Subtitle: Imagination taking power

The Transition Hubs Gathering in Santorso, Italy.

It’s a year and a half since the Transition Hubs last met.  In case you don’t know, the Transition Hubs are the organisations that represent and support Transition in different countries (Transition Mexico, Transition Germany etc…). They work closely together and collaborate on projects.  This year’s meeting was held in Santorso in Italy, about an hour from Venice, in the foothills of the Alps, with the help of the Santorso in Transizione.  Hubsters came from 24 different nations or regional Hubs, with 2 more participating remotely, bringing their amazing tales of Transition in those places.

Villa Rossi, home to the Transition Hubs gathering.
Hubsters having lunch in the shade.

Home to the event was Villa Rossi, a very grand villa, complete with beautiful frescoes, albeit rather faded and peeling ones.  I’ll tell you more of its story in another blog. Parts of the Villa had seen better days, but it provided a delightful setting for the event.

I arrived a couple of days late, on Friday morning (they had started on Wednesday afternoon).  The two days before then had seen an Inner Transition training which went very well by all accounts, a big and very moving opening circle, and other sessions.

The last gathering, in 2015, had created the great ‘tale to tell the grandkids’ of our ending up having to hold meetings in a car park, due to the unsuitability of the original venue.  The discomfort, the cold, but the camaraderie and resilience that it generated, are now the stuff of legend.  This event’s story happened the day before I arrived.  Intending to order 40 pizzas from a local pizzeria, the person ordering had instead ordered them from another pizzeria, with the same name, about 50 km away!  When the person went to collect them from the local pizzeria, the person there knew nothing about it.  Oh dear.

A selection of Santorso in Transizione’s posters.

The first day I was there was taken up mostly with a Sociocratic process to approve a proposed governance structure for the Hubs.  Sociocracy is a fascinating process to observe, with its focus on a deep understanding of a proposal, and on seeing objections as gifts for the process.  While not without its difficulties, it is a very deep democratic process and one that adds a real character to how the Hubs work together.

How those unable to attend were able to still take part in the Hubs gathering.

One of the wonderful things about the event being hosted in Santorso was the degree of support and engagement of the people of Santorso.  All the Hubsters were accommodated in the homes of local people, and on the Friday evening, a great party was put on in the Scout Hut in Santorso.  There was great food, prepared by a team of local folks, followed by wine and beer, music.

Assembled Transitioners and local Santorso residents preparing for the evening’s festivities.
Dancing in the square in Santorso. Photo: Sarah McAdam.

It also included a look at a remarkable, and lovingly restored and maintained, 18th century clockwork nativity scene/world of the time… hard to describe, but here is a film of it.

So there was life before TV after all.  The evening came to a crescendo with huge ‘mapping’ in the square, all sorts of silliness, and dancing in the street into the night.  A really wonderful evening, one that will be remembered for some time.  Here is a video of the dancing…

Next day featured all kinds of reflective activities, group work, Open Space sessions, a large drawing on the floor, and a closing circle. Here are some photos from the day:

The courtyard at Villa Rossi.
Introducing the morning’s Open Space session.
Group visioning exercise…
The Open Space session I attended, led by Ana Huertas, who gave an overview of the Municipalities in Transition work.

In the evening we were joined by a group of 3 improv actors/facilitators from Bologna, who led us through a series of increasingly silly activities before getting us into groups to prepare short sketches, which were then performed in front of everyone else.  It all ended with group singing, dancing, and daft nonsense.  Very entertaining.

On Sunday morning, Josue Dusoulier of the Belgian Hub, and I decided to climb the big hill behind Santorso.  Well, a bit more than a hill, but not really a mountain, it is a 1km climb from the village to the top.  The father of Ilaria, our host, told us that he, in his mid 60s, runs to the top in an hour and 5 minutes!  Good Lord.

It took Josue and I 3 hours to walk, and I don’t mind admitting I was a sweaty red tomato by the time we reached the top (as is evidenced in the photo below), and my feet were in shreds by the time we reached the bottom (wrong shoes).  It was amazing though.  Spectacular views, definitely worth the effort.

About half way up…
At the top. Clue: I’m the sweaty one looking like a tomato.

It is also a fantastic taste of what rewilding can look like in practice.  The hills above Santorso were, at the turn of the century, bare, due to the levels of grazing that took place.  A number of people also had small cultivated patches of land up there.  But 40 years ago, the decision was taken reforest the hill, to allow it to become a forest, and now it is an amazing forest, building soil, locking up carbon, providing a place for walkers, runners, cyclists and, I imagine, artists (although interestingly, there is some debate about the biodiversity benefits).

I wonder if anyone has done an economic evaluation of the economic benefits to the local economy of it being a forest used in so many different ways to just having sheep on it?  It’d be fascinating to see.  Really gorgeous.  At the top of the hill/mountain is a huge cross which can be seen for many miles.  The walk also passed through wild meadows rich with wild flowers, past impromptu shrines in the rocks, deep and dark forests.

After we made our way back down again (amazing how walking up a mountain uses completely different muscles to walking down a mountain), I headed to the Incontro di Transizione, a day long event at a local school which was open to the public to find out more about Transition.

There were three sessions of workshops which had included all kinds of delicious and fascinating things: facilitation tools, stories of Transition in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami, how Transitioners responded to forest fires in the US, and much more.  I arrived in time for the final session, and chose one about Transition in South America.

Great workshop on Transition in South America.

Then there was a lovely closing ceremony outside in the early evening Santorso sunshine, which involved salt and different food colourings and beautiful pattern-making and then trampling it all underfoot (you had to be there).

After this was the culmination of the event, where I gave a talk, introduced by Giulio from the local group, and key organiser of everything that had happened over the previous few days.  The local Mayor also said a few words.  I then gave an overview of Transition, tricky given that the audience contained people who have been doing Transition as long as I have, and some people for whom it was their first encounter, but it got a standing ovation at the end, so hopefully it was ok.  Here is the video of it, thanks to Cristiano Bottone:

And so the day, and our time in Santorso, drew to a close.  Although my experience of the Hubs meeting was more that of observer than that of participant, there was something very satisfying about it for me.  When we started Transition Network, 10 years ago, in a coffee shop in Bristol, sketched out on the back of an envelope long since lost in the mists of time, Peter Lipman, Ben Brangwyn and I had the intention that we needed to create an organisation that turned the model for organisations upside down.

In most corporate structures, the idea is that each level exists to benefit the level above it: the workers benefit the bosses, who benefit the shareholders and so on.  Power concentrates upwards.  With Transition Network our intention was to create an organisation that was in service to and in support of the people on the ground actually doing Transition.  So our role is to support the National Hubs, their role is to support the regional networks, where they exist, and their role is to support the initiatives on the ground, and their role is to support the people and the groups actually doing the Transition on the ground.

What was so wonderful at the Hubs gathering in Santorso was that, with the passing of the new governance structure, which gives that say to the Hubs in such a way that Transition Network has only a small role in the process, it felt like that was actually coming into being.  And coming into being in a way that showed huge bravery, commitment to good process and clear communication, and real maturity for such a young movement.  I felt very proud, and honoured, to be able to spend time around such amazing activists from so many different places, imaginative and dynamic souls all.  What a remarkable thing Transition has become, and what an independent, self-organising, deep and soulful thing it is.  And so it grows…

Deepest thanks to everyone in Santorso for their hospitality, to my hosts Ilaria and Christian, to the Syndico, to Guilio, to the mountain, to Josue my roommate, and to all the wonderful people I met. 


  1. Nenad Maljkovic
    May 31, 2017

    Nice write-up, Rob, thank you 🙂

    Something I noticed, if I may. You wrote “So our role is to support the National Hubs, their role is to support the regional networks, where they exist, and their role is to support the initiatives on the ground, and their role is to support the people and the groups actually doing the Transition on the ground.”

    Put this way, it is still rather hierarchical thinking – just turned the other way around! 🙂 What we are after, in my view, is more systemic. We are developing worldwide Transition collaborative eco-system, or heterarchy, where things are not that neat! Well… at least we’re moving towards that 😀

  2. Patricia Lee Knox
    June 1, 2017

    This Hub creativity is very heart warming and that makes it news worthy! Thank you Transition for turning up the heat, softening and brightening the colors of global community.

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