of images from the whole conference here.  Keep an eye on the Social Reporters pages, as over the next 2 weeks, various people will be posting their reflections on the conference.

Thanks to Mike, Chris and Laura for the photos.