20 Dec 2010
Ingredients of Transition: Engaging Young People
Part of any Transition initiative practicing INCLUSION AND DIVERSITY (2.2) is the successful engagement of young people in the process. Given that Transition is about the creation of a more resilient future, then it is obvious that the people who will inhabit that world are central to the STRATEGIC THINKING (5.10) that goes into designing it. Young people can also contribute a great deal to PRACTICAL MANIFESTATIONS (3.9) of Transition.
(We are collecting and discussing these Transition ingredients on Transition Network’s website to keep all comments in one place. Please leave feedback and comments, suggestions for alternative pictures, anecdotes, stories and projects for this ingredient here).
Engaging young people in community activities and in environmental campaigning is a challenge, and not just for Transition. Yet if young people fail to engage or to see a role for themselves, Transition, in effect, has to do without the engagement of a significant sector of the community, and will also be without the energy that young people can bring.
Transition is a process of intentionally designing a more localised and resilient future for the whole community. Given that it is today’s young people who will be coming of age, starting families and building livelihoods in that world, it is vital that they are as integrated into the Transition process from an early stage as possible. There is a tension here though, as for many teenagers, these larger issues aren’t so much on the radar. I remember talking to a 17 year old girl at my local sixth form college during an exercise where students were asked for their visions of Totnes in the future as part of the creation of the Totnes and District Energy Descent Action Plan. She told me “I don’t think years into the future… only three months ahead… learn to drive, go to college, learn to drive go to college”. As one 21 year-old who wrote a comment on Transition Culture about this subject put it:
“…there is still a very natural inclination to cling to the oil-driven lifestyle. Our generation grew up with it, it’s all we ever knew. If you don’t go and read through history books, you’ll think that oil is a necessary part of human life”….
He, however, went on to initiate a Transition initiative in his community. Transition initiatives have been using a range of ways to engage and involve young people. For Joanne Porouyow at Transition Los Angeles, it is not a case of organising specific events for young people, rather “we have simply folded the young people right in as full participants in whatever the Transition groups are doing”. In practice, this includes:
- not making having children a barrier to parents participating in event, and making it OK to bring children to meetings
- getting young people to run events, for example Transition Mar Vista (in LA) offered a workshop called ‘Repurposing old clothes’ which was run by the 16 year-old grand-daughter of a member of the group, and Transition LA’s ‘Cluck Trek’, a visit to several families who keep chickens, was led by the children of several chicken-owning families.
Picking up on this idea that the young people can be the teachers, blogs can be a great way to communicate insights and experience from getting involved with aspects of Transition. During the research for this book, Gerri Smyth pointed out her granddaughter’s website, ‘My Chickens’, which she has set up to document her experiences keeping chickens. Here’s how she describes the site in her ‘About’ section: “I am Loolahs, I am 8 years old. This blog is about my chickens and what we get up to. I hope you like it”. Blogging for kids is very easy to do these days and can offer a unique perspective on Transition, as can running workshops to teach them how to film and edit their own short videos, which again offer a particular angle on Transition.
Transition Belsize in London are setting up something called ‘Transition Kids NW3’ which will offer a range of workshops and activities to be decided by the kids themselves. Initial ideas include foraging workshops, wildlife survival skills, cob building and dawn bird spotting. Also in London, Transition Finsbury Park, also in London, is working with the local primary school. They found the best time to try to engage parents and children is immediately at the end of school, especially when they are doing hands-on events. They set up an after-school food growing club, which became so popular with the kids that Jo Homan, the organiser, said that kids could only come to the group if they brought their parents as well. Running Transition events after school was also done by Transition Tynedale set up an organic vegetable stall in the school grounds, sourcing produce from a local MENCAP college, with some of the kids running the stall.
At Transition Scotland Support’s ‘Diverse Routes to Belonging’ conference in Edinburgh in November 2010, participants were invited to bring their kids, and a parallel programme of activities was run for them, organised by Sussex-based Moving Sounds. The kids organised and presented the morning’s warm-up activity, and then prepared a performance piece to show that evening. At the Transition North conference in 2009, a group of local teenagers, Ruby, Hayley, Eugene, Paddy, Adrian and Linda, through the Two Valleys Radio, spent the day of the event interviewing lots of the delegates and members of the local Transition initiatives, and then edited a voxpop piece which was presented to everyone at the end of the day.
Transition Ottawa in Canada worked with local media studies students at the local University who were set a project to make short films (under 5 minutes) to convey a powerful and practical message in order to inspire their fellow students to live more simply. They were given six topics to choose from, food, water, energy, transport, waste and simple living, and members of Transition Ottawa went in and were available to the students if they wanted to ask questions. The resultant films will be shown at Transition Ottawa events.
Even the youngest of young people can get involved in Transition! Transition Town Letchworth run ‘Transition Tots’, which meets once a month, and where parents of children between 0 and 3 get together to discuss the “trials and tribulations of sustainable parenting” and to work on TTL projects.
One of my favourite examples of engaging young people in Transition comes from Transition Newent in the Forest of Dean. Students there made the ‘Oil Memorial’, a project which featured in the Transition Network’s wiki-film ‘In Transition 1.0’. A tower was built from blue plastic barrels, onto which were fixed many items, brought in by the children, which were made from oil. The project emerged from the desire to, as Michael Dunwell of Transition Forest of Dean put it, “get people to understand all the things oil does for us. I asked the children “what’s plastic made of”, and they replied “plastic””. Looking back on the completed project, Michael said “it’s just fun, getting people involved in making something with a message … just to celebrate the incredible achievements that oil has brought for us, then to turn it into a memorial to say goodbye to it”….
In many settings you will need to make sure that anyone from your Transition initiative working in any direct way with young people will need to be CRB checked, and any institutions you work with will no doubt have child protection policies in place which will need to be observed.
Giving children a voice is an important part of the process, as is helping them to express what they already know (which is sometimes far more than adults!) This can take people who work in schools by surprise and can be strikingly accurate. Design into the activities of your initiative events and projects that engage local schools and youth clubs, and use media more accessible to them, Facebook, YouTube and so on. Try to ensure that the voice of young people is represented in the Core Group.
Connections to other ingredients
For many young people, practical activities is one good way to engage them, so ARTS AND CREATIVITY (2.8) and THE GREAT RESKILLING (3.11) are very helpful. MEANINGFUL MAPS (4.10) can also be very good for drawing out practical ideas for the future, as well as for mapping how young people see the world and what is of value to them. Teaching young people the necessary skills for RUNNING PRODUCTIVE MEETINGS (2.4) and for RESPECTFUL COMMUNICATION (1.7) are skills that will last them a lifetime. You should always be mindful though of the dangers of POST PETROLEUM STRESS DISORDER (1.1) when talking with young people about peak oil and climate change, and ensure a good balance between information and practical responses (a balance one should strive to achieve with adults too!).
Please leave any comments here.