Taking the initiative

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The Wanstead Transition Initiative is one of thousands of Transition groups all over the world. Local resident Zoe Sprigings offers her own perspective on the project and the opportunities available for the town – and world – in which we live

It all began with a walk across Wanstead Flats, where I saw an advertisement for a film screening by the Wanstead Transition Initiative. I'd just arrived in Wanstead, having moved here from central London a few weeks earlier, and I'd always been interested in community action. I was also keen to meet people in the local area. I'd already been struck by what a community spirit Wanstead had, and I wanted to be a part of it. I'd vaguely heard of transition towns – my boyfriend and I had recently visited Totnes in Devon, a town famous for pioneering the transition movement – but now was my chance to learn more.

At the first meeting, I heard about how the transition movement is a response to the reducing availability of fossil fuels, and the threat of climate change facing us all. We were shown the Pete Postlethwaite film, The Age of Stupid, which argued that urgent action is needed to tackle climate change before it's too late. It was very interesting, but the highlight of the evening was meeting local people who cared about the same things as me, although we all had different ideas about what to do. I joined the friendly group who had first proposed Transition Wanstead, and found myself welcomed into an enthusiastic and varied team, including people working in everything from psychology and consultancy to the Church and advertising.

Fundamentally, transition towns are all about creating more sustainable communities, which use less energy and draw their strengths from local links. There are as many ways to take action as there are communities in Britain. A group could get involved in serving local food in a hospital, or being a contact for elderly people in times of snow or floods, or in campaigning for more local cycle routes, or setting up a scheme to help kids walk to school.

There are so many benefits: healthier, safer and happier communities, which build connections and even save money along the way. A really powerful message of the transition movement is that, if we wait for Government to do everything, then it will be too late; if we do it on our own, then it will be too little; but if we all act together, then it might just be enough and in time. The point is that we can work together to achieve things which we want as a community, for the area we care about and know best.

Transition towns are springing up all around the UK. Totnes might be the most famous, or maybe Brixton in London, but there's even one next door in Leytonstone.

As well as feeling encouraged in my small efforts to lead a more sustainable life, I feel optimistic about what we can achieve as a community, and it's great to begin bumping into people in the street who I know from the group. I work in central London, so without this opportunity I would have carried on being a commuter and would never have really become a part of Wanstead.

The highlight so far was the event we ran last month at Wanstead House to discuss how we can save energy and money in our homes – from draught-busting to solar panels. We had more people turn up than we had provided chairs for – almost 40 – and they all brought real enthusiasm. Ideas were flying around, with everybody offering their own experience.

The evenings of planning, over shared food and drink, with the initial team have been great, but the best thing is seeing the interest in the project expand with each event we hold.

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To find our more about Wanstead Transition Initiative and how your can get involved in shaping the direction of your community, visit www.transitionwanstead.org.uk


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