Two years after the group was formed, Transition Forest Row has just published its first version of an EDAP. Subtitled ‘a community work in progress’ it is a combination of storytelling, cartoons, drawings and practical steps to an oil-free 2030.
When the Forest Row Transition group started to write our Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP), we had a significant driving force – a deadline. Our £5,000 grant from Wealden District Council in March 2008 to print the document came with the condition that it be distributed by the end of March 2009. This was our bane, and our blessing.
At first a year ahead seemed a long time away, but inevitably time moved on and both the deadline and scale of the project started rise well above the horizon. Once you look at the calendar for a community project, you soon find that significant chunks get taken out for summer and Christmas holidays plus juggling other shorter term objectives, never mind family life. As a result by the time the project got going in earnest it was already late autumn. While the process of creating could sound straightforward, the reality inevitably presented a number of challenges to face.
The result of increasing time pressure meant we had to dive into a creative process with whatever tools we had. We could have planned a series of in depth community consultations, or spent time consolidating our own process of how to work with one another. All of that would have been time well spent, but it was time we now didn’t have. So from the outset we strove to let go of achieving any ideal of perfection. We were going to have to do the best we could with what we had, knowing that whatever it became would be just a beginning. In the end, this was not a bad thing. It made us start before we felt we were ready, act decisively in the midst of differing points of view, and press on when there was pressure from many directions to get stuck down rabbit holes of minute detail.
Topic Groups Warm Up
After our unleashing in March 2008, various working groups formed to explore specific themes such as energy, transport, food, local living economy, health, heart of change. These worked to their own agenda and in their own way. The food group rolled up their sleeves getting a community fruit garden going, for example, while the energy group explored energy sources and held information sessions on home insulation.
It took a while for the momentum to build up around writing the EDAP. Nobody was motivated around making a plan yet, it was much more exciting to explore ideas. After about 6 months as the first burst of enthusiasm in the groups were starting to move into other directions, an invitation went round to form an EDAP group and the group evolved out of those who came forward.
What Is An EDAP?
So there we were, gathered round the table looking at how we were going to go about this, and someone asked the not so obvious question: what is an EDAP, actually? We came up with a surprising variety of views, ranging from a vision of a sustainable future through to a detailed blueprint of how to implement specific initiatives. An EDAP, it seems, spans vision and action. Realising our community was still in the vision building stage, we knew our EDAP would need to focus and communicate our visions and help build energy and enthusiasm for making them happen. Every group will have to decide for themselves, depending on where they are in the transition process, about where to pitch theirs.
We went to each of the topic groups and asked them for an outline of their vision: if Forest Row were seriously making a transition towards sustainability and resilience, what would we be doing? What did they see as the most important aspects, and what were the highest priorities?
Some of the groups asked for people in the EDAP group to come and facilitate them through this process, others managed it themselves. I think for everyone this stage of narrowing down the options into a few key points was going through the eye of the needle. Before that stage, our community “transition wish list” probably looked like many others: more cycle lanes, more allotments, better public transport, etc. By choosing the bare bones on which to build our vision, we began to see a shape emerge – so this is what our community might look like.
Fleshing Out The Detail
We started writing the outline of the EDAP: what did it need to say? Because we had a grant to distribute this to all houses in the community, this document needed to communicate a lot about transition to people who hadn’t heard about it or got involved so far. We starting compiling a draft and writing the things that seemed relevant: introductions, peak oil, climate change, the usual stuff you’d expect to cover. We put in some graphics and took a look at it. This was encouraging – we could see some sort of booklet emerging, we patted ourselves on the back and told one another “we can do this!” But on second look, some of us had to admit it looked very worthy, but not that interesting. Certainly not yet something that would get the sceptics excited. We started to think again.
Telling A Tale
The idea of building the EDAP around a story emerged. This was natural, in a way, as Forest Row is particularly rich in storytelling culture with even a School of Storytelling, and it has been a part of our transition impulse since the beginning. Some of us had been using story for years in our work, as writers, storytellers, and facilitators. We decided to create a fictional Forest Row family living in 2025, and to describe their day in the future we were trying to prepare for, showing Forest Row as a village that had successfully taken on the transition challenge.
Creating the stories was in one way the hardest part of the process. We took the key points from each topic group and started to weave a narrative around them. But as soon as you start describing how something might look in the future, a multitude of new questions emerge. How far do you go in painting a picture, when there is so much we can’t know now? We got together to play around with the stories, trying out this and that. Some good new ideas emerged, others got thrown out, till we came up with a basic thread. Then one of us took the points away and crafted the stories out. This was the most pragmatic way – people got quite attached to their version of the story, and there were so many styles and points of view to integrate that someone needed to make the final decision. We could have deliberated for ages, so having a deadline was not a bad thing! Each story was accompanies by a “commentary”, a series of points how transport, health, food etc. could actually be working in our transition future.
Finding A Common Language
Each of the stories and commentaries had to be run by the groups. We needed to make sure what we produced represented the work the groups had been doing. At the same time, we were trying to find a language that united them all, which people in the village would relate to. Some of the language of the different groups were worlds apart! Energy contribution was pragmatic, the heart and soul contribution soulful, and we needed to find a way to express it all as a unified whole. Not everyone liked it, some people were very attached to their own way of expressing their area, and there were some tussles involved in agreeing a form which everyone could stand behind.
Making the document one that would be appealing to open and look through and would be accessible to a large cross section was one of the challenges we faced. As well as the input from talented writers, we were fortunate to have support from a local designer, illustrator and talented artistic kids to provide needed lift to the finished document.
The whole becomes more than the sum of its parts
This was, in the end, the beauty of the process. We started out with a series of ideas and points of view, diverse, often disconnected. The greatest work in bringing the EDAP together was unifying these all into one cohesive picture. From a whole range of contributions from radical ends of many spectrums – green, conservative, alternative, establishment – a vision of sorts emerged. A story has been told. Each of us has had to let go of our own version and merge it with others, and release it into the community.
Along with a local Food Guide that was produced alongside, a copy has been delivered to all the nearly 2,000 households in Forest Row. On seeing the document when it was delivered, one 10 year old on seeing the cover simply said ‘wow!’ which confirmed that it was something that would at least be opened!
And it’s what the community makes of it, and the initiatives it takes up from it, which will determine how worthwhile it has all been. One thing is for sure is that more people in the community have been drawn into the conversation we all need to be having with our neighbours about how we can shape the future together.
Copies can be ordered through Amazon but better to order direct for £3 +P&P firstname.lastname@example.org
Copies will also be available at the Transition Conference where we will be part of the EDAP workshop session.
An audio interview with Mike Grenville about the EDAP process on Traydio can be heard here: A sound alternative to: oil dependency, runaway climate change & a food crisis
Charlene Collison & Mike Grenville