Transition Streets Challenge – comments from coordinators

The pilot of the Transition Streets Challenge recently finished. Each of the coordinators from the five streets gave us a statement about their experience and/or some of the impact. (You can also see a slideshow of some of the highlights HERE, and read some background HERE.)

From Jo – Laman St.

TS Challenge Logo KT2I took on being a coordinator for Laman St in the Transition Streets Challenge as I am very interested in community building and wanted to work with others in my local neighbourhood to really build a strong sense of community.

Throughout the program, connections were made and rapport building occurred. As our connectedness and social capital grew, ideas and projects flowed. The identification of each neighbour’s talents and strengths was recognised and utilised for shared projects. Communication within the street for projects and meetings was enhanced by using email, a Laman street group Facebook page, phone conversations and informal conversation on the street.

Laman St dinnerBenefits of the project

  • Neighbours who ordinarily would have left their houses to go straight to work would stop to say hello and gave their time to get to know their community
  • Doormats out the front of terraces started to appear and pots of flowers and plants were placed on the street creating a comforting and welcoming neighbourhood
  • Shared projects were created based on people’s abilities and ‘give it a go’ attitudes,
  • A sense that it was ‘ok’ to give time to the community as well as to the nuclear family unit developed
  • Neighbours who previously complained about noise from the populated student house were now talking more constructively and even offered the students free tickets to the theatre as they recognised their artistic talents.
  • An overall sense of safety was created, particularly as Laman street is an inner city street that had a history of a number of late night assaults. People started recognising that the late night student house was actually a safety net for the street as they were generally awake all hours and could keep watch. And in one instance the students ran out of the house to protect a neighbour who was about to be assaulted. This was particularly positive for the students for they identified their need to be part of the project as a way to demystify the student household and build better positive relationships on the street.
  • New neighbours to the street were now being welcomed by not just one neighbour but several.

Shared projects included:

  • The development of a community herb garden
  • A Community Film night showing The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil in which approximately 100 people attended with locals cooking the food to share
  • The building of a street planter box
  • Several street footpath dinners
  • The changing of shower heads to 3-star shower heads donated by Hunter Water
  •  A Community Earth hour ‘day and night’
  • Shared farmers’ markets visits
  • A street pot plant beautification project supported by a $2000 Newcastle City Council Make Your Place grant.

What worked well:

  • limiting the number of houses to ten in the initial project for manageability reasons
    • the support received from the external facilitators at Transition Newcastle
    • the facilitator bi-monthly support meetings with Transition Newcastle members
    • the use of chapter readings as a catalyst to engage the community in environmentally sustainable discussions, e.g. some people didn’t know we could put as many plastics in our recycling bins, others now use bath water or water from washing machines to water plants, and we now have a joint compost bin for food scraps that at least 3 households are using
    • the group challenges in the chapter readings which created fun projects to work on together, e.g. reducing our light usage
    • a street composting workshop
    • the extended length of time for the project which gave the street a better chance to build rapport and establish adequate communication channels particularly in the first stages of the project
    • the Newcastle City Council Make Your Place grant that provided a further catalyst to work on a shared, street pot plant beautification project
    • communication within the street for projects and meetings was enhanced by using email, a Laman street group face book page, phone conversations and informal conversations
    • street dinners held on the footpath within the shared community space provided a more welcoming and accessible space for neighbours to gather around

Since receiving the Newcastle City Council Placemaking grant more people have joined the group, and the sense of community is growing. My initial goals of community building are being realized as I continue to see the positive results of facilitating people coming together to achieve things as a group.

From Ginny – The Terrace.

IMG_2945When I first heard about the Transition Streets Challenge, it just seemed to make sense: you get to connect with other people in a deeper way than just saying ‘hello’. I was keen to do it in my street to develop stronger ties with the people in my local neighbourhood, and become more involved with environmental issues. It was a chance to learn from one another.

I assumed at the beginning that some people in the street wouldn’t be interested in joining the program, but when they heard about it from other people, they wanted to join! There is a student household that I also thought weren’t interested, but they came along to quite a few meetings and I realized that they had been aware of everything we’d been doing through emails that I sent to everyone, they wanted to be kept informed, and if they couldn’t come to the film nights, they wanted to borrow the film to watch together in their own place.

We ended up having to say no to a few people wanting to join, as the group was getting too big, but it was great knowing that more wanted to join. I’m hoping to encourage them to run their own!

While most people were doing smaller things in their homes, one group member made a lot of changes, particularly in the area of energy. He changed their washing machine to a more efficient one, got rid of a small bar fridge in the garage that he found was using one and a half times as much energy as their big kitchen one, and he learnt about saving energy with pool pumps by using an solar powered ioniser for pool cleaning. He says he’s reduced his pool pump use from 8 hours a day to about 8 hours a month and his pool has never been cleaner. He’s over the moon, because his 6-person household has cut their quarterly electricity bills from about $900 to $500!

Other people in our group have started veggie gardens and one person has got some chooks.

It just seems that people are wanting to change things in their homes and their lives and it’s exciting. There are even some people wanting to buy a communal electric car and an electric bike for the street, and have a charging point for cars installed here! I’m not sure if it will happen, but people are getting excited about possibilities.

We’ve had some great events in our street; two film nights where we showed a film on food production and another on plastic waste. We also had a picnic in the park across the road when we did the Food chapter. People went to a lot of effort to make things from local ingredients, they went to the farmers’ market and we even had local wine – it was fantastic!

The great thing about this program is that we’ll keep these contacts we’ve made, and keep working on things to make our neighbourhood more sustainable. It’s just the beginning. We can now have discussions about things we’re doing, and we have really meaningful contact with each other.

One neighbour said to me just recently that he is very keen to keep seeing movies and sharing info and most other people in the group have said similar.

So we have started something great!

From Grit – Watson St.

Watson StBy becoming a street coordinator for the Transition Streets Challenge I wanted to be a part of the momentum for change in Newcastle, and I do take pride in initiating this challenge in our street. I was also interested to learn more about what we can do to live more sustainably.

In our family we really got into the Water chapter – changing our shower head for a more efficient one, saving water in buckets and reading our meter. With the participating households we had group meetings throughout the project, but mostly people would do things individually, and not as communally as we had initially thought.

Still, our street organised a number of community activities and this helped to build our community network. We were successful in gaining two grants through the Make You Place program at Newcastle City Council. One was for a local food street dinner party which involved many people from the local neighbourhood. We had food to share made from mostly local produce, distributed seedlings for future veggie gardens, and had live music. The other grant was provided for a local food awareness project that involved the making of scarecrows. The Islington primary school was involved in creating the scarecrows which were then stationed in various places around our local area to highlight the good food that is available here.

As part of the waste chapter we initiated also two street garage sale days in our street with a participation of seven households.

Throughout the program, our family made reductions in our energy use, and although we were eating organically already, we found more motivation in continuing to do so.

Essentially I know there is room for more radical changes, but things continue to happen in our street even though we are at the end of the Transition Streets program. There is still potential for a gardening group and a number of households are hoping to do bulk soil testing of our garden soil.

In the knowledge of the combination of big and small changes for people in our street, I know we are now a closer community, and I hope we will grow into a more and more sustainable one in the future.

From Nola – Kings Rd.

Kings Rd Community garage saleI enjoy community engagement so I was happy to be a street coordinator for the Transition Streets Challenge (TSC) as I saw it as a good opportunity to engage further with others, particularly in my local neighbourhood. I’d recently met someone else through the community garden I’m involved with, who said she was interested in becoming a coordinator for the program and she encouraged me to do it too.

Our group’s participation in the TSC really increased our knowledge and awareness of environmental issues. We became more mindful of the resources we all use, and the impacts on our environment. As a result of being part of the program, I personally started to change my shopping habits, shopping more at the local farmers’ market and through Aussie Farmers Direct to source more locally produced food and support our Australian farmers. I know that others in the group were also more aware of the impacts their shopping choices were having, and we tend to think twice before buying things more often now.

In my household, we did some renovations last year and during the process converted our lights to LEDs, and replaced our toilet for a water efficient one. We were mindful of how we made changes with the work, being aware of the impacts of our decisions and purchases. This was also the case for others in the group who were also renovating at the time. Five households in our street changed their shower heads to water efficient ones. Some of us attended a workshop that looked at the environmental impacts of building and renovations which also added to our knowledge.

We had events in our street or local community including:

  • A film night showing No Impact Man in our community garden
  • A film night in a group member’s house showing In Transition 2.0
  • A community garage sale in the street
  • Helping organise the Throsby Big Brunch, a large community event in a local park. Our group members were particularly conscious of using home grown or locally produced food as ingredients for the food they prepared.

The workbook we received was very informative, interesting and easy to read, with no extraneous material. It was a good read.

Overall, our participation in the Transition Streets Challenge was a very positive experience for everyone involved.

 From Charlotte – Union St.

The transition of our house and lifestyle.

Since moving to Newcastle we signed up for the Transition Streets Challenge almost immediately, and have been working on improving our house and our lifestyle ever since. Here’s a list of things we’ve done.

House:

  • Installed insulation in the roof
  • Removed hedges in the front and planted natives
  • Removed palms and Cyprus hedge in the back garden and planted vegetable patch
  • Installed water saving devices in all taps and old (full flush only) toilet
  • Replaced shower head with water efficient one
  • Made curtains to keep in the heat in winter and keep out the sun in summer
  • Installed a pull down blind on the western side of the house to block the afternoon summer sun
  • Installed fans in the two bedrooms
  • Built a window shade over bedroom window on Western side of the house to block out summer sun
  • Built a deck on the back of the house made entirely out of recycled timber from Round 2 Timbers
  • Replaced rotten southern wall with Weathertex; A weatherboard made out of hardwood saw dust from the factory floor that’s bound together with steam. It’s made locally too!
  • The same southern wall was insulated with a product called Polymax that’s been made from recycled plastic bottles.
  • We have put solar panels on our roof with GoSolarNewcastle and are now producing more power than we consume.
  • We removed an old electric storage hot water heater and installed an instantaneous one.

Living:

In a 3 person household which has recently become a 4 person household

  • Our average electricity use is 3kWh per day (about 1/6 the average household usage).
  • Any power that we use from the grid (when the solar panels aren’t producing electricity) is renewable Green Power with Origin Energy.
  • Our average water use is 270 L per day (almost ½ the average household usage).
  • Our gas usage fluctuates a lot because we have a gas heater.
  • We shop at the market and Beanstalk food co-op and try to avoid the big supermarkets whenever possible.
  • We rarely buy new stuff. We use op shops, e-bay and swapping with friends a lot.
  • We have joined LETS, Freecycle and Timebank.
  • We have been preserving things from our garden and swapping with our neighbours.

We had heard of the Transition Towns movement happening but had been living in a remote aboriginal community for 4 years and had been moving and renting a lot before that. When we bought a house in Newcastle I was so excited to find a Transition Newcastle stall and signed up straight away. I was a bit shy at first to letterbox my street to see if anyone wanted to join this project, but the response I got was really positive! Probably the most electric part of the whole experience for me was the first meeting we had when a whole lot of people who were practically strangers to me, came over to my house and we all had a chat about the way we live our lives and how to make it better! It was so exciting!

I have a great connection with all those people now, our point of connection is through sustainability, so this is often what we talk about when we meet. I get inspiration and ideas from the things they’re doing. There’s definitely a motivation to do more when I know that everyone around me is trying too, otherwise I can feel a bit despondent and like it’s not worth trying.

We worked with the chapters to look at every area of our house. They were really comprehensive and gave us an up to date full picture at the local and global level. We were able to compare our lifestyles with the average Novocastrian, but also to think about what a globally sustainable life might look like. At the moment we feel pretty good with our footprint, but it’s certainly not globally sustainable. We have a list of things in the chapters that we want to do in the coming years and it’s great to feel like we have a plan to keep on improving.

Whilst being part of this project I was continually struck by how much the average Australian consumes and how much waste and pollution we produce. We’ve all made these bad habits relatively recently, and I really believe that with a bit of information, encouragement and support, most people would choose to make simple changes that could make a huge difference. I feel the Transition Streets Challenge is a great way we can begin to do this.

For more about the Challenge see:

  1. An overview of the Challenge
  2. The launch of the Challenge
  3. A slideshow of some of the highlights
  4. An article discussing the Challenge in relation to Transition Initiatives in an urban context]

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
This entry was posted in Environmental sustainability, Working with communities and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Transition Streets Challenge – comments from coordinators

  1. All this is very good. I like what you are doing.

    Liked by 1 person

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