Playing for Time: New handbook on Transition and the Arts launches in April

0 PFT coverOn Thursday 26th March the long awaited guide to the arts and social change, Playing for TimeMaking Art as if the World Mattered was launched at the Free Word Centre in London.

Its author, theatremaker (and TFP’s much valued arts correspondent), Lucy Neal has been involved in producing this groundbreaking handbook for nearly four years. Published by Oberon Books, it showcases collaborative arts practices that join the dots between the ‘macro’ stories of climate change, energy depletion and economic collapse and the individual stories of artists and activists who are rethinking the future and creating a new story to live by. As one of the book’s endorsers, writer Stella Duffy, says, it’s a book filled ‘with wings: wings that are ancient practices, that are community arts, modernity, wings of global learning for local concerns…a book to help us grow.’

lady of Tooting smAs well as describing the key drivers of change and giving practical ‘recipes for action’, ‘transitional arts practice’ is detailed for the first time, as it emerges in neighbourhoods and on high streets, in apiaries and allotments, up mountains, in law courts, kitchens and village halls (and occasionally in theatres, galleries and museums).

In its 400+ pages 64 storytellers, makers, craftivists, land journeyers and writers demonstrate how a new dynamic culture is shifting our values away from consumerism and commodity towards community and collaboration, with imagination, humour, ingenuity, empathy and skill.

Contributors include energy expert Paul Allen from the Centre for Alternative Technology; writer Paul Kingsnorth; post-growth economics campaigner Beth Stratford; Brixton Remakery’s Hannah Lewis; Scotland’s Dougie Strang; Graeae theatre director Jenny Sealey; playwright and activist Sarah Woods; Platform’s Farzana Khan and many more.

When the facts and figures of climate change cannot catalyse the shifts needed in our world, the arts can open us to different ways of seeing and feeling, creating emergent space to rethink the future and change the world – collectively. With poetry and metaphor they can explore the language of the heart, the pain of what we’re losing and the deep yearning in us for the restoration and celebration of life. (Lucy Neal

You can order books from Images: cover for Playing for Time by Hey Monkey Riot; Lady of Tooting in Trashcatchers’ Carnival, Tooting, 2009.

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Flat Earth News: TFP at Real Media Gathering, Manchester

realmedia4On 28th February, TFP  joined fellow independent publications and platforms at the Real Media gathering to form a new grassroots media network. Charlotte Du Cann reports:

‘It’s tragic,’ he said, staring at the teaser on the front page. The news was all over Euston Station. A huge screen by departures was proclaiming the end of the world as we know it:

Mr Spock is dead!

‘He was 83,’ I responded as we stood by the newspaper rack at WH Smiths.

‘I was shocked,’ he said. ‘I thought he was going to go on forever.’

‘No one is immortal on this planet!’ I laughed, and went to board the 0800 to Manchester Piccadilly. I was heading towards a convergence of journalists responding to the call for a ‘Real Media’: to cover what is happening on rather more grounded territory – Britain in 2015 in the run up to The Election.

Real Media describes itself as a ‘series of events and actions to campaign against media distortion and for independent grassroots journalism’. It has been set up by RealFare, a project that aims to challenge myths about the welfare system and this gathering is its kick-off point. In a similar way that UKUncut brought corporate tax dodging to public awareness and the Occupy movement the corrupt banking system, Real Media wants to expose the hyperreal, hostile nature of the press that distorts rather than reports on the reality we live in.

Aside from this gathering there are two actions this month: a national Anti Daily Mail Week from 13-20th March with online blockades, subvertising, protest and parody, followed by Occupy Rupert Murdoch Week from 22nd-29th March, organised by Occupy The Media. The week will include art and action and is being brought right to Murdoch’s door: his News UK headquarters in London Bridge. A full website will be launched in April.

The gathering taking place at the Friends Meeting House is framed by an opening and closing plenary, with workshops, films and discussions throughout the day. Networking is at full tilt, as I arrive with a bundle of the final issue of Transition Free Press under my arm.As the speakers open the discussion it becomes clear there are two big challenges ahead: one is to call ‘Big Media’ to account, to make the reading/watching public aware that their news is highly manipulated in favour of the five billionaires who own 80% of its production. That ‘our planet is owned and controlled by a tiny elite of people who are exploiting the commons for their own benefit,’ as investigative journalist, Nafeez Ahmed stated.

The second is to build an alternatively-structured, collaborative media that will include the voices of people who are blocked or left out of the debate. If UK news coverage is ‘shallow and corrosive’ as described by US columnist, Glenn Greenwald, our task is to deepen and broaden it, to make our media both people and planet-friendly.It is a producer problem for sure – subjects such as climate change, Scottish Independence, social justice movements, the fate of the unemployed or asylum seekers, are commonly bypassed or misrepresented.

But it is also a consumer problem. We are addicted to processed news.Like junk food, we know junk media is not good for us, yet find ourselves lured into the ghost trains and freak shows that beckon us at every newsstand or website sidebar. Flick me, click me, now! How can we kick the habit and instead feed our minds and hearts with empathic stories and intelligent debate? How can we see the Earth, not as a battleground, but as a common ground for human beings and millions of other species coexisting, all with limited lifespans?

Seeding the Future

The media, like all British institutions, thrives on humiliation. And the prime way to avoid humiliation is to humiliate someone else you consider lesser than you. What would a new media look like that that doesn’t tap into the fury that lies beneath an institutionalised powerlessness? That is not owned by oligarchs, where editors are no longer ‘content managers’ or papers ‘products’, and a dead actor with alien ears the headline of the day

?In the networking spaces of the Friends Meeting House the signs of it are in the air and on the table: new cooperatively-run, people-owned local papers such as Birmingham’s Slaney Street or The Bristol Cable; the strong intelligent editorial and monochrome style of The Occupied Times, that first went on sale outside St Paul’s in 2011; independent magazines that operate without advertising, such as the New Internationalist; publications that train people to become citizen journalists like Manchester Mule; crowdfunded journalism such as Nafeez Ahmed’s Patreon platform ; radical writers, editors, broadcasters, filmmakers, new wave techs and a few Fleet Street vets, like myself, all happy to share their knowledge and skills and experience.

Which brings a third challenge into play: finding ways to cohere our small organisations into a strong and meaningful network. In a media monoculture news is easy to co-ordinate. McMedia can be sold anywhere: the same press releases and think-tank reports, the same agency photographs, the same levels of antagonism in its columns, just reworked in different house styles.

However a diverse, cross-cultural media doesn’t look or feel like this. It might be grainy instead of glossy, but its headlines don’t scream at you or twist your guts. In conventional media, the reader is irrelevant, except as a consumer of the advertising which keeps it afloat. In Real Media however the reader is a key part of the communications system: they are the story that is being written and, in many cases, they also fund the stories they are reading or listening to.

The only free press, as OpenDemocracy states, is one paid for by its readers.

Paying the Piper

No media outlet is cheap to run. In-depth investigative reporting is expensive not least for the legal fees it can incur. Most people are unaware of how much journalism costs to produce both in terms of effort and finance, and give it a poor level of value or trust.

Conventional journalists however don’t have to think about where their salaries or readership come from. Unless they bump hard against the system, as the Telegraph’s Peter Oborne did recently regarding HBSC, reporters rarely consider the pernicious influence of advertising on editorial, or the dissonance that arises, for example, when companies like Unilever sponsor environmental pages in The Guardian.

In alternative media you have to think about these relationships: you become an entrepreneur, as well as an editor. To pay yourself a decent wage (many independent publications don’t pay contributors or staff) you have to spend time sourcing ethical advertising, subscription schemes, crowdfunding and funding from progressive charities. None of this is secure. So the way forward for many media outlets is through donations: to build a dynamic relationship with their readers – which is how the new media platform, Common Space, launched through Common Weal, has been able to fund its team of reporters.

In England, we are highly aware that the Independence movement has radicalised a large section of society that had never been involved in political discussion before. It has helped to redefine democracy as a people-led movement, rather than a battle for power and privilege in the corridors of Westminster. This however requires a dramatic shift of position from media-makers, and far more than an ability to get a quote or make the deadline. We need to ask ourselves those existential questions that have been arising in the backrooms of the Meeting House on this rainy afternoon.

Who are you reporting to, and for whom?

Whose side are you on?

Everybody Knows the Boat is Leaking

Everybody knows , as Leonard Cohen once reminded us, but few of us speak with one another as if we all know. Everyone knows the captain lied, but carries on reading papers that say the ship is going on forever. One of the reasons for the Big Media clampdown on dissent, explains Ahmed, is because the crisis we are facing – political, financial, environmental, social – is signalling that the system itself is dying.

If everybody knows that fracking contaminates water tables, that Amazon doesn’t pay its taxes, that ‘divide and rule’ is the tactic employed by all bully-boy Empires, a key move we need to make as citizens and communicators is to speak to each other from that knowledge, and frame our media likewise.

One thing is in our favour: what drives every journalist, no matter who they work for, is neither money, nor corporate control; it is the story. And if that story is no longer to be found in illusion or propaganda, but in the real lives of people, reporters will have no choice but to go out there and find it.

Find out more at Real Media and Occupy the Media, including details of events and the Charter For a Free Democratic Press.

Article originally published by the Independence blog, Bella Caledonia. Photo by Fields of Light Photography.

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Real Media conference celebrates independent journalism

real media flyerTransition Free Press has been one of many publications, telling the stories that are seldom heard in mainstream media. This weekend a new campaign is being launched that brings grassroots and progressive media platforms together – to highlight media distortion and to promote independent  public interest journalism.

On Saturday, 28 February the Real Media Gathering will take place in Manchester, with speakers, discussions, workshops and networking on independent journalism and the alternative to a mainstream media which many feel is selling us short.

The Real Media campaign argues the mass media currently acts in the interests of the establishment, not the people. Media ownership is not only concentrated towards wealthy corporates but working journalists are finding themselves squeezed with a knock on impact on the news that citizens are provided with. A quarter of local authority areas do not now have a local newspaper, once an important source of information for people about their community.

Another inspiration behind Real Media is the lack of coverage of issues such as inequality, corporate power, fracking and privatisation, and the often misleading and largely negative stories on topics such as immigration and welfare.

Real Media is planning a series of events and actions in the lead up to the May general election and beyond. Independent media organisations from across the country have got behind the campaign, including local alternatives like the Salford Star, Slaney Street and the Bristol Cable and national ones such as Red Pepper, New Internationalist, Media Diversified, openDemocracy and Transition Free Press.

Real Media has been set up by Real Fare, a project that aims to challenge myths about the welfare system. “One of the major obstacles to be able to have an honest conversation about welfare reform is the mass media and how the issue is covered,” says Drew Rose of Real Media and the Bristol Cable.

The dominant narratives in the media, and in politics, can contribute to misconceptions. A 2013 survey by Ipsos MORI highlighted a number of gaps between public perception and reality on topics including immigration, teenage pregnancy and the religious and ethnic make up of the UK.

Following the conference on 28 February, Real Media are planning a national Anti Daily Mail Week from 13-20 March with online blockades, subvertising, protest and parody. Then, Occupy Rupert Murdoch Week will take place from 22-29 March, organised by Occupy The Media. The week will include art and action and is being brought right to Murdoch’s door: his News UK headquarters in London Bridge. Occupy the Media have also drafted an 11 point Charter For a Free Democratic Press.

Later this year Real Media is planning to launch a new website to aggregate independent reporting from reliable grassroots sources and eventually there are plans for a ‘co-op of co-ops’ which could potentially raise funds for member organisations or fund individual journalists to investigate particular issues.

Find out more about the conference and the campaign at the Real Media website. The Occupy the Media website can be found here, along with details of events and the Charter For a Free Democratic Press.

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BREAKING: Transition Free Press goes out of print

1467299_627314473976940_658843296_nDear Readers and Supporters of Transition Free Press,

I am sorry to inform you that our innovative grassroots newspaper will not be published this year. We were hoping to relaunch this Spring with a bright new expanded edition but have been unable to raise sufficient funds to pay for our core costs.

For the past three years we have produced seven issues, all of which have documented the actions, skills and intelligence of Transition and affiliated progressive movements. Our purpose was to reflect the cultural shift many of us are involved in and to act as a communications tool for Initiatives and groups. Thanks to over 150 contributors, over 100 distributors, 50 advertisers and a collective editorial team, over 70,000 papers have appeared all over the UK – in shops, in cafes, universities and libraries, waiting rooms and market stalls. At public events and in private moments.

We have never been at a loss for material.

TFP_Advert_STIR_FinalRunning newspapers is hard work and it was always our intention that TFP should be a co-operative social enterprise that paid people for their skills and dedication. Backing from a crowdfunding campaign and grants from Network for Social Change and Transition Network has given us time to build up a social infrastructure, with the aim of eventually becoming a self-sustaining enterprise.

However to become a sustainable business involves a paradox. Even though our editorial might challenge a ‘growth-at-all costs’ culture, we ourselves needed to grow massively to keep going. We needed to sell tens of thousands more papers, charge much more for them, dedicate more of our pages to advertising and find hundreds more subscribers. And fast.

Image1507At the end of last year we did (finally and happily) succeed in finding funds for two of our proposed 2015 issues, but not for the whole year. To fulfil our obligations to become  ‘financially sustainable’ meant we could not remain a ‘steady state’ enterprise: we would have needed to make at least £20,000 pa profit to pay our core costs, and if we wanted to pay ourselves the minimum wage, over £30,000.

This was beyond our capabilities. We have always covered our production costs, but have never made the kinds of sums that make business sense. So even though the big picture public debates, from the May elections to COP16 in December, probably need the presence of a free press more than ever before, TFP will not be there to discuss them. Nor will we be there to record and celebrate the small events, actions, gatherings, projects, productions and conversations that make up the grassroots culture of a world-in-flux.

P2100023 MW & TFP LondonAs the paper’s editor and co-founder, I had hoped we could make a livelihood from our professional work within Transition. However, I now realise that for that to be the case independent journalism needs to be held in far greater esteem than it does at present. It has to matter there is a free press, that what we write matters, that our voices be heard. Because until our words are given space and attention the new story of community and collaboration everyone is waiting for will not be told.

I hope that new alliances, such as Real Media (see Amy Hall’s post below) will demonstrate why the future needs a people-friendly, Earth-friendly media and that TFP’s contributions and insights will have helped make that happen.

Meanwhile, dear readers, thank you for supporting us during these years. Thank you especially to our contributors, subscribers (whom we will be refunding) and also our loyal distributors who, sometimes against the odds, have kept selling the paper to their communities. Thank you to my fellow writers, editors, designers and managers at TFP. Thank you all for your generosity, creativity and for giving it a go.

With best wishes,

484997_460945680613821_965150950_aCharlotte Du Cann

Images: Charlotte Du Cann (Editor) reading TFP3; Trucie Mitchell (Designer) reading TFP2; our first reader on the train, reading the preview issue: Mark Watson (Distribution Manager) reading TFP4

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Accelerating transition, city by city

By Oxfam/Climate ConnectionsA European research project hopes to find out what makes Transition Initiatives thrive and, in turn, support the change towards sustainable low-carbon societies

In communities across Europe there are people getting together to build stronger, greener local communities and economies. But why do some regions turn into vibrant hubs, while in others things peter out?

A European Union (EU) funded research project aims to help answer these questions through bringing together lessons from across the continent. Accelerating and Rescaling Transitions Towards Sustainability (ARTS) focuses on five EU city regions which have been identified as front runners in local sustainability, places where “you feel that change is in the air”: Stockholm (Sweden), Brighton and Hove (UK), Genk (Belgium), Budapest (Hungary) and Dresden (Germany). The ultimate aim is a regional ‘transition strategy’ for each one.

The study aims to understand the role and impact of local ‘transition initiatives,’ from community gardens to energy co-operatives, based on the premise that they can act as laboratories for experimentation by ‘demonstrating and innovating’ how communities can live sustainably.

ARTS also employs a citizen journalist in each city region. The collective blog gives a direct insight into the transition work on the local level, as well as following the research developments.

Florian Kern of the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex is one of the ARTS researchers. He says the project is looking further than individual initiatives: “We are not planning to just do another set of case studies. It’s about how they come together and whether the sum is more than the parts.”

ARTS will also look at some of the more critical questions raised about transition initiatives, such as diversity. “Often it’s more middle class people involved and the question is, if the whole city is going to move then we need to be more inclusive, we want other people to be active,” explains Kern.

By Rain RabbitThe first stage of the study was for researchers in each of the regions to map local transition initiatives. In Brighton they found almost 100 initiatives across different sectors including education, food, energy and transport.

The second phase is to look at the ‘governance context’ – policy and the dynamics between local governments and grassroots initiatives. Each regional team will then select five to ten initiatives to focus on in more depth. In Brighton the team is hoping to look at the Waste House ecological design experiment and Brighton Energy Co-operative, among others.

The other cities are following the same process and there are regular Europe wide workshops to share knowledge. All the regions will also be holding two local workshops. In Brighton the first one is in May and will include people from transition initiatives across the region. The event will discuss initial findings and transition initiatives will be able to share ideas, challenges and ideas of how to overcome them.

The second workshop will bring together people representing transition initiatives, the council, local businesses and elsewhere to create a practical strategy or roadmap for Brighton and Hove.

Kern is keen for ARTS to do more than produce interesting data: “At the end of the day it’s about the people who are doing this work; we want to give something back to people who give their time up for these things, often on a voluntary basis.”

He also wants there to be a legacy after the project officially finishes at the end of 2016: “If it’s just for us and the sake of the project then there’s not much use in that, but if it’s something that continues or allows people to make new connections then it could be more useful.”

Follow the ARTS findings at the project website, Twitter (@ARTS_EU) or via the citizen blog. For updates from Brighton specifically, see Miriam Steiner’s posts.

Photos: Brighton Bike Train and the Big Lemon bus company: both Brighton ‘transition initiatives’. (By Oxfam/Climate Connections and Rain Rabbit, under a CC License)

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ENERGY: exploring biogas for communities

By szczelSuffolk-based group Transition Lavenham is considering launching its own energy project: making biogas from food waste, reports Transition Free Press energy editor Gareth Simkins

Late last year Transition Lavenham won a government grant to investigate the viability of building an anaerobic digester. This was awarded by the Rural Community Energy Fund, intended to support renewable energy projects to boost the rural economy and cut consumption of fossil fuels.

In essence, anaerobic digestion uses microbes to break down food waste, manure and other organic substances in the absence of air, producing a methane-rich biogas. This can either power an on-site generator or be injected into the natural gas grid (with a little propane added).

A compost-like material known as digestate arises as a by-product, which can be used as a fertiliser. So the end result is that waste products are used productively rather than ending up in landfill.

The investigation is being conducted by local firm Farm Renewables, which project managed the construction of another digester near Bury St Edmunds.

Carroll Reeve, chair of Transition Lavenham said, “This is a really exciting chance for us to access expert advice to investigate a way in which we can develop a renewable energy project which provides real benefits to local people, while allowing us to make a positive impact on tackling climate change.”

Photo: Transition Lavenham want to turn food waste into energy. szczel, under s CC License.

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POLITICS: Citizens lobby for the climate

By Ian BrittonOur Autumn issue featured many stories of inspiring climate activism. In this post Hugh Chapman explains why he is behind another campaign calling for carbon pricing as a way to mobilize the transition to clean energy. 

We urgently need to get society off fossil fuels. Individual and community action to reduce emissions is a great way to show that a low carbon future is possible, but if we’re going to reduce global emissions at anything like the scale and speed required we also need to be thinking about pushing for big structural solutions.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) is a supportive network of volunteers who lobby elected representatives to take decisive action on climate change. Having started in the US in 2007, CCL has now grown to be an international network of over 200 groups campaigning in countries around the world.

CCL has a specific policy proposal for pricing carbon called Carbon Fee and Dividend and the Pathway to Paris initiative aims to get this centre stage at the United Nations Conference of Parties which takes place in Paris in December 2015.

What is Carbon Fee and Dividend?

A fee is placed on the carbon dioxide content of fossil fuels. This fee is levied at the mine, well, or port of entry. The fee starts at a low level and rises steadily over time and the revenue is redistributed to citizens. This means that households are protected from the financial impact of the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Countries with fee and dividend can charge a tariff on imports from countries which aren’t pricing carbon in order to ensure a level playing field for goods in the domestic market. These border adjustments are to ensure fairness and competition.

CCL’s research shows that this is not only good for the climate, but also promotes a stronger economy.

What does the Citizens’ Climate Lobby do?

CCL aims to empower individuals to make their voices heard in the climate debate. Some of the ways it does this are by providing toolkits for direct lobbying of local and national elected representatives and their staff. The Lobby trains members in getting letters and articles published in print media and online and building relationships with editorial boards. CCL also conducts monthly actions and conference calls with experts to expand members’ knowledge and understanding and develop their capability as agents of change

At CCL we believe that pricing carbon is the most powerful mechanism we have available to galvanise the huge transition we need to make in the next few decades away from fossil fuels and towards clean alternatives. With an increasing number of expert endorsements and in this important year for climate action it’s clear that the right time has arrived to be pushing governments on this.

As James Grant, former executive director of UNICEF, reminds us: “Each of the great social achievements of recent decades has come about not because of government proclamations, but because people organised, made demands, and made it good politics for governments to respond. It is the political will of the people that makes and sustains the political will of governments.”

If you would like to find out more about CCL’s work email CCLobbyUK[at]gmail[dot]com or connect via social media on Facebook or Twitter @citznsclimateUK. The website is

Hugh Chapman is a carpenter and creative activist based in Cambridge. He is currently co-writing a musical about climate change with fellow CCL representative Clive Elsworth. Hugh is on Twitter @_Hugh_Chapman

Photo: By Ian Britton, under a Creative Commons License.

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