Reflections on 5 years of REconomy, and a goodbye

Published on June 29, 2015 in Blog
This is one of the last blog posts I will be writing in my role as coordinator of the REconomy Project for the Transition Network. After 5 years of deep involvement in shaping and delivering this work, from the autumn I will be shifting my attention to a new Transition project.

I’ll tell you more about that later, and will explain who will be holding REconomy for the Transition Network and how important the project continues to be for them. Meanwhile here are my thoughts and feelings on my time with this project. I’ll also link to the blogs and interviews from the REconomy theme that’s been running over May & June.

A potted history

Based on a proposal put to the TN board, I started raising funds for work in this area back in 2010. At that time our thinking (we were a small team of Transitioners with a business background) was around setting up a consulting and training practice aimed at helping existing businesses to Transition, and we developed some services like the Energy Resilience Assessment.

In a nutshell, despite some promising pilot work and much effort by some in the team, this went nowhere and I have blogged about the learning from this ‘failure’ previously, and how from these ashes the ideas for the current REconomy Project began to emerge. It became clear that our role is to help build the capacity of Transition groups to bring about their own economic transformation.

In 2011 we kicked off the REconomy Project with a 2 day event with 10 Transition Initiatives (TIs) from the UK, and some like-minded organisations. We were asking ourselves what kind of economy we wanted, where it was already emerging, and how to bring more of it into being.

Fast forward to June 2015, and now there’s over 30 TIs in the UK busy with some kind of REconomy activity, and 10 other countries are exploring how their Transition national hub can support REconomy in their own context.

REconomy has now become more deeply embedded in the Transition model, though not all TIs choose to head in this direction by any means. Here are 4 short videos where Rob Hopkins and I give you some basic info about REconomy.

What’s happening now in the UK

In the UK we have been supported over the years by a number of great funders, currently the Friends Provident Foundation and the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation are enabling our programme of work until 2017. This is helping us produce practical guides for community-led economic change; run regional events and support local ones; and develop a database of investors and funders for Transition Enterprises (coming October 2015).

At the leading edge of REconomy activity, and building on their previous Economic Blueprint work, we’re working with Transition Towns Totnes & Brixton who are supporting 20 new enterprises to explore new models of community-supported enterprise. Other groups including Buxton have created their own Economic Blueprint or are in the process.  More commonly, TIs like Linlithgow in Scotland and Penwith in Cornwall are just beginning on their REconomy journey. Some places are starting with a new local currency like Exeter and others are (nearly!) winning awards for their enterprises like the Crystal Palace Food Market.

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And around the world

In 2013, the Transition national hubs of Belgium Reséau Transition Wallonie-Bruxelles, Croatia, ItalyLatvia and the Netherlands joined forces with us in the UK to explore what REconomy might look like in each country. A year later the national hubs of Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Portugal and the USA joined the project, in part informed by the experiences and processes of the first group of hubs, but also forging new directions of their own.

Everyone agreed to produce a high level proposal exploring how REconomy type activity might be initiated and/or supported by their national hub. They also staged at least one REconomy event to gain input from a range of Transitioners, and similar organisations. Each hub also found at least 5 examples of Transition Enterprises relevant for their country, and created a small set of case studies.

We hoped this approach would: (a) help each of the hubs begin to create a viable strategic approach for REconomy, which can also be used in funding bids; (b) build a peer support group to help us all shape and deliver our plans; and (c) give insight into common themes, as well as differences, at the national level such that the Transition Network can better support the work of the hubs.

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What touches me about REconomy

So this all feels good and lots has happened thanks to amazing people everywhere, but this doesn’t yet capture the ‘juice’ that’s in REconomy or the feelings I have about it. What I’ve loved the most are the more intangible things around this work…

The appeal – talking about new local enterprises and better livelihoods appeals to just about everyone, unlike climate change, the state of the planet, peak oil and so on. REconomy seems to be bringing a new audience and wider appeal to Transition through something that perhaps more obviously directly impacts them, their family and where they live, here and now. Ask people “what work would you really love to do, if you could” and see their eyes light up with possibility.

The global connection – our international REconomy group meets online with webcams. Every time I am thrilled at the chance to speak directly with fellow REconomists around the world in real time, across different time zones, hemispheres and weather systems. Regardless of what we say, just this connection seems to represent something about Transition that’s truly awesome, the global connection of people working and caring at the local level to transform their community – and how amazing technology is to enable things like this (picture of our online meeting, from top left Steffi from Germany, me from UK, Marissa from USA, from bottom left Raul from Mexico, Annelike from Portugal and Monica from Brazil).

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The potential – Rob Hopkins recently summarised beautifully some of the paradigm shifts represented by REconomy. What I’ve seen and heard is that underpinning this – despite the media and government reporting otherwise – is a growing recognition that the current system is not working, it’s not serving the interests of the majority and it’s massively unfair. This message of values-led revolt in a growing crisis that can be seen as opportunity has come through loud and clear from all of the countries I’ve been working with – as well as recognition that there will be resistance to the shift.

In a recent interview, Julian Dobson captured this nicely “We are actually working in a very hostile climate – I don’t think we should underestimate that. However, there is a genuine sense in many places that it is time for a change in what we value. What the Transition movement is doing really well is acting as a forerunner in order to show what the possibilities are”. I feel excited about REconomy’s potential at the leading edge of the practical and caring response to our economic problems, and how it can help ensure they don’t continue to be addressed in isolation by the elite.

The heart – REconomy is clearly showing that all of us can take responsibility for building the kind of local economy we want, one that’s in service to the community rather than the other way round. I’m no economist and I’ve found that helpful in this work as naivety can be seen as an open mind! We don’t need degrees and economic experts to tell us what’s possible – most of it is common sense and all our communities have the expertise that we need for this work.

What we need is to help open people’s hearts and passions and self-belief and then be amazed at what happens next – nothing illustrates this better, in my opinion, than the Local Entrepreneur Forums run recently in Brixton and Totnes where the community is invited to support fledgling new enterprises in whatever way they can – money, advice, child care, hugs.

Colin Crooks, MC of Brixton event spoke of “seeing people light up as they offered support”, and of the magical sense of warmth created. Another said, “there was a lot of love in the room, if love’s the right word”.  We think it is and I know it brings tears to my eyes when I feel this sense of mutual caring and support, both as a giver and a receiver. Economic events that can touch our heart are surely the way to go.

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The empowerment – finally, being involved with REconomy has given me the most amazing opportunity to be creative, experimental and unrestrained in my work. The support and freedom offered to me by the Transition Network staff and board, and the flexibility and passion of our funders, continues to bring to life our cheerful disclaimer.

“Just in case you were under the impression that Transition is a process defined by people who have all the answers, you need to be aware of a key fact. We truly don’t know if this will work. Transition is a social experiment on a massive scale. What we are convinced of is this: if we wait for the government, it’ll be too little, too late; if we act as individuals, it’ll be too little; but if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time”.

I sense that everyone involved in REconomy, and in Transition, knows this feeling of being empowered to act.

Where to next for me

From September-ish (and funding permitting) I’ll be getting involved in coordinating a project in Totnes, my home town. Since 2013, Transition Town Totnes and a local charity Totnes Caring have been laying the foundations for a collaborative, strategic, systemic transformation of how we care for the most vulnerable in our community. A series of events has led to the birth of Caring Town Totnes  (CTT), a new and unusual alliance of over 70 local public, voluntary and private organisations. Their vision is a vibrant, economically viable, community based, integrated health and social care system, one that’s based on meeting all of our needs from birth to death.

 Encounters Arts

Image: Encounters Arts

I’m excited to get involved in this ground-breaking work that will explore further the role of Transition in the health and social care sector, linking it with our more traditional territory of sustainable housing, local healthy food, social cohesion etc.

It also aims to help address the impacts of austerity which will inevitably be most felt by the most vulnerable, given the scale of welfare cuts forecast with this new government. And it provides a great opportunity for expanding the local REconomy work into this new sector, looking at how redirecting public money into local enterprises can have multiple benefits (as already being acted on in Preston for example, in other sectors).

I’m seeing a pattern of my work in Transition, where I like to shape and deliver a project at community level, and then disseminate and share it, as has happened with Transition Streets and REconomy. At some point I begin to feel a bit far away from the action, so for me this feels like a natural and timely swing back into doing actual project work on the ground.

Where to next for REconomy

We feel this is a great opportunity to review how the TN organises and deliver the REconomy Project moving forward. Until now, it’s been run pretty much run as a separate project from other parts of the TN activity e.g. support, training, while we experimented with our ideas and explored how this kind of work might fit with the overall Transition model.

Given that REconomy is now an established part of Transition that many TIs choose to pursue – though of course it’s not essential! – we feel it’s time to more fully integrate our resources into the TN support offer. We’re considering the options about how best to do this.

Someone from the group of REconomy national hubs will take over the coordination of that group. We’ll also establish a ‘REconomy strategy group’ with a mix of internal and external folk that will set and monitor the direction of the REconomy work specifically, in harmony with the Transition Network’s strategy.

So there should be no visible break in service, other than my departure and TN remains fully committed to developing REconomy further along with the rest of the Transition model.

In terms of upcoming and potential activities, watch out for an invitation to contribute to shaping the new Transition Story which is looking afresh at how we talk about Transition today – this will include REconomy.

There will be REconomy sessions at the Transition Network conference in September 2015, and 3-4 events this year and next around the UK. This will include, we hope, at least one major event with a focus on REconomy in disadvantaged areas – this is a topic we are very keen to explore.

Meanwhile the team will continue with their work to help support TIs and hubs with REconomy activity, and will keep sharing amazing and inspiring stories from around the world. The best place to read about this is at or via our social media. If you’re not from the UK then contact your hub for any REconomy news in your country.

With thanks

In using the term REconomy, in some cases this is just helping give an identity to something already in existence and we are learning much from these early pioneers. Of course, we are not the only ones working to build a better economy. We’re also joining up more with other ‘new economy’ organisations and exploring ways to work together – recognising we all bring part of the solution and all of us are needed, and honouring those that have been working in this space much longer than us.

I’ve met hundreds of committed, inspiring, enthusiastic, heart-warming people over my time with REconomy (and a few lovely nutters!). It’s been an honour and a privilege to do this work, with all you wonderful people, at this time of extraordinary opportunity that’s rich with possibility for all of us.

I especially want to thank those of you who have worked with me directly on REconomy (or earlier version) as part of the team, all that has been achieved so far would not have been possible without your ideas, challenges, expertise, hard work and good humour: in no particular order Shane Hughes, Nick Osborne, Sam Woods, Nick Sherwood, Graham Truscott, Gerri Smyth, William Lana, Tony Greenham, Jay Tompt, Duncan Law, Frances Northrop, Nadine Andrews, Fraser Durham, Tina Clarke, Anna Lodge, Jo Taylor, Mark Simmonds, Rob Hopkins and Sarah McAdam, plus all of the REconomy hubsters – with love and appreciation to all of you.

I’ll not be far away, and I look forward to seeing how REconomy continues to unfold, and I hope my new work will continue to add to this shared understanding.

Meanwhile it’s the summer and here, and in my ongoing pursuit of life-work balance, I’ll be doing much more relaxing with my Transition dog Rosie (she attends most of the meetings I do, and had rather hoped I would do a food project next). Bye for now!

About the author: Fiona Ward is Co-ordinator of the REconomy Project