Romsey: a Transition Town

PUBLISHED: 18:13 14 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:02 20 February 2013

The first community orchard was planted last November at the Memorial Park with seven damson or greengage trees (one for each of the churches).

The first community orchard was planted last November at the Memorial Park with seven damson or greengage trees (one for each of the churches).

Many towns across the UK are taking their environmental responsibilities seriously by becoming Transition Towns. Leading the way here in Hampshire is Romsey – as Carole Varley discovered

More and more UK towns are becoming aware of their environmental impact and are joining the national Transition Towns initiative - but do you really think these schemes make a difference?

It all started with plastic bags: blocking the drains, clogging up the waterways, piling up in the landfill sites and harming wildlife. So, keen to see an end to it all, 18 months ago community nurse Margaret Hobbs, from Romsey, started a Better bags for Romsey campaign to make people aware of the problems and to find a better, more sustainable way of carrying home their shopping.
The campaign succeeded in raising the profile of the issue and changing popular opinion and proved that individuals could make a difference so, for Margaret, getting involved with the Transition Town initiative was something worth doing as a follow-up campaign. Thus Romsey was catapulted in to becoming one of the pioneers of what has been described as a social experiment on a massive scale.

Making a difference
The idea behind the Transition Town movement is simply that if people come together as a community to do something about the problems of climate change and the worlds diminishing oil reserves they start to make a difference. With a plethora of positive ideas for low-carbon living, the plan is that people in Transition Towns move, over a period of about 10 to 20 years, from a high-carbon economy to a low one.
The first seeds of the movement were planted in 2003 by teacher Rob Hopkins who, while lecturing on sustainable living in Kinsale, west Cork, drew up with his class an energy action plan to address the twin problems of climate change and peak oil. This was adopted as a policy by the local council and from this small acorn has grown a sprawling tree which now has hundreds of branches all over the world. The UK got its first Transition Town in Totnes, Devon, about four years ago, but others are rapidly following suit everywhere from El Manzano in the perhaps rather appropriately-named Biobio region in Chile, to the fictional Ambridge, home of Radio 4s The Archers family. And, of course, Romsey.

Leading the way
There are a lot of things going on here, says Margaret, who along with some 12 other people of all ages from their early 20s upwards, is a member of the groups steering committee. Already they have lots of different groups and sub-groups going on, in which people are working towards a more sustainable future, and new ones are being set up all the time.
Like the Arts Group, for instance, which held an event before Christmas where they brightened up a rather gloomy corner of the town, in Dukes Mill Shopping Centre, with a Christmas tree glittering with decorations made out of recycled material, and covered with pledges from people promising to be more sustainable in the future, as well
as a display of artwork by local schoolchildren on the theme
of the environment.
It was a really nice event, says Margaret, and is a good example of the kind of ways in which the group is hoping to get its message across.
Well need to think very positively to live our lives using lower energy, says Margaret. This future is going to be forced on us anyway, so we should start tackling these two immense challenges straight away. People have got to start thinking of different ways of doing things. There are umpteen watermills in Romsey, for instance, that we could made use of. That is the message of transition. Lets use our resourcefulness, look at the methods that worked in the past, and think of new ones to conserve the planet for the future. Lets do things in a better, cleaner, more resourceful way. Our only worry in transition is that people will start when its too late.

Taking the initiative
To hurry things along, with their Energy Descent Action Plan, the group is hoping to get through to people about using their cars, to get them to consider the other options, like creating more cycle paths and using the pavements. People did so in the past, and in this way they were so much more connected to the community, says Margaret. Its all very much about making connections in the community. We need to look at each other and build on the existing networks that we already have, she says.
One very transition-type activity , in conjunction with Age Concern, involves providing volunteer gardeners for the vegetable patches that residents can no longer manage, or in houses with large gardens where the owners dont have the time. We are trying to set up garden shares, for instance, where people with big gardens can team up with flat-dwellers to grow things and share the proceeds. So far this has been quite successful and we got seven sets of people together last year, says Margaret.
And everyones a winner, including, of course, the environment, as the locally-grown seasonal food avoids burning up the air miles. Other initiatives by the Romsey Food Group include a campaign, being held in conjunction with the local paper, to Eat Local Wednesday, to encourage the regular supply of locally-produced food in shops, restaurants and cafes.

An apple a day
In another project with the Churches of Romsey, the Friends of the Memorial Park and Test Valley Borough Council, the first community orchard was planted in November at the Memorial Park with seven damson or greengage trees (one for each of the churches). It was so successful that now the groups are planning a much bigger orchard at Botley Road Recreation Ground.
We have achieved quite a lot, agrees Margaret. Its early days, but we do have a sense of urgency. We really have to get on with it if we want our children to have a planet to inherit.
Its perhaps this positive and enervating attitude in taking on the challenges of the 21st century and offering up new and exciting ways of community living that is giving the Transition Towns movement its momentum. It is, however, very much a grassroots movement, and while it is really good to encourage people to do something from the bottom up and get them thinking about what they can do and get their friends to do as well, Margaret does admit that she would like to see more leadership from central Government over the issues.
Being a marginal seat, she is hoping that in the forthcoming election, politicians will actually be forced to listen to what people want and give realistic answers when asked, What are we going to do about climate change?
In Romsey, at least, they have got plenty of ideas.

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