First things first


Tuesday, 28 April 2009

London Yields: Urban Agriculture

More info on urban food-growing - an exhibition which might be worth a visit, focusing on London's food supply, at the Building Centre near Goodge Street. If you go, why not get in touch and tell us what you thought of it? As well as the usual exhibition blurb, the website has a recording of Rosie Boycott talking at the launch.

Fill your brain

The national transition conference taking place next month in Battersea is now fully booked, but there are plenty of training courses being offered to people around conference time, whether or not they have a conference place.

You can see a list by clicking here. Have a look - there might be something that tickles your fancy. The list includes training in talks on transition, as well as a chance to hear about 'Community Supported Agriculture' for those of you interested in food-growing, or a course for teachers on how to get kids thinking about and planning the future in a positive way. For those who feel they want to understand the economic crisis and how it relates to peak oil, there is a course based on Chris Martenson's 'Crash Course', which you can also watch online by clicking here.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Calling all Transition Towns

One of our TW members, Edward Hill, is making a great offer to other Transition Towns.

Edward is the artistic brain/hands/talent behind our beautiful 'photosphere' Transition Westcombe logo - those who live in Greenwich, especially, may have seen a number of them in galleries, shops and elsewhere. Click here for Edward's website.

These beautiful 360 degree photographs appear to take a landscape or streetscape and turn them into circular panoramas - see the selection on this page.

Edward's offer is to make a photosphere for any transition town which requests one, depicting their own area - either for use as a TT logo or, if you already have a logo or have plans for one, simply as a beautiful depiction of your neighbourhood.

Edward has already had interest from other TTs and his offer is that, if he is travelling through your area and you have expressed an interest, he will stop off and work his magic for you. It's turning out to be a great way of making contact with other transition people.

What a wonderful art project it could be to have dozens of TTs represented in photospheres and collected together, every community depicted as a miniature planet emphasising the unique nature of each.

Edward says:

I am happy to donate photospheres for logos at no charge to other Transition Towns, and hope that at some point you are in a position to make some equally tempting offer to the Transition Towns in Greenwich!

If your transition town is interested, do get in touch with Edward at (replace 'AT' with '@').

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Transition makes it into the Sunday Times

Kelly W has been in touch to flag up a long feature in the Sunday Times about transition towns and urban food-growing, by John-Paul Flintoff. Thanks, Kelly. Click here to read the article. It's very positive, but also realistic, cautionary and sober in its attempts to look hard at how and whether we can feed ourselves.

Friday, 24 April 2009

The Future of our Food

A quick plug for Transition Town Brixton - they've got a public event next Thursday about 'The Future of our Food', which should be very interesting. Click on the image to see the details. TTB have a great programme of urban food-related events for the coming months.

Here's the blurb for next week's event:

Our current food system invests 10 calories of fossil energy to get 1 calorie of food energy out. We import more than 40% of our food. As oil and gas supplies dwindle this will present problems. In the city we are reliant on supermarket distribution chains, but supermarkets only hold enough food to feed us all for three days, leaving us "nine meals away from anarchy" should our imports be interrupted.

But there are ways we can help to change our food system to make ourselves more self-reliant - even in London!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Brainwave Bazaar - The Report part 3

If you missed Part 1 of our report from the Brainwave Bazaar, click here. For part 2, click here.


This table looked at how we could address our domestic energy usage, both to cut energy use to help deal with climate change, and to make us more resilient to rising fuel prices or fossil fuel scarcity.

Grants for householders - For individual households, it was thought that there are home improvement and energy grants available to those on some sort of benefit, for the purpose of doing energy efficiency work. Jon thought it was about £2,700, and would look into it further.

It was also suggested that we could collectively approach energy companies, which need to do energy efficiency work on people's homes in order to meet government-imposed obligations, and ask about the possibility of doing efficiency work on a large number of local homes, cutting the cost to company and residents through economies of scale.

Heat loss - One idea was that we could find a way of measuring the energy efficiency of local properties on a mass scale - providing information on where in the community we most need to make improvements. One method might be to hire a thermal imaging camera and take pictures of whole streets - perhaps from above, perhaps from ground level - to show where the worst heat leakage is - and those would be the properties targeted with energy advice and prioritised for having work done.

TT section in the local library - If we did persuade the local library to carry a Transition Towns section, the resources could include information for householders on the hows, whys and whats of energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency directory - TW could produce an easy-reference directory of local firms which can do energy efficiency work, including quick-win, lower-cost solutions. The National Energy Foundation apparently has a database of installers.

Eco-house - There is a demonstration eco-home in Plumstead, run by Greenwich Council - not a new-build but a retrofit of an existing property to show what can be done with existing housing stock. It was thought that there were plans to close the house down, however. Chris agreed to look into this and provide information, and to look into whether a trip to see the house could be arranged for TW members.

Renewable energy - There was some discussion about what renewable energy installations could be suitable - ground source heat pumps, solar photo voltaics, solar water heating, Combined Heat & Power and wood chip boilers all came up. The range and various pros and cons can be confusing - perhaps a talk could be arranged for local people on the options? Can anyone suggest a great speaker who might be prepared to come and talk on this?

Spare bulb swap - Some of us seem to be awash with low-energy bulbs now, with some energy companies sending freebies to their customers. If you've got more than you can use, why not offer them up for free on our Yahoo group, on Freecycle or to your neighbours? Or bring them along to Transition Drinks and swap them for a pint?


We've saved some of the best for last. When we came to reporting back at the end of the bazaar, there was obviously great enthusiasm for some of the ideas that came up at this table, with audibly gleeful little ripples of interest throughout the room.

Co-operative cafe and library - So many of the ideas that came up at the bazaar would benefit from TW having a premises of its own, and this idea was for a co-operatively run cafe-cum-library. It could cook locally produced food at a weekly event, it could stock transition-related reference material, provide a social hub, put on cooking lessons and more. An ambitious idea, but one that got people really excited. Is anyone willing to step up and start exploring how it might work and be funded in practice? (We notice there's a shop to let near Westcombe Park station, where The Cutting Room has been gutted...)

Storytelling projects - This one also seemed to generate a lot of excitement. One idea was for an intergenerational project, provisionally titled 'Sound of Westcombe' (I see Julie Andrews warbling in the gravel pits!), perhaps with the support and involvement of the fantastic Age Exchange / Reminiscence Centre in Blackheath village, tapping local older people's stories of life in the area, touching on how things were with less oil or at other times of 'austerity' and self-reliance as in the Dig for Victory days. Children and young people could get involved in collecting these stories. A sense of the area's history and community would be brought to life, and perhaps it could provide material for a play or for musical or art projects. Lucy was the ringleader for these ideas, it seemed - so, Lucy, do let us know what you think the first step could be, and do use the Yahoo group or the blog to appeal for helpers.

Garden safari - This could equally have come up at the food-growing table, or the skills swap table, but it's a lovely idea for helping people get to know others in the neighbourhood, so it fits here, too. The idea is that we have an 'open gardens' or 'open veg patch' day or 'garden safari' along the lines of the 'Open Studios' weekend, where local artists open up their studios to the public. It would be a chance for novice - or even experienced - gardeners to get inspiration and advice, it would be a great sensory experience for anyone, it could be a chance to swap seeds and cuttings, and would generally be a fantastic way to get to know your near neighbours.

Westcombe News - This idea was simply to remember to use the fantastic Westcombe News to spread the word about what we're doing and to keep up to date with what others in the community are doing. We're really grateful to Neville and the News for giving us space thus far and for showing such support. Hat off.

The Big Lunch - A rather lovely idea encouraging as many people as possible to hold a street party on the same day - 19 July this year - just for the sake of it. If you're prepared to organise one, do let us know - you find more detail at

This table managed to jot down what their overall aims were:

Objective: Community sharing and FUN

Outcomes: Feeling more comfortable between generations, increasing understanding / interaction, sharing skills and helping each other -> cohesion

First Steps: Email ideas to others within TW at first; utilizing contacts in schools, at Age Exchange etc. Lucy to action ‘Sound of Westcombe?


And that is the full report of the Brainwave Bazaar. Phew. Apologies for the delay in getting it all out here, but we can blame the number of ideas that came spilling out.

Some of the ideas that emerged have pretty clear paths to being implemented and could happen pretty quickly.

Some have names attached (thanks to those who raised hands). Others are clearly longer-term, require some good organisation and perhaps funding.

Some would benefit from us having a good, flexible website for sharing information better than a blog can, which we're working on.

Many of the ideas are up for grabs who anyone who wants to volunteer to lead on them - if you're interested in doing so, contact us here so we can help you appeal for helpers, or use the Yahoo group.

We've got some real plans to announce very soon on at least one of the ideas that came up, so keep checking back.

And thanks again to everyone who came along and contributed so enthusiastically and made the evening such fun.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Brainwave Bazaar - The Report part 2

OK, welcome to part 2 of the report of our 8 April Brainwave Bazaar. If you missed part 1, click here.


This was a very busy table and there was huge enthusiasm for finding any which way to encourage people to grow more of their own food locally and to purchase more local food.

Research pollution concerns - However, there were questions about the health impacts of consuming food grown in urban areas and whether air and runoff water pollution were something we should be concerned about. Jakki G agreed to look into this, including whether there are ways to test the suitability of soil.

Community food growing - One idea was to arrange a visit to a good example of a community market garden so we could learn more about how it works and how to set one up, and Hackney's 'Growing Communities' site was suggested. The benefit to the community? Zero food miles, spreading knowledge, community cohesion through working together and greater food security. First steps? Already under way: Caterina C has kindly getting in touch with Growing Communities to get more detail, and reports that people far and wide are seeking to replicate what is happening there - and there is the chance of workshops being run there later this year. Caterina will keep us informed about whether we can arrange an outing.

Food-mapping - This would be about creating a food map of the area which marks out local sources of food, such as fruit, nuts and berries, so that we know what we do have and we don't let it go to waste. It could be done online through Google Maps or some other application, but it would be great to produce some kind of hard copy or booklet too. It could be arranged seasonally to make a year-round guide. First steps would, we suppose, include appealing to local people to share their knowledge of where the goodies are growing and when, so perhaps we will use the Yahoo group or email to start gathering local intelligence. If anyone wants to lead on this, it's up for grabs.

Food surplus events - The mapping could simply cover food growing wild in common areas, but another version might include those trees in private gardens where the fruit goes unpicked and rots on the ground - one idea was that, with the owners' consent of course, a harvesting group could be formed to get together and pick surplus fruit, perhaps culminating in something of a harvest festival or communal baking or jam-making day.

Still on the subject of using food surpluses, some thought that enough allotment holders and kitchen gardeners tend to end up with surplus - perhaps more potatoes than they can eat themselves - and events could be held to give away or swap or sell that surplus. Other events might include seed swaps, so we don't have to fork out for seeds, or seedling swaps when we grow too many to plant out, or herb cuttings swaps.

Foraging - This was a popular idea. Suggestions included a course in recognising wild edible plants, which would allow us to add to our food map - we all know a bramble when we see one, but there is other food available for free which we might not know about. This book is good for those interested in this theme, and we should soon be able to announce a guided foraging walk led by an expert - we'll let you know as soon as we have details.

Sharing gardening skills - Many of us are new to food-growing, and there can be a lot to learn, so one idea was to explore ways in which that knowledge could be shared - for example, through a local 'Gardeners' Question Time' event, perhaps at Mycenae House or St George's, where the more experienced among us could volunteer to answer novices' queries. An 'Open Gardens' day, like Open Studios in which artists open their doors to the public, could be a way to share ideas and knowledge too.

Food market - There was enthusiasm for having a local food market of some kind, whether a stall for selling, swapping or giving away surplus from allotments and gardens, or for farmers from near London. Imogene R volunteered to enquire about using the grounds of Mycenae House. One idea was to have it at Westcombe Park railway station, perhaps as commuters arrive home at rush hour, allowing them to pick up ultra-fresh produce on their way - obviously something that would need to be explored with whichever company is responsible for the station. Leon volunteered to begin by approaching the station manager.

Community garden at Westcombe Park rail station - Thinking about what nooks of land are going unused and have potential for community food-growing, a sizeable patch of land beyond the fence of the north platform came up again and again. Cathy G agreed to look into how this might be done, first step probably to approach Network Rail.

Preserving - Crucial to the community genuinely increasing its food security and its resilience is to relearn the various methods of preserving food, so we have access to food in the lean times and the cold months. So workshops in cooking, preserving, canning, drying and pickling got the thumbs-up, with some reservation that any canning would need to have an experienced overseer to avoid any hygiene pitfalls.


A truly resilient community needs to have the skills to look after and provide for itself - not to isolate itself but to ensure that it can withstand any external shocks or supply problems. This seems to be a very topical subject at the moment, with even a Location Location Location presenter embracing 'Make Do and Mend' - how fast things have changed in 12 months.

Classes! - This was a no-brainer, really - to relearn those skills we could do with some classes. Subjects suggested included:

- Joinery / carpentry / furniture repair
- Plumbing
- Bee keeping (love it or hate it)
- Permaculture
- Repairing electrical goods / phones / PCs
- Cooking
- Redecorating and painting
- Sewing and knitting
- Repairing shoes
- Gardening
- Fund-raising / budget management

How to arrange this? One idea was to develop a 'skills map' or skills database of the area, to see what knowledge and resources we already have collectively, and to identify who is prepared to share and teach what they know with others. We can do this through the blog, through the Yahoo group, perhaps through the Westcombe News, and of course we have some great community venues here to host any skills-swap events.

Someone mentioned that Greenwich Community College has an offer of free courses at the moment, and their syllabus is packed with make do and mend subjects, so do go and explore their website

Another idea as for a LETS scheme - or Timebanking - and there was some debate about their relative merits. Some think Timebanking has ironed out some problems with LETS schemes which had put some people off. Jakki G points everyone to an interview between C4 News presenter Jon Snow and Timebank founder Edgar Cahn - click here or just google Edgar Cahn. Jakki adds: "There are several Timebanks in SE London, but they are very area/community specific, so there would definitely be room for another one, if the group wanted it. I already sent off for all the bumph if anyone would like to have a look." Thanks, Jakki.

One first step identified for all this was for Andy C to review the list and come up with some priorities, so Andy is your go-to man if you would like to get involved with anything skills-swap related.

For part 3, click here.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Free this weekend?

There is a chance, if you are free this weekend, to attend a Transition Towns training weekend in a truly stunning location - a low-impact settlement nestled in north Wales (look at these pictures and try saying you're not tempted).

You may have attended one of our Transition Westcombe events and decided you would like to get more involved in helping to propel TW along. Or you may want some guidance and pointers in setting up your own transition group elsewhere in Greenwich or beyond.

If so, that's great - and these training weekends are aimed specifically at you. They're run by the official Transition Network, and are an intense but very rewarding experience designed to equip you and support you in getting involved.

Hal, one of the trainers, writes:

We are running a course at a fantastic looking place in North Wales called Cae Mabon and some last minute places have come up. It will be residential so should be a magic experience. Please contact them directly for enquiries and bookings via their website

Please let us know at if you do decide to go on the course.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Brainwave Bazaar - The Report part 1

Thanks to all who made it to Transition Westcombe's 'Brainwave Bazaar' on 8 April. We had a turnout of about 25 people, though the hubbub that was generated might have fooled passers-by into thinking we were double that number.

I want to start off with a great comment from one of those who took part:

"I was really knocked-out by the energy & enthusiasm in that room & I believe that we have the makings of a strong, committed community. I wish that there had been more time to 'circulate, but the round-up at the end gave us a good overview of the wide interests and skills represented.I am really looking forward to being part of this developing community."

Beautifully put, and I think the feeling was widespread.

It's a tough call to organise a large and diverse group in a way that allows everyone to have their say and actually produce results, so we used the 'open space' technique. There were six tables, each with a theme or subject (based on the areas of interest you told us you wanted to pursue at our March film screening), and each with a note-taker. Participants could roam from table to table according to their interests, and move whenever they felt like it.

It sounds chaotic but it usually works surprisingly well. The notion behind it is that people at conferences and meetings tend to get more out of the coffee break nattering than from the formal business - so why not try to replicate the interest-driven, organic networking of a coffee break?

The mission was to brainstorm ideas for practical projects, to be clear about how the ideas would benefit our community if implemented and to identify, if possible, what the first step would be to making it a reality.

One development that is very important: We have a Yahoo group for Transition Westcombe now. We'd urge everyone who's interested to sign up, as it's a great way to communicate - and if you are wanting to find others willing to help you with a particular project or event, you can use the group to seek them out, as well as using it for general transition debate, planning, etc. You can join up by clicking here, and if you want to avoid inbox overload you can go to the settings and choose to receive a daily digest instead of individual emails.

So, what did we come up with? There's a lot of information, so we'll take two tables per blog post:


The objectives that were mentioned for this table were:

"Use less stuff, encourage others to re-think & change behaviour"

And the benefits to the community:

"Giving and receiving / cohesion"

Some of the ideas that came up at this table included:

Clothes-swap / swishing events along the lines of the recent one hosted at Greenwich Community College. The idea is that it is like a jumble sale but no money changes hands - and you don't bring along any old tat, but rather nice things you don't think you'll use (wrong size, perhaps) but which you'd be proud to give away. A social event that also cuts our consumption of new stuff: two dead birds.

Book exchange - This wasn't elaborated on, but it might be a localised version of book-crossing, where books are left around for anyone to pick up and then pass on after reading. Or perhaps it would be based around events, swishing style, with people passing on books they'd finished with. It might be that it is for sharing books, magazines and resources that are particularly transition-focused: the Transition Handbook, permaculture guides, make-do-and-mend titles and so on.

Repairs directory - Too often, probably, we chuck things away because we don't know how to fix them, can't think who might and it doesn't seem worth paying a tradesman when you can buy a new replacement. So this idea was for a register of local people who are good fix-its, whether in carpentry, furniture, electricals, clothes or anything else. The forum suggested for this was the TW website - and once we've evolved beyond simple blogging, this does seem like something we could do.

Freecycle - Always a popular recommendation: use Freecycle more. If you don't know of it, this is an email list where you can advertise belongings you are happy to give away. It's a huge and very active community, and you can also browse it for things others are giving away.The Greenwich group is here.

Emmaus - I hadn't heard of this, but it's a great idea: It says 'Emmaus Communities offer homeless people a home, work and the chance to rebuild their lives in a supportive environment. There are currently 19 Communities around the UK and several more in development. We rely on donations of good quality furniture and household goods from the public, which are sold in Emmaus shops.' The more we spread the word about schemes like this and Freecycle, the less excuse there is for people to chuck away and buy new, so do make a point of gossiping over the fence to your neighbour about schemes like these, particularly if you see them throwing out perfectly good or repairable stuff. Click here for the Emmaus website.

Skip-sharing - Who was at this table and can fill in what was meant by this? It sounds intriguing, but is rather enigmatic... Email and talk it up.

Age Exchange - make do and mend - This was an idea to tap the knowledge of members of the Age Exchange at the magical Reminiscence Centre in Blackheath Village (check out their tea garden if you're passing and thirsty). It would be a great way to make use of the knowledge and skills that were passed down to our older neighbours but which many younger people have never had, or not kept.

Recycle craft ideas - Presumably an idea for a group that might meet regularly, or a web forum for swapping tips.

Mors bags – otherwise known as 'guerilla bagging': this is a great idea for cutting people's use of plastic bags - and much more fun, surprising and sociable than other fabric bag schemes. The idea was for a group of people to get together with random scraps of spare fabrics and a fleet of sewing machines, have fun running up these fabric shopping bags and then hitting the streets to give them away to gobsmacked shoppers. If we could get the TW logos on each one somewhere, too, it would also be a great awareness-raising exercise. Will we see Old Dover Road awash with Mors bags? More info here.

‘Eco-fair’ - another idea for a swap shop event, perhaps monthly and this time for anything and everything.

First steps identified for this list of ideas were:

"Pool info for web-site / ideas forum / Westcombe News / posters"

That first action is done - you're reading it. An ideas forum will have to wait for our website to be developed, hopefully not too long now. Westcombe News and posters are of course essential for publicising any of these ideas. But clearly we need people to take a lead and say 'I'll organise that'.

The best way to do that at present is either:

A. Join our Transition Westcombe Yahoo group email list and use it to seek others who can help you

B. Email us so we can appeal for helpers through the blog and help with publicity


The objectives that were mentioned for this table were:

"Fresher air / Safer children & adults"

And the benefits to the community, or the desired outcome:

"Fewer cars on road; 'play street'"

Some of the ideas that came up at this table included:

- Bike and trailer sharing scheme
- Cycle maintenance - with help or involvement of Greenwich Cyclists?
- Bike routes showing safety, hills etc
- Proficiency training
- Car-sharing / shopping buddies
- Map of good cycling routes
- 'Walking school buses'
- Station safety

First steps identified were:

"Proficiency training for adults and children > Zoe Davies to investigate / Dave Sharman to contact Greenwich Cyclists"

As for the other ideas, do head to the Yahoo group or email us if you want to take one of these on and are seeking others to help.

It's important to remember a sound transition / permaculture principle, though: don't waste energy and resources on replicating things that are already being done. So if 'Dr Bike' sessions are already running, perhaps we only need to persuade them to hold an event local to us. Or perhaps there are bike maps out there already. So if you've had a great idea, first have a look around and see if anyone else has had it too.

Click here for Part 2, and here for part 3.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Bits and pieces

We held our second public event on 8 April, and had another good turnout. This one was all about the ideas of those who turned up, and there was plenty said and a really buzzing atmosphere. It is quite a job to collate what was said, so bear with us, but as soon as we are able we will post a report here. Thanks to everyone who came along and took part so enthusiastically.

In the meantime, I thought these were worth a read, and relevant to what we're trying to do:

Andrew Simms asks 'How can we begin to imagine what it looks like to live within our environmental means?'

And today George Monbiot is asking why there is no official national contingency plan in place for the effects of peak oil - and he points out that even the International Energy Agency has started revising its previously complacent projections of how much oil is left.

And, if you can get past the distractingly bouncy presenting style, this went out last night (you can still watch it on the iPlayer) and contains some items interesting for transitioners. At about 15mins in, there is a section about the local shops loyalty card in Haslemere, an idea transition towns might want to consider for themselves. A section on living roofs, and how to green London by using spare scraps of land, starts at about 18m55s. At about 24m10s there is a feature on the lovely guerilla gardener of Elephant & Castle.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Eavesdropping on the neighbours

Fascinating to see the leader of a neighbouring borough use his annual 'state of the borough' speech last week not only to criticise the culture of overconsumption - but also to list peak oil as one of the challenges ahead. Here's an extract:

Browning said “I trust in nature for the stable laws of beauty and utility. Spring shall plant and autumn garner to the end of time.” But reflecting on this turbulent past year makes one question this apparently self evident truth.

Is the global economic upheaval a wake up call about greed and over consumption or something more fundamental – perhaps our last chance to step back from the brink of disaster. It is taken as a given that what is needed is to return to the levels of growth we saw during the previous decade. But is that not to ignore the evidence that we simply cannot go on as we have done – whether it is increasing shortages of water, peak oil or global warming shouldn’t the solution be a different, more frugal way of living?

We all agree that we need to play our part in making a difference but I cannot help but wonder if we – by which I mean politicians of all parties and nations - are missing the point – marginal increases in the rate of recycling or an hour long switch off – however worthy – are mere pin pricks when what we need to do is throw out centuries of conventional wisdom and seek to eke out scarce resources by abandoning the very notion of consumerism?

Are Greenwich councillors thinking along the same lines? Are they aware of peak oil as a (the) major issue alongside climate change, and are they considering steps to prepare for its effects? Have they read the the recent report 'Preparing for Peak Oil: Local Authorities and the Energy Crisis' (pdf file)? It would be great to hear from them what their perspective is.