A new Transition Streets group has started at a St Albans secondary school in October
– joining 11 local Streets groups already up and running in and around St Albans. Staggeringly, of the 100 households now involved in a group, only a handful were originally linked to project organisers Transition St Albans – a testament to how well they have spread the word – with the school project the result of a fruitful conversation with the school sustainability officer.
The project team have found the best way to recruit ‘people who really actively want to be involved (rather than those who say yes, but then go rather quiet),’ says Catherine Ross, coordinator of TSA’s Transition Streets project, ‘is through existing personal and TSA networks. For TSA this included their own networks, mums’ networks, and the mailing lists of the local authority’s sustainability officer and community engagement officer. ‘We found word-of-mouth is more powerful than general marketing, although we did recruit a couple that way,’ she says, ‘with our local paper only running the story after we sent them a photo of a group composting!’ For more see Transition St Albans_recruitment_tips.
Catherine recommends applying for funding to deliver the project: they used Lottery funding to cover training, materials and some management time. Fiona Ward and Hal Gilmore from the Streets-wise programme delivered the training in November 2012, explaining how the project worked in Totnes and exploring TSA’s commitment to become local initiators and set up new groups on their streets.
‘It was a great day, there was such a buzz in the air’, says Catherine. ‘It was absolutely excellent. The biggest thing was bringing everyone together, getting us all focussed on what we needed to do. Fiona and Hal are very good trainers: they had a really good balance between giving us information and giving us space to talk. It was tailored to what we asked for, both in advance and on the day. It was useful splitting us into two groups: those who’d be local initiators and those who’d be in budgeting and planning roles. They also gave us all the Totnes materials, which has helped us get our project going much faster.’
‘It was fun and well-paced, with a good mix of talking and doing’, agrees Gail Jackson, one of those at the training who was new to TSA. ‘Without the Streets-wise session, it would have been much harder to approach neighbours I didn’t know about a local meeting. Instead I felt grounded in a particular approach: the day helped create a vision and carry it forward’. Gail went on to start an enthusiastic 11-strong Transition Streets group in her street after her training.
In particular, Gail says: ‘I was extremely taken by the open use of non-authoritarian group methods: the way the initiator, or facilitator, sets up a group then leaves it to run itself. This can be challenging for those who are used to taking on a leadership role with groups, but I’m very interested in this dynamic of Transition Streets.’
After the training day, Catherine tailored the Totnes Streets’ leaflet* and workbook to St Albans’ which she says took much longer than she expected – two months on and off – to research, edit and print. Like the other initiators, Gail put these leaflets through 40 neighbours’ doors, inviting them to her house one Sunday evening to explain more about Transition Streets. After thinking no one would turn up she says she found herself in a room of 11 people, made lots of tea and coffee, showed a YouTube video about the Totnes project and got people talking. By the end of an hour everyone had decided to definitely sign up to get the workbook.’
‘That’s why people are coming, because of the focus of the workbook, which helps us all look at energy, recycling, transport and food. I also think that coming together as a community in itself functions as a green tool. People already have something in common – that they share living on the same street – and the group’s cohesiveness is a huge strength,’ says Gail. ‘I would absolutely recommend it other community groups, and I think it could have great use in a number of settings because it’s organically creative: a cohesive framework for action’.
* leaflet now available in Microsoft Word template