Something is stirring. People around the world are deciding that the well-being of their local community and its economy lies with them. They're people like you. They've had enough, and, rather than waiting for permission, they're rolling up their sleeves, getting together with friends and neighbours, and doing something about it. Whether they start small or big, they're finding that just doing stuff can transform their neighbourhoods and their lives.
‘The Power of Just Doing Stuff', the new book from Rob Hopkins, argues that this shift represents the seeds of a new economy - the answer to our desperate search for a new way forward - and at its heart is people deciding that change starts with them. Communities worldwide are already modelling a more local economy rooted in place, in well-being, in entrepreneurship and in creativity.
This book is an invitation to explore a new approach to how our economy might work, how we create employment and wealth, and how we live and work in our local communities. In cities, villages, towns, islands, streets and regions, people are coming together and making this happen.
We can already see this new economy and approach emerging in communities around the world. Possibly you've noticed it where you live. It can be seen in the local food movement around the world, the explosion in ‘pop-up shops', craft breweries, the rebirth of independent record shops, the growth of social enterprises, the flowering of community renewables, and in communities taking over and investing in their local football clubs.
As you come to feel more engaged in shaping your economic destiny, and become more aware that your actions can actually lead to change, you will see that much of the power to make change actually lies with you. It has the potential to change how we educate our young people, how schools and colleges interface with their local communities, how they see their role in preparing young people for work - perhaps more about how to create their own work, rather than find traditional employment.
When communities take the initiative they show that the changes needed are not some kind of step backwards but are in fact unleashing huge creativity and entrepreneurship. In order to realise this potential, we need to not just remove the obstacles that stand in its way, but also be able to mobilise people to make it happen, to harness ‘the power of just doing stuff'.
Where is the Transition Movement now?
There are now about 1,300 registered Transition groups, active in 43 countries around the world, although we know there are many more. In Sweden for example, of the 170 active groups, only 4 or 5 are registered, and in Japan there are 4 registered but we hear of about 70 on the ground. The same is the case in other places too, so the figures we have may well be the tip of the iceberg.
I wrote The Power of Just Doing Stuff because it felt like the maturing of Transition had reached a crucial point. Increasingly Transition groups are using the foundations they have built, of vibrant groups, of community support, of a dynamic vision for the future, to build new, localised and resilient economies. What we are seeing is a deepening and a maturing as well as growth in the number of initiatives. It's very exciting.
Has the motivation for doing Transition changed over time?
Initially it was very much founded on a concern about peak oil and climate change. It argued that when you look at those two as overlapping issues, what emerges is the need for decarbonisation and resilience-building alongside each other. Since then, the economic situation has also become a driver. What fascinates me most though is that when you ask people involved in Transition why they do it, they mainly talk about how it brings people closer together, how they feel part of the creation of a healthier human culture in the place they live.
Most recently, the concept of ‘community resilience as economic development' has really come to the fore, the idea that the very process of making a community more resilient could also be what revives its economic fortunes, creates the livelihoods and businesses that we need moving forward, and meets our needs better than the current approach.
The challenges you present Transition as being a response to are huge. How on earth can Transition be a proportionate response to them?
There is no guarantee that it can be. However, I think that what we are seeing emerging is starting to show a way in which it could. The core argument of The Power of Just Doing Stuff is that, according to the Portas Review, 97% of all groceries sold in the UK are now sold through just 8,000 supermarket outlets. Let us say, for argument's sake, that the other 3% is the local and independent retail sector. The question for me is whether we seek to, as the government and corporations are currently doing, grow the 97% even further, or whether our future actually lies in growing the 3%.
We know that the 3% economy creates three times more jobs for every pound spent than the 97% economy, that it builds greater social capital, more resilient economies, is lower in carbon use, and even, according to a US study, results in higher voter turnout at elections.
We already know that the Transition model, as a way for people to meet other people, organise and support each other and start making things happen, is very effective and works in most places. The second level of it is how we turn that into new enterprises, how we support people so they have the right skills and confidence to think they can start new enterprises. We are already seeing this happen across the country, but there is also a need for more support for this.
The third level is what we are calling ‘Economic Evaluations', which have been done for Totnes and for Herefordshire, with Brixton's coming soon. These are a detailed mapping of the local economy and where the money goes, which allows, for the first time, an economic case for localisation to be presented.
For example, we now know that in Totnes we spend £30 million on food every year, £22 of that going to just 2 supermarkets. That's £22 million slipping through our fingers every year like sand. If we could shift just 10% of that to the local food economy, that's £2 million a year. Suddenly localisation becomes a form of economic development. Nottingham University Hospitals Trust now sources 90% of its meat and 90% of its seasonal vegetables from within 30 miles, a £2 million injection into the local economy. That's not some sort of ‘flight from progress', that's the innovative economy of the future.
Lastly, when we have lots of enterprises coming through, and the kind of strategic context the Economic Evaluations provide, then we have an economic approach that delivers a social return and an economic one. We are working to create an investment fund to bring in the kind of support that this needs. If we can get all four of these working really well, then maybe, just maybe, we start to have something that is proportionate to the problem.
However it's important to say that Transition can't do all this on its own. We also need individuals, government, business, local authorities playing a role, but what Transition offers is that vital piece in the middle - what we can do if we get together with the people around us and do the things that can only come from the ground up.
Which Transition projects excite you the most?
I love Brixton Energy in London, which is putting solar energy of some of the most disadvantaged housing in the area with the engagement and investment of local people. They are an amazing model. Bath and West Community Energy recently ran a community share option that raised £750,000, which is remarkable.
There's Greyton in South Africa, doing amazing Transition projects in a very poor community there. Transition Matlock in Derbyshire recently started DE4 Food, a really innovative enterprise providing local food but in such a way as to be competitive with supermarkets.
The Power of Just Doing Stuff was launched in London in June, with Crystal Palace Transition Town, an amazing group. In the two years since it was first set up, the Group has started Westow Park Garden which won the Capital Growth Peoples' Garden Award, another four community gardens, a social enterprise called ‘Palace Preserves', the highly successful Crystal Palace Food Market, Fairtrade Fortnights, the Palace Pint (growing hops in and around the area to flavour a local ale), a community energy company called Palace Power and the Palace Pickup Community Cleanups.
It's a remarkable example of The Power of Just Doing Stuff. You could do it too where you live - meet your neighbours - see what happens.
How can people get involved?
Whether you have an interest in food, arts, energy, social enterprise, or simply meeting and getting to know members of your community, then Transition has something for you. The Power of Just Doing Stuff contains a wide range of examples of how communities throughout the UK and around the world are setting up a huge range of projects responding to local needs and opportunities, including energy, the economy and food.
If you are interested in finding out more then read the book, or find out more about a Transition group local to you, discuss the ideas with your friends, click here.
Rob Hopkins is the founder of the Transition movement, and author of ‘The Power of Just Doing Stuff'. He tweets as @robintransition and blogs at www.transitionnetwork.org. To find out where Transition is happening near you, see www.transitionnetwork.org/nearby, and for support turning ideas into enterprises visit www.reconomy.org.
The Power of Just Doing Stuff is published by Green Books at £8.99.