Am I the only Transitioner on the Web writing about the anti-Transition campaign in Totnes? I find it all disturbing but enlightening too. The campaigners posted a set of questions to Transition Town Totnes (TTT). TTT posted them on their web site, however their answer was only to list all their contributions to Totnes life. We thought it would be interesting to actually answer those questions in this article.
Why is nobody talking about this? Is it seen as simply a local problem with no wider implications? Are Transitioners embarrassed? If so, why? Maybe the campaign is viewed as something for a minority of malcontents and the best thing to do is to ignore them? If you think that, think again. Certainly Totnes FM is covering the story but are doing so in an unprofessional manner. Theirs’ is the school of sensationalist journalism. But it appears to be all we have. Nobody, who matters, are talking. I would hate to think that we are witnessing a form of self-censorship? Is the issue so tainted that we don’t want to offend anyone? If that is true then I would be saddened. This is not the Holy Catholic Church. This is Transition. A social experiment that should be able to reflect and celebrate failure. Looks to me like heels are being dug in.
So – to the campaigner’s questions. To save space we will paraphrase the question. We might group some issues together and will also omit anything to which we cannot comment, ie things that are personal matter or pertain only to Totnes. To see all the questions go to www.transitiontowntotnes.org/2012/11/response-to-david-parsley or (if they remove this link) then I have a copy I downloaded for reference. Just ask.
1) Who made Totnes a Transition Town? We can’t comment for Totnes Town Council but nothing makes any community a “Transition” anything. It is a grassroots movement stemming from within the community. Those volunteers organising must meet certain criteria to be counted officially as a TT but this is not a high hurdle. It only suggests some level of organisation rather than simply aspiration (called “mulling”).
2 & 3) Does Transition have links to the Green Party? No, none. Individual members can have whatever political beliefs or membership they desire. For example: one co-founder of Transition Marlow is a Town Councillor for the Conservatives. Political Parties can endorse Transition but it can’t work the other way.
4) Is Transition a Political organisation? No. See the answer above. Transitioners have become councillors but there is no “Transition Party” unless it has party hats, streamers and little cocktail sausages.
8) Where was Transition founded? Curious question. The idea formed in Kinsale in Ireland but Totnes was the first Town to adopt the idea officially.
9) Is it true that Rob Hopkins homes burnt down in Kinsale? Funny question! We googled it and found no reference to this online whatsoever. It appears to be a rumour dreamt-up to suggest that Rob was drummed out of Kinsale for sorcery or something. He was actually a permaculture teacher at the college there.
11) Was the NoToCosta petition passed to other Transition Town groups for signature? The petition was available to anyone to sign and Transition Towns would have been aware of it through online social media. We have little doubt that lots of people outside of Totnes signed it.
12) Was Transition money spent on the NoToCosta campaign? TTT is a charity so its accounts are available for download online. Totnes FM did this and could only find a curious amount donated by Vodaphone which they whipped up into a story. So we assume no Transition money was used against Costa.
13) How much time did Transition volunteers spend on the NoToCosta campaign? Volunteers spend their time doing all sorts of voluntary jobs for things in which they believe. Certainly many Transitioners also worked on the NoToCosta campaign. Should TTT have ordered their volunteers NOT to do this? How could they have stopped them?
14) What is the Transition Town definition of a “chain store”? A really pertinent and interesting question! What a grey area! What if a small independent High Wycombe-based shop like Local Roots chose to open a shop in Totnes? Would that count? This is the reason we welcomed Hobbycraft to High Wycombe. We need to consider this on a case-by-case basis.
We conclude that the Take Back Totnes campaigners have raised some interesting questions. Most of the questions appear to be digging into the specific funding of, and beneficiaries of, specific TTT activities. The campaigners are looking for evidence of corruption. Well, they can keep digging. We doubt there is anything there. To their discredit TTT have not answered these questions publicly and they should. It is about transparency. It looks like TTT might have something to hide. Outsiders will feel excluded and will look like TTT is a private club – worse – in Totnes the campaigner’s are implying that it is like the Free Masons with undue influence over public life.
TTT’s response was thus:
“…we stand by our record. Our goal is to build resilient, local and low carbon communities generated from the grassroots by local residents. As a charity, we are fully compliant with Charity Commission requirements and our accounts are fully audited by local accountants…”
They went on to state this:
“Transition Town Totnes is a local success story and remain committed to catalysing a culture of resilience and entrepreneurship while supporting local business through a variety of means, understanding that it is they who create the glue that holds the local economy together in uncertain times. [..] Please come and visit – our doors are open.”
Amen to that!
Whilst preparing this piece I spent a bit of time looking at the Take Back Totnes Facebook page www.facebook.com/TakeBackTotnes as well as the Totnes FM website to see the other side of this debate. Despite the poor journalism and initial anger the matter seems to have settled into a period of measured debate. This is healthy.
We lifted this comment from the TakeBackTotnes Facebook page that probably best represents their concerns:
“We celebrate the alternative and diverse community Totnes has become. However, we do not believe those who choose to live in our wonderful town should impose their idea of the rural idyll upon the vast majority of local people. These ideas are creating long term damage to the local economy and the town’s reputation.”
We recommend you read the rest of that comment on the Timeline from 27th October. There was genuine heartfelt anguish there and a chorus of people backed it. This is another good quote:
“We are in danger of forcing these good local people to spend their money elsewhere as a town centre of charity stores, gift shops and cafes is of little use to people looking to live their everyday lives. We need a town that serves its people, not the interests of a few who have the time to sit and pontificate all day long…”
“Do we want a clone town? Of course we do not. But we do want a town that is of use to its local residents, and one that is economically robust. It is impossible to support the independent stores in our town centre if we cannot buy the basics of life there. What is required is a balanced approach to our retail and business mix. We have had chain stores in Totnes for decades, but no one claims we are a clone town already.”
“TakeBackTotnes is not an organisation that disagrees with all of the aims of TTT or stated policies of our local politicians. Indeed, TakeBackTotnes shares many of the aims of these groups. We believe passionately in creating a sustainable future for our town and our local economy. We praise TTT for its successful Transition Streets project, bringing sustainable and low cost energy to many homes in the area. However, we also believe TTT stepped beyond its fundamental remit to promote alternative energy use by claiming to represent all Totnes in its fight against Costa Coffee and promoting a false image of Totnes to the national media.”
These are powerful words. Powerful feelings and well articulated. These are not internet trolls looking for an online version of a Saturday night punch-up. The future for Totnes lies in the hands of both groups and they should be joined together. Much of the disagreements are probably misunderstandings resulting from a lack of communication or too much group-think. But they are not poles apart. TakeBackTotnes probably want a future for Totnes that is not dissimilar to the future for High Wycombe that TTHW is working on. This is probably not much different from that of the High Wycombe Business Improvement District Company and other local organisations. It is a shared vision of which Transition is just one segment. There is more to unite us than divide us.
We will continue to follow the story to see where it goes.