14 Apr 2008
Funders Tell Transition Forest of Dean and Local Authority “You Need to Work Together”
Here is an amazing story from the Forest of Dean, sent to me by Sue Clarke, which tells the story of some amazing developments taking place there. It demonstrates how seriously the Transition approach is being taken at high levels, and how effective focused action can be. It will be very exciting to see where it all goes and what happens next, and many thanks for Sue for sharing this wonderful story with us.
After 10 months of actively networking with the local district council and trying to break into the circles of an existing local strategic partnership (with marginal success), Transition Forest of Dean adopted a new, more bold approach that certainly seems to have accelerated progress.
We’d been attending and actively making contributions to all council and LSP meetings to which we were invited, (or which were open to the public). Our approach had been positive and cooperative and we went along with the established system. However, engagement was pretty much one way and we seemed to be being conveniently pigeon holed as just another green/environmental group. To be honest we had begun to feel our voice wasn’t given much credence.
This was clearly evidenced last December when out of the blue our LSP circulated a draft expression of interest for possible local action group funding from our regional development agency (SWRDA) leaving little time for consultation/contribution and, despite listing several local partners, and the brief being well matched to our activity to date, omitting to mention Transition as a partner. We were seriously gutted and, with time especially short in the run up to Christmas, felt little point in responding.
A couple of days later we were approached by our local energy agency suggesting that, if we could assemble enough evidence of support, they would partner us in submitting an expression of interest ourselves. The deadline had been extended to early January.
Time was still short and the steering group split over whether it would be a good move. We revisited the brief and found a clear match. Could we get enough support? That really was the deciding factor. A quick email was circulated to public, private and community organisations with whom we had started to network. In the week between Christmas and New Year we received written support from 12 key respondents including the WI, the Environment Agency, the council officer responsible for climate change, the Member with portfolio for economic regeneration, as well as important local business groups and a number of small agricultural enterprises. We took the plunge and wrote a Transition based EoI, submitting it half an hour before the deadline. It felt the right thing to do, regardless of what came next.
The potential funding was not the main driver here, but the desire to bring the important issues, that were being overlooked, clearly to the table. We also believed our knowledge, expertise and broader community representation would positively strengthen’s SWRDA’s oppinion of the Forest of Dean’s potential. Initially the LSP team were taken aback, but our EoI was well supported, well written and certainly credible. Added to that was the extremely short turnaround – we had at the very least commanded some respect.
The funding programme is a competitive process and the feedback made it clear that two bids from the same area would not be successful. Individual feedback recommended to both parties that cooperative development of a joint bid should be encouraged, whilst also pointing out that Transition had a significant role to play. This placed us in a strong negotiating position – for the LSP to have any chance of success, Transition had to be fully on board. After a show of team strength and standing our ground on the most important issues ( in a couple of quite testing meetings) I am pleased to say we have managed to influence the overall direction of a joint bid which we now feel comfortable supporting.
The timing of the release of the Transition Handbook and some recent national and regional policy developments made it clear that we were not just a mad fraction, but part of a growing movement that is well informed, innovative and committed to positive change to the benefit of all. It went a long way to supporting our objectives in a way that clarified our Transition vision to the LSP team. In a further timely development we also managed to book both Richard Heinberg and Megan Quinn to speak in the Forest of Dean at the end of March. A standing room only audience of around 250 reinforced the support for our community action.
Our revised joint bid (led by the LSP but based on a new structure and themes which we proposed) will, if successful, facilitate funding for the types of project ideas that are developing as part of our Transition activity). The bid process is still highly competitive and we may not be successful. And even if we are, it is unlikely to result in direct funding for Transition Forest of Dean per se. However, the events of the last few months can only be described in terms of huge progress that we would not have achieved had we continued along the established liaison route. Cooperative working is now a real possibility.
Our advice to others – if an opportunity arises and it feels strongly like the right thing to do, do some research to see what factual basis there is for that decision and what other support you can muster. If it still feels right (and positive!), be bold and go for it. In our case we had little to lose and a lot to gain – in particular a stronger voice from the grass roots up. After all we aren’t a lobbying group asking for something to change. We are part of the change itself.