Posted by: Mike Grenville | 29 April 2009

Transforming the Future

transforming the future poster

A sustainable design project to work in a Transition community with real projects and to examine the role of design education took place in Totnes at the begining of April with a group of designers and artists from several universities. The group shared a common belief that while design can’t change the world, it can be part of a world that is changing.

The project was a mix of the local community, students and tutors from different universities from Glasgow, Paris, Plymouth and Totnes. The Transforming the Future project asked ‘what will be the role of design in an ecologically aware society?’ and ‘how such an ecologically aware society would value design?’

The project picked two projects to work with during the week. Sustainable Makers is a group of Artists and Craftspeople based in Totnes, actively engaged in understanding the social, cultural and economic role of a Maker in a time of energy descent. Refurnish Devon is a social not for profit enterprise, which sells second hand furniture and refurbished white goods working to alleviate poverty, reduce landfill & provide skill training & employment opportunities for people with support needs.


Co-organiser from Transition Town Totnes (TTT) Janey Hunt said that “Quite quickly it became clear to the teams’ surprise that the number of people involved in TTT is about 10% of the population of Totnes, although there are many other active environmental groups in the town. This required a readjustment of expectation not only of Totnes, but also what might be achieved within the teams. What also came through the presentations of the first day was a TTT structure of a loose network based on volunteers and limited funding, encompassing diverse interest groups and where the international profile is much bigger than it is within Totnes’ own community. This repainted the picture of a utopian community re-organising itself in isolation to the turmoil in the rest of the world, to a real-world community with dissention, discussion, diversity and difficulties, in fact the same as most other communities in Britain.”

From Glasgow School of Art Co-organiser Ian Grout said that “This was just a pilot project with the objective of learning better how to value design in respect of an emerging ecologically aware society”. “That we were a multidisciplinary group; art, craft, business and design was a challenging dynamic. That we were multi cultural; Swedish, French, Scottish, English and Cornish added further potential for exciting interaction. That we kept sane was a testament to a deep passion concerning our collective future and our responsibility in making that both sustainable and joyful. “

Folllowing the pilot in Totnes it is hoped that there will be a larger scheme next year, with Totnes and other Transition Towns around the UK.

Read more about the project here:



  1. If there is a short version it could be shown at the end of ‘Age of Stupid’ as an alternative vision of the future. In fact the title might be designed to fit – ‘Reclaim the future’ ??

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