Oct. 26, 2012
Transition Time for Randwick
It was a bit of a squeeze to get into the room at the Barrett House sustainability and community centre in Randwick. People sat on all of the available chairs and on the floor. They stood in the doorways and in the kitchen alcove. It was, you might say, crowded.
Perhaps numbers are auspicious. If so, Transition Randwick (http://www.facebook.com/TransitionRandwick) is off to a lively start. But those numbers mean something else too—they are testament to the power of social media for it is through that channel that most of those present learned of the first meeting.
The In Transition movie was shown. It's something of a motivating retrospective of the transition movement and something of an ideas-fest as well. It's probably a bit too long to show at such events but it served its purpose well and people stayed on for it. On the way home Fiona and I discussed how it could be shown in shorter, theme-related segments as a conversation starter for learning circle conversations as it is conveniently divided into discrete sections.
Not the usual lot..
With the overlap of transition, permaculture, community gardening and community food system involvement, you tend to see the same faces at different events. Not exclusively, for there's always new faces—just commonly. For sure, there were a few familiar faces at the first Transition Randwick gathering, people like Transition Bondi's Lance Lieber and his lawyer partner, Beatrice, as well as others. But what was refreshing were those not within the orbits of those social groups... people from 'outside' who just might get 'inside' Transition Randwick.
It's one thing to launch a new social initiative and it's another to sustain it. There was no opportunity to discuss structure at the meeting, and that's good because such things need to come from the participants rather than from those who have trod this path before.
I've come to the belief that starting to do something is what's needed—the rest, the formal structure and the like, can come when it's ready. With considerations of group and individual capacity in terms of time, knowledge and experience, taking considered action can give the initial momentum that new initiatives need to boost them over their start-up phase.
One of the participants grasped this idea when he suggested that what was needed, first-up, was a project. Potentially, this would provide that needed oomph to launch the new organisation and it would avoid the pitfall of paralysis by analysis into which new organisations can all-too-readily tumble and get trapped. Anyone familiar with systems thinking will recognise what I am saying as reinforcing the idea of the critical importance of starting conditions. That is what sets pace and direction, and what better way than a project to dip the group's toes into as a tasty starter?
My hope is that Transition Randwick becomes more than a group focused on food gardening. That's good and interesting but it is already done by other organisations and what we need, and what transition ideas are really directed at, is something more sophisticated and ambitious... something more of a whole systems thinking approach that acts on the broad swarth of things critical to a sustainable urbanism—urban energy and water, landuse and food systems (not just gardening), transport and placemaking. These are the real foci of transition groups.
I guess what I'm getting at is that Transition Randwick, in common with other transition groups, needs to identify and then act on its point of difference to allied, community-based initiatives like permaculture and community gardening. If it doesn't then it has no leading edge to offer to imaginative and civic-minded people. It would have little to differentiate itself from what other groups are already doing.
Transition Bondi, the geographically closest transition group to Randwick, long ago found its own point of difference in community education. Its Wednesday evening gatherings, following the Sydney Food Connect weekly organic food box distribution, are well attended and quite diverse in content.
Perhaps Transition Randwick needs something different rather than cloning what has proven successful in other places. Defining this will take time and discussion, but that's an important discussion and what comes out of it will, hopefully, be something that participants feel is relevant to life in the Randwick area.
Using what exisits..
It was interesting that two of the women who attended the first gathering came seeking ideas to start transition groups in their own suburbs—one in Marrickville and another at Ashfield. With the umbrella services provided by Transition Sydney, of which Transition Bondi is a member, starting local groups is made simpler.
Transition groups avoid reproducing useful things that already exist. So it is that the Transition Randwick crew can avail themselves of Randwick Council's skills-training courses in community leadership, organic gardening, collaborative community economy and the Living Smart course, essentially a skilling-up-for-power-down skillset of the type favoured by transition participants.
That the first Transition Randwick meeting took place at the 3-Council's Barrett House immediately after Rhubarb Food Co-op had their weekly organic food box collection there, provides a pointer to the success of setting up the facility as a community centre around the practice of sustainable urbanism. Transition Randwick joins other community users such as Randwick Community Organic Garden, CASES Climate Action - Sydney Eastern Suburbs, BIKEast and council's workshops in collaborative economy and other topics.
There is now an idea of starting a 'jelly' - a co-working space at Barrett House, one for community groups and another for sole traders who would benefit from the presence of other creative minds.
Transition Randwick—it's a new star in the firmament of Sydney's Eastern Suburbs and one that, hopefully, will travel far.
Story and photos by Russ Grayson, April 2013, graphic courtesy Les Robinson