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Tool lending library piques interest of English activist

NORTHFIELD — Transition Northfield’s projects have got people talking, and the conversation reaches all the way across the Atlantic Ocean.

Transition Towns is a community-based initiative, where people come together to work on a variety of issues. They range from renewable energy projects, to promoting local food production and consumption, to projects designed to make communities more self-reliant by bringing together the skills and resources of residents.

This summer, Transition Northfield launched a tool lending library at the Northfield Transfer Station. It’s spurred a ton of interest in town, with some residents donating a wide array of tools and equipment large and small, and others signing up to check out items for a week at a time.

It’s also caught the eye of a transition group in Chichester, England. Graham Rawlinson, a member of the five-year-old Transition Chichester group, heard about the project online, and decided he’d come to see it for himself.

During a 12-day trip to the states, Rawlinson stopped in Northfield, as well as other Transition Towns, specifically Boston, and Manchester, Vt.

He’s also visited Transition Towns across his home country, and others as far away as Melbourne, Australia. The first Transition Town, Totnes, England, started the initiative in 2005. There are now Transition Towns in more than 30 countries.

Part of the beauty of Transition groups, he said, is their ground-up organization. There is no formal central leadership; instead, members form sub-groups centered around the projects they’re interested in, and each of those has a point person who coordinates efforts. If people have different interests, they can work on different projects.

Rawlinson said he joined the Transition movement partly for its sustainability goals, and partly for the community interaction.

“I was fed up with living in a world where so much was lost by people not being engaged with their communities,” he said.

Though transition groups create their own community by bringing together like-minded people from their locales, Rawlinson said they do best in places where there’s already a strong sense of community.

For example, in Chichester, a town of about 24,000, the local transition group was a great success. Nearby, in Brighton and Hove, home of about 256,000, the transition initiative flopped, despite the fact that the city is at the forefront of the green movement, and its residents are very progressive, said Rawlinson.

The difference was the perception of community, he said. In Chichester, people know each other, and participate in a lot of community engagement. In Brighton and Hove, however, people are active in their own circles, but have less of a sense of belonging to a city-wide community, according to Rawlinson.

Another key for success in a transition group is a focus on simple projects, he said. For example, Transition Chichester runs a swap shop, where people can bring unwanted but usable items to drop off, and pick from the things left by their neighbors. Rawlinson said the swap shop is a big success, with several thousand items coming and going through its doors.

Rawlinson was impressed by Transition Northfield’s tool lending library. He said it just needs more space. It’s run in a re-purposed building at the transfer station, but has received so many donations that it’s fast outgrowing its home.

After his tour of the tool library, Rawlinson joined Transition Northfield members to talk about the movement in general. They were also joined by members of Transition Longmeadow, a group which is just getting under way, and wanted to draw on the experience of the Northfield and Chichester groups.

Though the tool library is its first project to become a reality, Transition Northfield has more in the works.

One of its groups has been working to find a new home for the Northfield Food Pantry. In the spring, another hopes to start a community garden. Still another is looking into starting a low-wattage community radio station that could be used to keep folks informed during emergencies, especially those which involve power and communication outages. It could be broadcast on generator power, and received on battery-operated radios.

One project that’s soon coming to fruition is a valley-wide short film festival.

To find out more about Transition Northfield, visit:

www.transitionnorthfieldma.org.

For more on Transition Towns in general, or to find out how to involve your community, go to:

www.transitionus.org

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

GREENFIELD — The Pioneer Valley’s Transition Towns will get together Friday to host is first-ever film festival. The festival, set for 7 p.m. in Greenfield Community College’s Sloan Theater, will feature 10 short films made by area residents. They were asked to focus on sustainability and resilience at the community level. Filmmakers received instruction through several workshops put on by … 0

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