Day 142: Totnes – Transition Town Isabel

I was put in touch with Isabel Carlisle by a mutual friend, and last year when my travels took me to Devon she invited me to meet her at her home in Totnes. Over a delicious homemade lunch, she told me about her recent move to the town and her work in eco-literacy. She also gave me a wonderful little book that I have here with me on my boat: “Perseverance”, by Meg Wheatley. When UncaDoug brought up the topic of transition towns, I thought that Isabel would be the perfect person to give us the insider’s view.

It’s funny how life happens. I didn’t plan to move to Totnes at all. I came down for a meeting at Dartington (the big estate just outside Totnes) in June 2010, just when I was selling the family flat in London. Out of curiosity I got onto one of those websites for people looking for houses and tapped in how many bedrooms I wanted, the price, the location etc. and whichever way I searched this house called Monks Retreat kept coming up. So I phoned the estate agent on the Monday, made an appointment to see it on the Wednesday, took the train down to Devon on the Tuesday, saw it and thought “yes, I can see my life working here”, and made an offer on the Thursday which was instantly accepted. And it was the first house I looked at anywhere!

So now I live in Transition Town Totnes in a beautiful 3-year-old eco-house made of green oak which upstairs looks like a medieval barn with great curving beams held together with wooden pegs. I have rainwater harvesting, a wood-burning stove, a solar porch, masses of light from top windows and great insulation. Every day I think how incredibly fortunate I am and give deep thanks that life brought me here. I also ponder on the fact that my immediate neighbours are the towering red sandstone church on one side and the Co-Operative supermarket on the other. I am poised between the old (15th century) and the new (late 20th century) and somehow think that the church will outlast the supermarket and I’ll live to see the supermarket car park turned into a garden for growing food.

One of the features of Totnes, until only 20 years ago, was that it had market gardens right on the edge of town. There were rows and rows of glasshouses and they even grew exotic fruit that we now import from abroad as well as flowers that they sold in their shop on the High Street. They didn’t compete with local farmers who could grow crops like potatoes, they complemented them with the food that needed more effort to grow, like green beans. Fertiliser came from the pigs kept for the local bacon factory and the local schools took their food scraps to feed the pigs. That satisfying no-waste closed-loop local economy is a key to resilience.

Here in Transition HQ (Totnes is where it all started and is still the seed bed for new Transition models) we think and talk and act resilience. How will we as individuals, as communities, as wider societies be impacted by the triple challenges of climate change, the end of cheap energy and economic contraction? If you came to visit you would see some food growing down by the river (which people can help themselves to for free) and solar panels on roofs (part of a government-funded scheme called Transition Streets). What you wouldn’t see are all the connections, the relationships and the energy that are going into preparing for a post-oil future. Around the world there are now more than 750 Transition initiatives in 34 countries involving many thousands of people.

My own role is looking at what education for a Transition future might be. As sure as anything the future that young people and children are currently being educated for in this country is not the future that is approaching. So we are developing guidelines for a Transition School and designing a one-year learning journey for young people aged 18 to 25 who want an apprenticeship model of learning practical skills as well as the knowledge and inner leadership that will serve them and others in the bumpy ride that we all face ahead. My key guiding principle is that nothing will be planned without including young people in that process. And my current question is “How can we create an international network of young people who are collaboratively designing the education they need for a Transition future? If you have any ideas, let me know!”

Here is my favourite quote of the moment. It comes from Anatol Rappaport (he was a mathematical psychologist at the University of Toronto last century): “The moral development of a civilisation is measured by the breadth of its sense of community”

Isabel Carlisle lives in Totnes, Devon, and is heading up a new education strategy (for ages 5 to 25) within the international Transition Town movement. This will create an inspiring home for youth action on sustainability and develop blueprints for learning that will be freely shared. You can email her on: isabelcarlisle@transitionnetwork.org, follow news of Transition in Rob Hopkins’ blog and visit the Transition Network website.

Isabel Carlisle

Business: 01803 847 976

Imagine what a world of prosperity and health in the future will look like, and begin designing for it right now. What would it mean to become, once again, native to this place, the Earth – the home of all our relations? This is going to take us all, and it is going to take forever. But then, that’s the point. (Braungart and McDonough 2009, p.186)

You can see ROZ’S ROUTE here. Each dot links to the blog from that day. 332.67 nautical miles to go.

Other Stuff

Good progress today. The forecast shows a period of relatively stable conditions with moderate winds. This suits me just fine. You can keep your lousy 30+ knots, I’m happy with 15. Definitely one of those cases where less is more, and more is too much.

The birds have started calling to each other. This is something that I’ve noticed before: in the middle of the ocean the birds are silent, but once I get within several hundred miles of land they become more vocal. Nobody has been able to offer me a reason why, but I don’t really care. It’s just nice to have a sign that I am drawing ever closer to land.

Quote for the day: “Happiness leads none of us by the same route.” (Charles Caleb Colton)

Sponsored Miles: David Church, Jonathan Frankel, Linda Leinen, James Gale, Doug Grandt, Joan Sherwood, Noah Hawk, Michael Guy, Mark Gleason, John Miller, Sally Angel. Those whose numbers are higher than Roz’s mileage: Cassandra Wilson, Molly McCallum, Stephanie Batzer, Nick Perdiew and Nicola Tsang. Grateful thanks to all.