Around 80 people attended the launch of the Transition Streets Challenge over the weekend. I think we managed to create an event that was enjoyable, created some energy and showed that this was a significant initiative.
There were representatives from each of the streets, a few stalls, people actively involved in Transition Newcastle and a few other interested people.
In the lead up to the launch we received quite a bit of media coverage: a story in a local free paper (The Star), two stories in the Newcastle Herald (a short article on Friday, and the front page photo and two pages in the supplement section of the Herald – the online version included a video interview with a couple of participants), and an interview with me and one of the Street coordinators on 1233 ABC Newcastle radio on Friday morning.
This media coverage helped in creating the sense that this is an important initiative.
At the launch we tried to keep it fairly informal. As people arrived, Matthew Clarke (a member of Transition Towns Maitland) provided music and David Whitson (the Eco Magician) provided entertainment for the kids.
We were in a school hall, and we knew it would feel a bit empty with only 80 people, so we asked six groups (Transition Newcastle, Nourishing Newcastle, Permaculture Hunter, Trees In Newcastle, Hunter Water and Newcastle City Council) to have stalls around the edge of the hall, and we set up the seats in a semi-circle within this container. It created a much more intimate feel.
After we welcomed everybody, we asked the people participating in the challenge to stand up and introduce themselves Street by Street (to great applause of course), before everybody else also introduced themselves as well. I often think these types of introductions are useful because they often allow us to put faces to names while also helping to break the ice a bit.
We wanted to start off on a light note, so claimed that the Blue Men had sent us a personal message and showed the following YouTube clip.
We set the broader environmental context by showing 300 years of fossil fuels in 300 seconds.
After the videos, one of our group gave an overview of the Transition Streets Challenge and, once again, kept an informal feel, while making it clear that this was a major initiative. In order to get to know the Streets a bit more, we asked people to get together in their Streets and answer three questions:
- What makes your Street special?
- What is the most important thing you’d like to gain from the challenge?
- How have you kicked off the process and how successful have you been in engaging people?
While they met, I asked everybody else (who were not in one of the Streets) to get into small groups of 4-5 to talk about how their street could become more sustainable.
There was quite lively discussion for around 10 minutes before each of the Streets introduced themselves based on the questions. As we had created a relax, fun atmosphere, the introductions were mostly entertaining, while also giving us an insight to where the streets were up to. There is quite a bit of variety in the Streets and lost of enthusiasm.
To help with the introductions we also showed the video from the Herald and asked one of the groups to show how they were using facebook.
Representatives from Hunter Water and Newcastle City Council spoke briefly about why they were involved and what they could offer. Through these presentations we were able to demonstrate that the Challenge is an important initiative for Newcastle and that other people are watching it with interest.
Just before finishing we gave each street a copy of the In Transition 2.0 and The Transition Companion and a few of the children cut a ribbon (made out of old energy and water bills) and cut a cake made by Cathy, Jasmine and Alexa
To finish we showed Tim Minchin’s Take Your Canvas Bag (once again claiming he had sent us a personal message) before inviting everybody to join us for afternoon tea (with lots of home cooked treats) and more music by Matthew.
I think there were a number of things that made the afternoon a success.
- I think we achieved a good balance between being informal, having fun, and demonstrating that the Streets were embarking on a significant journey. There was plenty of laughter as well as serious stuff.
- It was quite relaxed and family friendly.
- We had obviously put in a bit of effort – e.g., the home-baked food, signs congratulating the streets, and we had created a kids corner with a few activities to keep children entertained.
- It was welcoming. Things like the music, magician, home-made afternoon tea and the kids corner showed that we valued the people at the launch.
- There was a mixture of activities – the videos, a PowerPoint presentation about the Challenge, small group discussion, cutting the ribbon and cutting the cake. It wasn’t a boring launch.
We were fortunate enough to receive a $2000 grant from Newcastle Council through their Make Your Place grants (which will mainly be fore printing, but also paid for the launch).