Subtitle: Imagination taking power

Three weeks on the road: documenting a big Transition adventure.

I’m just back from 3 weeks of travelling and speaking in Sweden, Mallorca, Spain and France.  It was rather wonderful and included many great events, connections and inspirations.  In this blog I am going to share it with you, with lots of photos and videos and links to media generated during the trip.  If you followed my travels on Facebook you’ll be familiar with a lot of it, but hopefully it is useful to gather it all in one place.  My deepest thanks to everyone who made it possible, and everyone I met.  Apart from the guy who snored all night on the seat in front of me on the ferry from Mallorca to Barcelona.  Not him.  But I hope you enjoy this, and it gives you a flavour of how it was.

Sweden

My first visit was Växjö, for the Transition Sweden national conference.  It was my first time in Sweden, and Växjö is a beautiful place.  I met with some of the organisers, we went to have lunch in a former brewery that is now home to many different interesting projects (although no brewery), and in the evening was a party to kick off the weekend’s conference, in a bar in a cellar.  It was packed, and people were mingling using ‘Transition Bingo’ (“find someone who grows food”, “find someone who has written an article about Transition” etc).  I then did two sessions of being interviewed, and taking questions, which was fun.

I slept that night in a gorgeous strawbale house in the middle of the woods.

My bed for the night … a strawbale house in the forest. Clay plasters inside and out..

A ‘Where are you from?” mapping exercise.

The conference took place in a school, and brought together about 200 Transitioners from across Sweden, and further afield.  In the morning I went to visit an amazing huge community garden on the edge of the city, to do a ceremonial burying of come biocarbon, the reason for which I will discuss in a separate blog.  Great fun.  That afternoon started with a big group mapping, which was great to watch (see above).  I gave my talk, which you can see here:

After attending a workshop hearing about the work of the local municipality, I set off for the station to head to Gothenburg, my next stop.  Our base for the day was the Opera House, an amazing building with solar PV and bees on the roof.  After an interview for a blog called Klimatpodden, I did my talk (not in the big Opera House theatre, but in a small side theatre), which was followed by some fascinating discussion and conversation.

Gothenburg Opera House. Bees on the roof.

After supper with the good Transition folk of Gothenburg, I was off to Örebro.

The day started with a presentation to a breakfast gathering of local businesspeople, talking about Transition and the new economy.  After lunch I did a presentation, together with Niklas Hoberg, to a group of teachers and other people working in education.  First talk I ever did with sign language interpretation.  What an amazing skill that is…  In the evening I spoke at the University, to a big mix of students and the public, who were really engaged, and we had some great discussions.

Niklas introducing the workshop with local teachers.
Speaking to local business leaders in Orebro…

The next 2 days were in Uppsala, the Cambridge of Sweden.  It’s a University town, and a place with a long history of research on climate change.  My first day there began with a talk to about 20 people, a breakfast gathering of local businesspeople and bankers, exploring new economy ideas and Transition.

We then headed off to visit an amazing farm at Vattholma, on the edge of Uppsala.  Our hosts were Kjell (see photo below) and Ylva Sjelinand who have farmed the place for many years.  They grow organic cereals and other things too, but their real passion is perennial cropping.  They are trialling agroforestry with alley cropping of trees like Sea Buckthorn, apples and Saskatoon, planting grains in the alleys, but exploring perennial crops that could be grown.  They are working with Wes Jackson’s Land Institute to trial perennial grains, a fascinating project.

Their pursuit of carbon positive farming was really inspiring.  It was a great visit, and the warm soup they served us up after a cold, windy, rainy walk around the farm was most welcome!  On our return to Uppsala I got to visit the grave of Svante Arrhenius, one of the founders of climate science, the first person to calculate the increases in temperature that could arise from the release of large amounts of CO2.  Being Swedish, he actually thought that a 5 degree increase in temperature would be a good thing, given how it might improve the temperatures there!  We laid some coal on his grave in respect.

In the evening I gave a talk at Uppsala University, in a lecture theatre off one of the most amazing central halls I have ever been in … check out this ceiling…


Climate scientist Kevin Anderson was there (no pressure), and after the talk we had many fascinating discussions over pasta and pizza over the road.

With Kevin Anderson.

Next morning I was off to the gathering of the Uppsala Climate Protocol.  Uppsala is unusual in having a protocol signed by most of the key organisations in the city: businesses, municipalities, the university and others, which commits them to reducing their CO2 emissions.  This event brought them all together and I was their after-lunch speaker.  It is always fascinating at such events to speak to people not as people in their professional roles, but rather as people with children and grandchildren, people who know that things are really not going well, and people who are imaginative and who care.  Works for me anyway.

Being introduced to the Uppsala Climate Protocol meeting.

Next stop was Stockholm, where I was met at the station by meteorologist and member of the Transition Sweden board Martin Hedberg, who took me to visit the one place I had asked to see in Sweden, the Omnipollo brewery bar.  Martin also interviewed me for his Beyond One Degree podcast, which you can hear here, or below:

 

Omnipollo are, in the world of craft brewing, gods.  Their small bar in Stockholm is legendary.  They are renowned for their fruit beers, and for serving beers which, thanks to the use of a slushy machine, look more like icecreams.  It was great.  We had to dash to do some photos, but came back again later for another beer or two.  Very inspiring.  Great pizza too!

Outside the Omnipollo Bar in Stockholm.

Our evening stop was Jarne, a kind of Swedish Totnes, a place just outside Stockholm where there are many alternative farms, intentional communities, natural building projects, and lots of Transitioney-stuff.  The gathering here was much less formal, about 30 people in a community room, with pumpkin soup, bread and conversation.  I spoke for a while, and then we had a great conversation and sharing.  Delightful.  After saying goodbyes, it was off to the station to pick up the night train to Malmö, sharing a train with Swedish Transitioner Jan Forsmark.

We arrived, bleary, in Malmö at 6.55am, and went to the University where I gave a talk to about 200 Transition folks and students.  It was followed by some good questions, and one person who asked me to sign the notes she had taken, which were so beautiful and artistic that I had to take a photo…

Denmark

Last stop, after a drive over the bridge that separates Sweden from Denmark, was Copenhagen.  The talk in Copenhagen was mostly to students.  I was starting to feel a bit tired by this stage (as you might imagine) so I didn’t feel it was my most energetic presentation, but it seemed to go ok, and led to some great discussions.

After the talk, with Danish Transitioner Tanja Aertebjerg, I visited the Warpigs brewery bar, another craft beer pilgrimage.  Fascinating place.

After this, it was off to Mallorca and yes, I had to fly.  I will explore this in another blog in more detail.  Not happy to have to do it, but we did some very interesting things around it, and I suspect that had I taken the 4-5 day train and boat journey to Mallorca it would most likely have finished me off altogether.  Personal resilience and sustainability and all that… But look out for the following blog on the subject.

Mallorca

My arrival in Mallorca was not that auspicious.  In transit, one of the bottles of Swedish craft beer I had been gifted broke in my bag, meaning everything was soaked in some fine-smelling, rather hoppy IPA.  I arrived at 1am, and had to spend 40 minutes hand washing everything, and picking bits of glass out of my clothes.  Not ideal.

I was in Mallorca last year too, for the Educacio per la Vida conference.  Now in its 13th year, it brings together around 600 teachers from across the islands for 2 days of inspiring talks.  After last year’s event, I suggested to Guillem Ferrer, who organises it, that perhaps the format (of back-to-back talks) might be due a spot a reimagining, and over the past few months we have gone on a journey of rethinking the event.  Sophy Banks helped, and we introduced a few pieces of Transition technology to the two days.  I really salute Guillem’s trust and openness in allowing us to tinker with the format.

On the Friday there was a press conference, which generated some great press, although it oddly renamed me as ‘Bop Hoskins’.  I ask you.

Friday ended with a big event at the Camper Foundation, a beautiful old house and gardens, with Cesar, Pam, Sarah and I speaking beneath the stars, prior to a screening of ‘Demain’.

The main focus of the Saturday morning was our first activity, a group ‘mapping’ exercise in the courtyard of the church that is the event’s home.  It was rather nerve-wracking, we didn’t know until that morning that we definitely had amplification for it, and were having to think of a Plan B in case it didn’t come off.  In the end though, it worked beautifully.

With several hundred people in the courtyard, they organised themselves geographically, then in response to a few other questions.  It was beautiful to watch.  One of the translators came up to me half way through and simply showed me the goosebumps on her arm, one of the highlights of the whole tour.  Everybody seemed to enjoy the experience.

The day then included talks by me, by Sophy Banks, Juan Del Rio and Pam Warhurst.  It was a great combination of what to do and how to do it, of inner and outer, of inspired doing, and the case for reflective being (you can see the session here).  In the afternoon there was a Fishbowl exercise in which people could talk about the projects they are involved in, and the last session was Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective, who gave a great talk about craftivism, followed by an exercise in which the whole church full of people sat and stitched.  Rather magical.  I even found that I could do it, which was a bonus.

Pam, Sophy, Juan, Sarah and I skipped the morning of the second day, and instead took a tour to see the amazing terrain of the north of the island, and to have a swim in the gorgeous, clean, warm sea.  Very revitalising.  Sunday at the conference featured presentations from Esteve Humet, Joan Buades, Cesar Bonar and Teresa Forcades, as well as some wonderful videos of different education projects across the islands.  In the afternoon Teresa and Cesar spoke again, and then I did my main talk.  You can see that whole session here. 

The end of the conference.

Sophy then led a ‘reflecting in pairs on how the weekend was for you’ session, then Tomas Con Gas did a performance mixing music and spoken word, and that was that.  A wonderful event.  If you can get to it, it’s really worth the trip.  All the speakers then headed to Guillem’s home for the traditional meal to close the event, which I could only stay at for an hour as I had to catch the ferry to Barcelona.

There were no cabins available, so I had a rather restless night on one of the reclining seats, while the guy in front of me snored the whole way.  Grim.

Spain

Arriving rather deliriously un-rested at 7am in Barcelona, I had some time in a café, and then sat on Rambla del Raval and did some drawing.

My host was Felix Beltran, a member of Barcelona En Comu, and I spent the evening learning as much from him as I could about the remarkable experiment in municipalism happening there under their new Mayor Ada Colau, who once said:

“We’re living in extraordinary times that demand brave and creative solutions. If we’re able to imagine a different city, we’ll have the power to transform it.”

It was a fascinating time to be in the city, with the independence issue crackling in the air.  On the day I was there theere was great expectancy that an announcement was going to be made declaring independence for Catalonia, although it never happened.

France

The next morning I was off to Paris, spending a day travelling there by train, nearly getting my pockets picked on the Metro (he wasn’t a very good pickpocket), and arriving at my base for the night.

I was in Paris to spend 2 days at HEC, the business university in Paris that I had visited last year.  The first day there started with a meeting with engineers and others from Renault talking about the future of mobility in a great hub called ‘Le Space’, which led to fascinating discussions about local economies and resilience.  In the afternoon, a discussion about resilience indicators, what to measure and how, and at what scale.  In the evening, I was in Le Mureaux, a suburb of Paris, for an event by Vivre Les Mureaux, a Transition project there.

Les Mureaux is a suburb built to house workers in Renault/Peugeot car plants, but when they closed became run down, and home to many immigrants from Africa, with high levels of unemployment. A while ago it was in the news due to riots that took place there.  The aim of Vivre Les Mureaux is to promote the area as a tourist destination (a brilliantly imaginative concept that is opening much amazing thinking), to build international solidarity with other countries, and to reimagine employment by creating a new, more diverse economy.  It’s a bottom up initiative that already has over 600 people involved, is being supported, not run, by public bodies, and is bringing in support from many places.

Opened with music from the brilliant Senegalese singer Magou Samb and his band.  Here they are:

I spoke, sharing some ideas from across the Transition Network that might inspire what’s happening there, then the band closed it.  Fascinating discussions and so exciting what they are doing there. Then we had supper in a community kitchen run by the residents’ association, the band jamming with other singers from the neighbourhood, seeing what people are doing in that setting to build new possibilities for themselves.  Very inspiring.

With Lise (left) and Benedicte (right) and a local Mayor, in the community photographic studio in Les Mureaux.

The second day opened with a workshop at HEC about local currencies.  I spoke first, giving a roundup of Transition currencies, and what we’ve learnt so far about what works and what doesn’t.  Then Eric Mengus gave a talk on his work on local currencies, looking at them more in a wider context, of regional economics.  Then we discussed, as a case study, how a local currency for Les Mureaux might work.  A conversation rich with possibility.

In the afternoon I attended a workshop by Julien Dossier, as part of the day’s theme of ‘Cities in Transition’, an interactive workshop with a lot of people where we designed the many elements of a city in Transition.  Great fun.

The evening was the highlight, a big event with politician Amélie de Montchalin, former French Prime Minister Alain Juppe and I, chaired by Julien.  Here is the film, albeit with rather skronky sound…

Julien showed some deeply troubling slides about the current situation with climate change, including the recent outbreaks of bushfires and hurricanes.  What intrigued me was that for most of the talk, he discussed all the (excellent) actions being undertaken in Bordeaux (where he is Mayor).  At the end, in his closing thoughts (at which point it was too late to go back and discuss what he had said), he talked about how urgent the situation was, how hard it was to feel like we were doing anything like enough, and his deep concern.  I was left feeling like we had missed an opportunity for a much deeper discussion about how it is to be in a position of such responsibility and aware that what you are doing is not enough.

Next morning I travelled to Dunkerque, to Halles des Sucres, a former sugar warehouse now home to a centre for arts, education and transformation.  Dunkerque is very industrial, a port, with a long history of high carbon industries.  I facilitated a workshop with around 40 Transitioners from across the north of France.  We did a mapping activity, played with the Transition Ingredients cards as a tool for telling the story of Transition initiatives (you can download the French version here).  We had a great period for questions and reflections.

With one of my brilliant translators….

My last day started with a tour of Grande-Synthe, a city that is a neighbour to Dunkerque.  Here is an interview with me that appeared in the local paper that morning.  A city with a long history of industrialisation, it also became a place with significant social problems, with many immigrants, and 30% of the population living below the poverty line, and the highest lung cancer rate in France.  It’s a place that has planted 300 hectares of trees many of them in the cityOur host was the Mayor, Damien Careme who has done amazing work there, much of it inspired by Transition.  He’s my kind of Mayor – outside the city hall hang three flags, a French one, an EU one, and a Tibetan flag.

The Mayor Damien Careme explaining the history of Grande-Synthe.

The great community food forest we visited.

We visited some of the projects the Council have initiated: some passivhaus apartments, a repair shop, some fantastic Cuba-style apartments, the beginnings of a community-led urban food forest.  Inspirational stuff. The council has changed all the meals in schools to being organic.  They have created better cycle networks, and offer residents €200 towards buying a bike.  The visit made the local TV news, with one person saying that my visit was more exciting than if the President had come to visit!  Love how the presenter struggles with my name at the beginning:

Later in the day I gave a talk at Halles des Sucres, in a packed hall.  We started it in the lobby outside with a big group mapping with about 250 people, so they could meet other people who live around them who might be interested in Transition.  Then I spoke, and we did lots of questions.  Went really well, lots of lively people and conversations afterwards. Here is that talk…

 

That was it… off to Lille, and then, the next morning, home.

I calculated that combining all the talks meant I spoke to almost 3000 different people.  It was clearly a trip that had an impact in a number of places.  Not sure that 3 weeks of it are physically, emotionally or psychically sustainable.  I got home thoroughly exhausted.  But I met so many great people, doing so many great things, that that is real soul food.  So, thanks to everyone I met.  It was a delight to meet you.

Ah! Totnes train station! So lovely to be home…

Comments

  1. Kitty
    November 8, 2017

    So nice that you visit la “Haut” France and met the various transitionprojects popping up in France, the hospitality of Grande Synthe and the halleauxsucres was great, thank you Rob to bring the Transition spirit to these groups.

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© Rob Hopkins 2017