Transition Towns: What lessons for Rethinking Security?

By Paul Clifford

Paul Clifford explores some of the linkages between Transition Towns, an initiative to promote local inclusion, sustainability and resilience, and the work of Rethinking Security.

Editors’ Note: At a time when the murder of George Floyd in the USA has ignited protest throughout that country and caused many of us in the UK and elsewhere to look at our own society’s divisions and fragility with greater clarity, it is crucial to recognise the institutionalised fractures that can threaten the everyday security of so many of our fellow citizens within our communities. In this blog, Paul Clifford, a member of Rethinking Security’s Council, takes a look at the Transition Towns initiative as one way we can build stronger, more resilient, more inclusive – and more secure – communities.

The Transition Towns movement

The Transition Town movement began in 2005 and the first Transition Town was established in Totnes in Devon, England the following year. A Transition Network was created, based in Totnes to encourage the growth of Transition Towns across the planet. By 2020 the approach has spread to over 50 countries in thousands of groups in towns, villages, cities, universities and schools.

The movement grew from a realisation that fossil fuels are finite and that CO² levels are life-threatening. There was also an awareness that relying on central Government was not going to provide the necessary solutions. Their response was to try and build community resilience at a local and global level and to do this required “a movement of communities coming together to reimagine and rebuild our world”. In other words, the founders understood that if we want to bring about change, we first need to know what the change is that we want to see.

The movement has been built on a number of key principles, two of which are:

1) to respect resource limits and create resilience, including the urgent need to reduce CO² emissions, greatly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and make wise use of precious resources;

2) to promote inclusivity and social justice, acknowledging that the most disadvantaged and powerless people in our societies are likely to be the worst affected by rising fuel and food prices, resource shortages and extreme weather events: to increase the chances of all groups in society to live well, healthily and with sustainable livelihoods.

There is no blueprint on how to ‘do’ Transition – each community decides for itself what its priorities are and how to go about addressing them, creating local responses to local problems through bottom up community-led action.

Both Rethinking Security and Transition Towns identify food security and energy security as issues that need addressing. Many Transition Towns encourage the growing of food locally and share the skills and knowledge on how to go about this. There are also a number of community renewable energy schemes where communities come together to provide energy for themselves and others, using, for example, micro hydro schemes or community solar schemes. Many examples of transitional activities are given on the Transition Network website.

Abergavenny’s experience

Abergavenny, a small town in south-east Wales where I live, can provide some examples of local-level initiatives. In 2012 Abergavenny and Crickhowell Friends of the Earth group and Abergavenny Climate Action called a public meeting to discuss whether people would be interested in creating a Transition Town group in Abergavenny. To our amazement 100 people turned up. We showed a Transition Network film then broke into discussion groups to talk about whether people were interested in setting up a Transition Town group in Abergavenny and, if so, what kinds of things people would like to see it do. There were lots of ideas so a ‘core group’ was formed to take things forward.

As it developed it became clear that the most useful role for the group would be to act as an ‘umbrella group’ for a number of community groups undertaking different activities. To date we have had:

  • Sustainable Energy: a Community Energy group exploring the possibility of generating electricity via  micro hydro schemes, using the energy created by the drop of water from surrounding hills;
  • Sustainable Food: a Community Orchard scheme growing predominantly Welsh varieties of apples and pears that are endangered due to supermarkets’ policy of stocking only easily recognisable varieties; and a local Incredible Edible group, growing vegetables on any available patch of ground (with permission) with the produce being available for free to anyone who wants or needs it.
  • Cycle Safety: a Cycle Users group that promotes cycling in the local area, including getting cycle ways created, a dedicated cyclists bridge over the river Usk to give cyclists safe passage rather than share use with vehicles on a dangerous narrow road bridge. They also run cycling safety courses for children and organise cycling trips into the beautiful surrounding countryside.
  • Repairing and Reusing: A Repair Cafe where people can bring items that need repairing, like electrical goods or clothing, and suitably qualified volunteers mend them for free if they can. While people wait they can have a cup of tea and cake and socialise with others. This encourages people not to throw things away but get them repaired if they can.
  • Housing: We have ad hoc groups that participate in County Council consultations on planning issues and housing provision to try and ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing so that young people, particularly, are not forced to move away because they can’t afford to live in Abergavenny.
  • Food Justice: a ‘Just Food’ group that deals with matters of food security and food justice. They organise a fringe event at the annual Abergavenny Food Festival, which attracts well-known speakers to talk on issues such as food sustainability.
  • Community-building: There is a ‘Community Canteen’ which meets monthly to provide a low cost organic vegetarian meal (with food bought from a local farm) for around 70 people. Volunteers design the menu and prepare and cook the food. There is musical entertainment and money is raised for a variety of good causes.

The future direction of the group will be decided by its members and we believe ‘anything is possible’ if people have the commitment to make it happen.

We are also part of the wider network of Transition Towns in Wales and beyond. There are two other Transition Town groups in Monmouthshire, in Monmouth and Chepstow, and we meet with them and the County Council to discuss common issues. We learn from the experience of other Transition Towns through training and the Transition Network website.

Locally led change

The political context in the UK may make it difficult for groups like Rethinking Security to have the impact that they seek with national institutions in the current term of parliament. An alternative is for us to organise locally and in an internationalist way with like-minded people in other countries, fostering bottom-up community-led activities as the Transition Town movement does.


This Blog was written by Paul Clifford and edited by Andrew Rigby and Richard Reeve.


The views and opinions expressed in posts on the Rethinking Security blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the network and its broader membership.

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