Power Shift UK 2014 – How it happened

It took three hours to get through to London via circuitous route on Saturday, with the trains up the swanny. It was worth every minute to get to Power Shift UK, which after all these months of planning, copious use of skype and the waxing and waning of the team, has now happened.  I feel very privileged to have been part of organising such a historical event.

After buzzing backwards and forwards to London to deliver painting materials for the conference banner and then working late into the night on Friday to make sure we knew the plan for the two days and had some idea of how our introduction would hang together, Saturday morning was about getting the posters, programmes, tea urns and accoutrements to UCL before the delegates started to arrive.

The introduction was due to start at 11am, and I have to admit that as the time drew near and I felt as though the attendance was going to be well down on the 150 people who had booked their places, as I was seeing the same few faces wondering around the building trying to find their bearings that.  I need not have worried, as 130 people of all ages and backgrounds rolled into Lecture Theatre 1 in the Cruciform building to kick off the event.  The other 20 would make an appearance at different times over the weekend.

We had a few inspiring videos lined up to get everyone in the mood for sharing stories and skills and hatching plans to shift the power from those who seem hell bent on destroying our natural world.  We pressed play, and watched some interesting looking pictures of flooding and wild fires, but not a decibel of sound accompanied them.  Veiled panic ensued – all rather annoying given it had all been working beautifully just an hour previously.  Eventually Tom found that someone had sat on the mute button on the remote and the audience were treated to this:

Our carefully planned intro had to be curtailed, which meant my idea was dropped, which would have involved me frantically pointing around while people shouted out a word to describe what they wanted from the weekend.  I’ll have to keep that one up my sleeve for another day.  It’ll be great.

The plenary speakers performed verbal miracles on stage, eruditely communicating on complicated topics, bringing interest and emotion, all without notes.  I have to say that for me personally, it was Fiona Brookes who stole the show, with a speech from the heart about being challenged to accept the innate differences and similarities between each of us.

Power Shift UK - Stretching after Day 1

Only when we are together can we bring about the change in society that is needed for social and environmental equality and justice.  Over the weekend we found out how many different takes there are on how to go about that, and we also recognised how we need to incorporate all of those viewpoints into our thinking.  Once we recognise that we are all part of the same movement, we can move to critical mass.  As George Barda said in one of the opening plenaries, historically it has only taken between 1-7% of the population to be actively following a cause for it to become mainstream.

If the social and environmental movement in the UK can join together effectively, we would have that 4 million activists necessary to change our world for the better.

I was part of Power Shift UK 2014.  Will it be seen by history as one of the steps on that road?  Next – Power Shift UK 2, if the students from Warwick Uni keep their enthusiasm, plus potentially Power Shift Scotland.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke


Where am I? Coo-ee!

This post is a general catch-up on what’s happening in my life at the moment and where I see it going in the short term.  I’ll start with me and work out as usual.

I’ve reduced down to one day fasting from two, because I’ve managed to motivate myself to start jogging again.  With that and the cycling I was edging towards 10 stone, which is a little too low.  I’ve also been reading Sophie’s World, to get a very basic grounding in philosophy – more about that in a later post or two.  I’m intending on grounding my next activities on my insights from this work.

The family are well, with Tall and Small back at school again.  Small is particularly pleased about her new school shoes – it took all of our parenting skills to coax her into taking them off before going to bed.  They made up a fantastic competition last night that involved everyone winning.  Tall had to take as few hops as she could to get from one end of our short landing to the other, and had to do fewer than Small.  Small on the other hand had to try and hop as many times on the same route, and had to hop more times than Tall.  So they both always won.  Genius.  Bubs was happy as well, as he just walked around while everyone counted – great fun.

There has seemingly been a very encouraging response to my pre-requisites for taking on the Transition Town Berkhamsted leadership role for a third year.  For once I was unable to attend our monthly Green Drinks social event at HERE, where they had some very fruitful discussions. As a result, I am very pleased to be able to say that if I’m wanted, I will accept the nomination to be leader again this coming year.  I’m looking forward to the 15th so we can get started – this year will be big.

Then we get to the UK and international level, where we are closing in on the 3/4 May for Power Shift UK, part of the Global Power Shift.  Emily and Lindsay in particular, plus Claire and Susan, have put in a humungous amount of effort in organising every last detail.  The list of speakers and workshops is very exciting, and the aims of the conference to plan the connection of the diverse UK climate movement look very attainable as a result.  It has been a huge strain on those who have put in such a lot of time and energy, and the outcomes will be all the better for it.

If you haven’t already done so, please do register to attend the event.  It’s free.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

Get a Shift on

It’s very gratifying to see Power Shift UK taking shape.  Months of discussion and work are finally paying off.  It’s all been from an ever changing team of volunteers, spending their spare time moving the Shift forward (or shifting the movement forward, possibly).

For me, it started before I left my job to help the climate effort in February last year.  I unsuccessfully applied to join the Global Power Shift in Istanbul.  Thankfully that wasn’t the end of the road, as I bumped into Nico Wojewoda of 350.org at a rally against the Keystone XL pipeline.  That got me on to the UK team.Tour

Skype has been our friend, and we’ve made good use of shared documents and email to help new people get on board as quickly as they might.  There have been highs where the team looked unstoppable, such the London Fossil Free tour.  I was brought to tears at a flash mob, singing about the melting arctic.  And there have been lows when the team withered away and was reduced to one or two.

The direction of the Power Shift in the UK took a while to emerge, and I’m glad that it did. Susan, Claire, KMT, Tara, Ben, Phoebe, Asad, Tom, Suzanne and David – the team that did go to Istanbul – lead the way to the theme of increasing the diversity of the climate movement.  The UK is already doing very well, thank you very much, with many groups dealing with fracking, fossil fuel divestment, local food solutions and the like. What is missing a platform which links it all together so that connections are strengthened across all socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds – this is the aim of Power Shift UK; to connect us in a movement, together.

This theme and the idea of the Power Shift UK conference that is now happening on the 3rd and 4th May was fleshed out one blustery weekend at the May Project Gardens in Morden in south London.  The team at the time was KMT, Jenny, Tom, Susan, Ben, Claire, Izzy, Tara, David and myself.  Bernadette facilitated as the plans for the conference were put down on paper.  Amanda, Suzanne and Louise have all played their part.

It wasn’t until much later that the date and venue were set in stone, as team commitment and energy went through a lull, which was finally ended with the addition of the marvellous Emily, who was able to dedicate some meaningful time to the task in hand.  She then brought in the Campaign against Climate Change, and in particular the fantastic Fiona, and now we have the remarkable Lindsay as well.  This is the group, with the help of Claire, Susan and myself, who are bringing the plans into fruition.

It was great to hear at the recent gathering of the Climate Coalition (formerly Stop Climate Chaos Coalition) just how well our plans fit into the wider UK climate movement.  We’re on the right track.  The Power Shift will help lead through to the “For the love campaign” and an escalating series of events leading towards the crucial talks in Paris next year, where the governments around the world will put pen to paper with a deal on climate change.  We’re going to make sure that deal is up to the task, while building the solution from the bottom up should the politicians fail.

It all starts on 3/4 May – come and be part of history.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

Conference Pair

I love it when a plan comes together.  After taking on a little too much before Christmas, not anticipating work taking off in January, I’m very happy to say that two of the initiatives are bearing fruit.  Not one, but two conferences are over the next few weeks.

The local Transition conference is now scheduled for Sunday 23 March, and we have our line-up.  If I’d had more time we may have been able to advertise it earlier, but it is happening, which looked a remote possibility just a few weeks ago.  Thank you to John Ingleby in particular for picking up the reigns.

It will run from 10 to 4, with workshops on starting an energy co-operative (we’re starting one in Berkhamsted), how to use gizmos like thermal imaging cameras, building community street-by-street, food security, personal resilience (I need this, getting run down) and scaling up the movement (we all need this).  All will be run by local Transition Towns, other than the personal resilience and scaling up workshops, for which we have Andrew Davies to thank.

If you are interested in coming along, you can book in here.

And not to be outdone, the Power Shift UK is in the diary.  This one really is for all of us.  It will be on the weekend of 3/4 May.  The theme will be connecting all of the disparate elements of the climate movement in the UK, particular to give voice to the down-trodden or marginalised in society.  The itinerary is not particularly confirmed at the moment, but is likely to include expert workshops on confronting oppression in organisations, practical skills in creating wind-turbines and training in the use of a new online platform created by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition for the sharing of stories in the fight against climate change.  Huge thank you to Emily Myers, Susan Poupard, Claire Morris and to Fiona Brookes and the rest of the Campaign against Climate Change team.

Watch this space.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

Who needs me?

The projects are all moving on, it would seem, in spite of my being busy beyond reason with the business.  More people are getting involved and taking the lead.  My lack of availability has allowed others to take charge, and a fantastic job they are doing as well.

In Berkhamsted, the main projects are Transition Town Berkhamsted (TTB), B-Hive and B-WEL.  B-Hive was the project to find out what the people of the town wanted to see in the centre, which turned out to be more open space, workshops and small business units, plus a museum and performance space.  After an open meeting and a few follow-ups, there is now a slightly wider team involved, setting up a large public meeting to decide what to do next, mapping out the stakeholder groups in the town and drafting publicity to keep the momentum going.  Well done and thank you Jane, Kate, Stephen, Svetlana and Roger for getting back involved.

B-WEL is this new idea to promote the proposed Ecocide law in the town, which was unanimously voted as a good idea by the readers of this blog.  The local paper, the Gazette, are very interested and have asked if we would like to write an article for the paper in Speaker’s Corner, which is usually the stomping ground of the local MP or the Police Crime Commissioner.  I’m hoping that one of the TTB team behind the Ashlyns Lectures will be inspired to write the article.  Go Bex.

TTB itself is on the verge of breaking through, I feel.  There are a number of newly engaged an interested people who are ripe to get involved.  We just need to find the project or projects to hook them.  It is an area that needs my attention, to get the community energy project or Transition Streets up and running.

Slightly more widely, there is the proposed local Transition Town conference.  Having sent out a survey to understand what people would like to see, there is now the job of absorbing that information and booking a venue.  Workshops on community energy, thermal imaging and air tightness gadgets, balancing life priorities, celebration and identifying a unifying strategic intent are waiting in the wings to be organised.  I’ll probably give that a little push.

Then there is the UK and beyond.  The Power Shift UK, part of the Global Power Shift, has now got a few people working part time to make it happen.  Emily has been a star, coming in late on and devoting a large chunk of her time to pushing it along.  The Campaign Against Climate Change, People & Planet, Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and Young Friends of the Earth are now on board, and momentum is building.

And the online platform for challenging misinformation on climate change in the press is on the back burner, awaiting response from the Climate Reality Project.

Of course, all this work has meant that I’ve not seen Rowan and the kids as much as I’d like.  Tell me, is it more healthy to walk for 40 minutes a day or cycle for 10?  I get more out of breath with the cycling.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

Me, my family and out from there

Where am I?  This post is an update on all the various projects I am trying to keep afloat.  I have a little too much on.

Some deep thinking over the Christmas period, while North Wales was battered with 100 mph gusts, has lead me to conclude that I need to prioritise from the inside out.

What does that mean?  It means I first need to make sure I am taking care of my inner self, then my health, then family, friends, home.  After that I can start to look at my local area, town and then further afield to the rest of the UK and abroad.  Unless I take that approach, anything I do that reaches too far from myself will be built on shaky and uncertain foundations.

So, what I should be doing is training myself to be in the moment, with a grounded understanding of where I am pointing.  Then making sure I get enough sleep, a decent diet and exercise.  I’ll give myself a 5 out of 10 for that – too many late nights, not enough exercise and ending up ahead of myself all too often.

Family life is fun and fulfilling at the moment.  Rowan and I are in a very good place, and the children are a laugh a minute, while still growing fast in all regards.  Little James is enjoying standing, not yet walking.  I’d like to spend more time with them.  8 out of 10 for family.

Rowan and I are trying to sort the house out, with a major, if slow, de-cluttering exercise underway.  An aversion to waste has lead us to hoard leads, toys, magazines, off-cuts, you name it.  So we are trying to be ruthless in clearing it all out.

In Berkhamsted, there is the B-Hive project as well as the Transition Town.  The B-Hive is the community initiative to give a voice to the people of the town to have their say about how it develops, and is now becoming the vehicle to help deliver those needs.  After a town consultation and a 96-page report, we’re now lobbying local government and building up the capacity of the team.

On 22 January, Transition Town Berkhamsted (TTB) are hosting the second Ashlyns Lecture, with the incredible Polly Higgins coming to the local secondary school.  Polly is one of the top 10 most visionary people in the world according to the Ecologist, and I am looking forward to her visit.  We’ve been out at the market raising awareness and selling tickets.  Book your place now!

Next steps for TTB are to identify a big project or two to rally the troops around.  My preference would be either community energy or Transition Streets.  I’ll give myself a 7 out of 10 for the local town.

Beyond that, I’m organising two conferences.  The first is for the dozen or so Transition Towns in the area, so we can share our stories and ideas.  The second is the UK Power Shift, part of the Global Power Shift, which links strategically in with the UK climate movement.  The aim of the latter is to link the climate change activity in the UK with each other and to the rest of the world, so we can all feel part of a major movement towards a more responsible future.  I’ll give myself a 7 from 10 for UK and abroad, but this could slip if we don’t get more support.

Oh, and there is the ongoing idea of creating an online platform to allow people to challenge the misleading climate change articles that appear all-too-often in the press.

In general, I’m wanting to build up the number of people involved in the projects in the local town, UK and abroad.  I don’t want to see any of the initiatives collapse, and so I’m trying to make sure there are enough people behind each before I can start to take a back seat and concentrate on one or two priorities.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

Honey wine, a Compost toilet & Shifting the Power

A week ago Saturday I met up with the wonderful young people of Global Power Shift UK.  We managed to combine Eritrean honey wine, a night out in a trendy part of Brixton and a compost toilet with strategizing how to shift the power from money to people.

I’d got involved with the Global Power Shift (GPS) by first unsuccessfully applying to go to Istanbul earlier in the year.  I then met Nicolò Wojewoda of 350.org at a rally against the Keystone XL pipeline in London and went from there.

All national and regional GPS teams, covering everywhere on the planet where there are people, were tasked with creating their own Power Shift event.  The UK team has run a few events that could be described as a Power Shift and badged a few others with the same branding, but up until now hasn’t really found the unifying theme and idea that could be the start of something special.

Meeting in the British Museum with Nico, Ben Kurzman and Susan Poupard a few weeks ago, with my daughter Maddie reading a book beside us, we decided to hold a weekend workshop for the GPS UK team so we could nail down our ideas.

And so it was that a week ago Saturday I was waiting in fantastic Eritrean restaurant Adulis, sampling the honey wine and doing impressions of my son James’ Gollum-like crawl.  Femi was the unfortunate beneficiary, cousin of hip-hop artist KMT, who was to be our host.
Chess Set at May Project
We had a very interesting meal scooping up various different dishes with the think pancake-like bread injera and downloading the mind of Tara, who was unable to attend the workshop proper the following day.  The über-trendy Café Cairo was next – I was well out of place wearing my combats and carrying a rucksack.

I spent most of the night with my head on the floorboards in the music studio at the May Project Gardens in Morden, at right angles to the sleeping mat I’d brought.

The following morning started with my needing to negotiate the lack of toilet paper in the house.  I tell you, I was relieved, in both senses of the word, when I found the compost toilet marked on the helpful, painted map of the gardens.  The May Project Gardens is an inspirational permaculture set-up at the back of a council house in south London, complete with frog pond, herb spiral and polytunnel.  It was founded by a guy called Randy, whom I’ve not met, and KMT.  Permaculture is a way to live and to grow that apes nature, where waste is an alien concept.  It is highly efficient landwise – you get 2-4 times the produce by land area than farming – and requires less labour, chemicals and machinery.  The future as far as I can see.

The confidence inspiring Bernadette Fischler facilitated the workshop, which started outside with each of us drawing up a coat of arms representing our take on the GPS UK.  It was the day before the huge storm that cut through Southern England, so after a short while and a delicious falafel lunch we graduated indoors
GPS UK team at May Project Gardens
The upshot of our meeting of minds was a confirmation of our consensus view that we are here to help shift the power from money to people.  We intend to be the glue that allows diverse grassroots initiatives to share with one another and with the rest of the world.  To get that started, we are thinking that a Power Shift event where the those people and groups outside the traditional institutions can come together to meet each other, share stories and learn how to engage with the mass media.

Shift the Power UK is born.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

It’s Started

I imagine this is how some people felt years ago before going into a battle.  A kind of serene calm has taken hold of me, with the inevitability of what is about to ensue washing over my consciousness.  I know that humanity will eventually be persuaded to take meaningful action on climate change – that is inevitable, as nature won’t let us do otherwise.  What we need to do is all we can to bring that date as near to now as possible, to limit the damage we are causing to the lives of our offspring.

Alongside the work with Transition Town Berkhamsted, I have been networking with members of national organisations to see how I could help direct activity to be more coherent and co-ordinated.

I’ve spoken with and am very grateful for the time of the many people to whom I have spoken and got acquainted.  I am constantly left gob-smacked by the level of knowledge, eruditeness and enthusiasm of the folks involved in helping us move on to a fairer world.  In no particular order, thank you to Melanie Coathe of RSPB, Michael Davies of StartUK, George Marshall of COIN, Guy Shrubsole of Friends of the Earth, Ben Brangwyn of the Transition Network, Ed King of RTCC, Chris Church of the Low Carbon Community Network (LCCN), Becky from 38 Degrees and Nicolò Wojewoda of 350.org.
There are a couple of very interested leads among there.  LCCN ran a conference about a year and a half ago with the purpose of bringing together these disparate organisations, and are planning on running another in the Autumn.  I have spoken on a couple of occasions with Chris Church, the current chair of LCCN, and I may well get involved in helping to organise this conference.  One of the foci of the conference is to be supporting the leaders in climate action.
The other very promising lead is with 350.org.  They are an organisation that grew up in the States, where the focus has been on persuading organisations, funds, cities, colleges etc to divest their investment portfolios from fossil fuels, with the realisation that if climate change is to be defeated there will be £trillions of related stranded assets (i.e. investments that cannot be redeemed, e.g. the perceived value of fossil fuel reserves).

350.org are organising a Global Power Shift – a co-ordinated international grass-roots movement to address climate change and our response to it.  The first phase (to which I will not be going) is a global conference in Istanbul, bringing 500 climate leaders together to determine the strategy for the movement.
The next phase will be national Power Shifts within individual countries.  I met Nicolò, the UK co-ordinator, at a demonstration ahead of the G8 conference in London (we were attempting to persuade US Secretary of State John Kerry to not approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would link the very dirty tar sands in Canada to refineries in Texas).

Subsequently I have joined the UK national team of 350.org, and will be involved in helping to map the context of the UK, coming up with ideas for campaigns, developing and sharing ideas for regional events and developing a media strategy.  I need to decide which of those areas to focus on – which would I be best at and enjoy the most?
The LCCN opportunity and the 350.org one could work together – the LCCN conference could be a way to launch the UK Power Shift.  We’ll see what doors open.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke