New beginnings – a personal account of organising a Transition Roadshow

I’ve been meaning to get back into the habit … no, not the habit: the discipline … of writing up my adventures on this blog.  We hosted the 4th National Transition Roadshow a few weeks ago, and if that doesn’t deserve an honest, down-to-earth write up, I don’t know what does.

The Roadshow was probably the main thing I could have been writing about over the past few months, on top of solar panels on Ashlyns School roof and the end of my tenure as leader of Transition Town Berkhamsted.  I could have filled pages writing about BP and Shell publicly calling for a price on carbon emission, the G7 committing to phase out all carbon emissions by the end of the century and the growing movement to divest funds away from the fossil fuel industry.

Roadshow mapBut it’s the Roadshow that’s getting the star treatment.  Transition Network is the charity that grew out of the first Transition Town, in Totnes, that takes an overview of all things Transition (communities getting on with the job of moving off fossil fuels, basically).  A little less than a year ago, I was sitting next to my life-dominating computer when I had one of those mild panic moments I get when your distracted brain raises a little hand and reminds you about a deadline you’d been determined to forget.  I had been in touch with the local Transition Towns about an opportunity to apply to host one of the three Roadshows they planned instead of the usual single annual conference.  Of course, while there had been general interest, no-one had put their head above the parapet.  Haddenham had, I only found out later.

Deadline an hour away and no time to cast about for thoughts, I got to work and cobbled together a last minute application.  At least I’d done it.

A week or two later, I was taking a break over a cup of tea.  I got a phone call from Amber of Transition Network to let me know they had chosen our application.  We were to host a national Roadshow.  Yeah.  Gulp.

We were chosen for two main reasons – we had an established network of local Transition groups, and we had plenty of experience of running reasonably large events.  Both certainly made the job easier.

We wasted (a) little time in getting a meeting organised with people from the local Transition Towns, and the debate started as to where we would host the Roadshow, what it would contain, when and so on.  We only got mired in the trap of endless circular ramblings that consensus decision making can bring for a couple of hours.  After a few conversational laps we settling on holding the Roadshow on 19 April in Berkhamsted, sandwiched between eco fairs in Milton Keynes and Tring.

We tried to keep the number of meetings down, so people didn’t need to give up too many chunks of their weekends travelling around Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.  A lot of cake got eaten and tea drunk.  Eventually, we settled into a pattern where we in Berkhamsted did a big chunk of the organising, with particular assistance from nearby Tring on publicity, and the other Transition Towns pitching in with volunteering on the day and running workshops.

Chatting in the eveningThe experience of running similar, if slightly smaller, events in the past helped keep me calm as the big day approached.  I could have panicked that ticket sales didn’t look great, but knew that people often book late or turn up on the day.  OK, I did panic just a tad.  We could have got into a stew about all of the little things that needed organising, but knew most of what needed to be done and just got on with it.  Certainly helped a lot on that score that the lovely and brilliant Emma Norrington ran around like a highly organised chicken with head fully intact and got things done.  It was a drain on time during lunches and evenings for us.

Given that, when the day came, I was expecting to feel a great relief at the end of the day, a kind of end of term moment.  The night before we had gone out for a meal with the founding fathers and leading lights of the Transition movement, and then I’d stayed up quite late with co-founder Ben Brangwyn printing programmes and maps.  So on the day, after the relief of seeing people starting to flood in a little after the official start time, I hit a bit of a wall of fatigue.

The most thought-provoking and action-inducing workshop for me was on something called REconomy, which means enabling and starting-up businesses and social ventures that are financially viable, don’t rely on volunteers, deliver real social benefit and reduce carbon emissions.  It also discussed how money leaks out of a local economy via national chains, so it was a little ironic after the workshop when I collapsed into Costa for a bite to eat and a refreshing drink.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, as the workshops continued into the afternoon, and we made our way up the hill in Berkhamsted to the Centenary Theatre for the evening’s entertainment.  I was again hungry when we got there, but by the time I had walked to the town centre and back to get some cash, the food ran out.  I found out later that because of an over-order for the last event, we had adjusted requirements down.  Trouble was, so did the caterer.  And then they had to run off to hospital due to a family emergency, and we were stuck ordering Papa John’s pizzas.

All that was left was then to listen to the figurehead of the movement, Rob Hopkins, relay stories of the frankly jealousy provoking amazing projects and achievements that other Transition Towns have managed, where people actually get paid for doing this work, and then to be entertained by the rambling humorous poetry of Matt Harvey.  Oh, and I sat on a panel to answer questions from the audience, a task of which I felt I made a complete Horlicks.

At the end of it all, I didn’t feel the expected elation.  No, I was deflated.  Although we did have a reasonably good turn-out of people from all over the area, from London to Ipswich, and certainly weren’t out of pocket, not many people from outside of the Transition group came from Berkhamsted.  I had been to council meetings, Rotary club, Chamber of Commerce networking events, but few new people came along to find out what we were all about.

That feeling of disappointment abated over time, as I started to receive thanks and congratulations from those who did come along.  Evidently, the day had been a success from their perspective.  And then a few more newbies turned up to our monthly social, which happened to be our AGM.  Then there was the inspiration and example of REconomy, which has given our group new direction.  We can set ourselves up in such a way that people can be employed to help take Transition forward, and by building on socially and environmentally responsible enterprise we can start to have a real impact.

Thank you to both Emmas, Philipa, Anna, Bridget, Christine, Barr, Michael, Vicky, all the Johns, Peter, Jeremy, Claire, Madela, Sarah, Samantha, Wendy, Leslie, Sue, a smattering of Pauls, Bruce, Denis, Rob, Michael (the other one), Amber, Ben, Hilarie, MK Christian Foundation, Karen, Richard, Greg and Lindsey for all your support, time, enthusiasm and general help in organising the Roadshow.  It would have been rubbish without you.