Designing a regional support structure for local sustainability groups

Local voluntary groups such as Transition initiatives can do excellent work to develop projects around local food, renewable energy and more. But what kind of network and support structure can help them to thrive?

I took part in a really engaging one-day workshop at Graceworks in Leicester on Saturday 17th June that explored that issue. The workshop was led by Richard Couldrey (conducting Masters research on this topic) and Mike Thomas (from the Transition Network). Our workshop focussed on the East Midlands, with people attending from Transition Leicester, Transition Lincoln and groups in Melbourne, Chesterfield, Belper, Horncastle, Loughborough, Market Harborough and Nottingham.

The discussion around what enables and holds back grassroots action brought up a lot of familiar themes, such as the challenge of recruiting volunteers, of good group dynamics making or breaking voluntary projects and how a supportive local authority can be a great help.

Five main themes emerged around what a regional support network might do: linking out to other organisations (either other sectors or on a national/international scale); sharing stories (case studies and otherwise); sharing resources and knowledge; staying connnected; using a Permaculture, systems-thinking ethos to design the network.

My lightbulb moment during the day was about the concept of social learning. That is, I see sharing resources/knowledge/stories and staying connected as two sides of the same coin, in that they are done through relationships and interaction of some sort (whether face-to-face or online). You could call this ongoing process social learning.

As someone looking to support social learning for sustainability in Leicester and the wider region, this reaffirms for me the value of organising face-to-face get togethers and online learning spaces.

Interestingly, we all agreed that catching up was valuable, and yet without the initiative to do so coming from the outside (from the Transition Network), it wasn’t on anyone’s to-do list to organise. I left with the intention of contributing to that “convening” role locally, through this blog and events at DMU.