Megan lives in Greensborough, a suburb of Melbourne. She is a member of Transition Banyule and started a Transition Streets group in 2015. In 2017 she started Sustainable Greensborough. Here is her story of how she became involved:
Transition Streets is a program that has helped me and my neighbours become more sustainable in our daily lives and save money. And more importantly, it has created a true neighbourhood in my street. I would go so far as to say it has literally changed my life.
I would love to see more Transition Streets initiatives being set up across Victoria, Australia, and the world. I believe that the approach of Transition is proactive, practical and most importantly, it has hope for the future at its core, which is often something that is absent from other environmental initiatives. I believe that this program has the ability to ripple outwards, affecting real change in how we interact with, and care for, our planet.
In 2015 I was a stay at home mum to a gorgeous, but demanding, toddler. I was feeling isolated and lonely, and the phrase ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ took on new meaning for me.
Although I had good family support, I didn’t have a solid friend base in my local area, and I didn’t feel like I could go and see my neighbours when I was having a bad day. I decided that I would like to change this.
But how was I to start this process? I didn’t know, but one day I read a little entry in the Banyule Green Wrap about the Community Leaders in Sustainability program, a free course run jointly by Banyule and Darebin Councils.
There was something about this course that grabbed me, and I mentioned it to my husband. He encouraged me to apply for it, which I did, and I was accepted.
The Community Leaders in Sustainability (CLS) program was an eye-opening experience for me. I met other people out there who are concerned about the environment, and who were willing to do something about it. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone.
The one major requirement of the course is that you initiate, or participate in, a community project. I was feeling inadequate and anxious because half-way through the course I still hadn’t settled on a project.
Cut your bills, get to know your neighbours,
build community and make a difference!
In the fifth session, a speaker from Transition Banyule, told us about the Transition Streets program. ‘Cut your Bills!’ ‘Get to know your neighbours!’ ‘Build community!’ ‘Make a difference!’ was the pitch. I felt the worry about which project I would do drop away, and I knew that this was my project. I signed up on the spot, and felt immediately calmer, but also excited.
So I had my project, but how did I start it?
The scary bit was introducing myself to my neighbours, and putting myself and my beliefs out there. I was definitely lacking in self-confidence at this point! But I had two things on my side:
- My passion for sustainability and my eagerness to start doing something about it; and
- My daughter – I can tell you that toddlers are great ice-breakers! People were too busy saying ‘coochee coo’ to close the door in my face!
So I had my daughter, and I wrote a little spiel to explain what I was doing. Then it was just a matter of screwing up my courage and knocking on doors. Some doors I had to go back to several times, and it was hard to make myself try again, but it I decided it was a challenge – can I introduce myself to everyone on my street and learn all their names?
It turns out that none of my neighbours are really that scary after all, and I completed my challenge over a few days. In the end, 7 out of 10 households from my street were involved, and 1 person from nearby who became an adopted street member, so 8 households in total.
Then I had to plan the first meeting. As part of the program, you receive a workbook to guide your group through the various topics. We used physical books, but it is available electronically as well.
Transition Streets is a flexible program which allows you to work things out as a group. Do you share around the facilitation of each chapter? Do you switch houses? Who is bringing the food? Our group decided that my house would be the location every time, but the facilitation role was shared between 5 out of the 8 households, and this worked really well.
We met monthly for 2 hours on a Sunday afternoon for 7 months, and we loosely followed the suggested meeting plans given in the workbook across the Introduction, five main topic areas of Water, Energy, Food, Transport and Waste, and the Conclusion.
One important lesson we learned from the first session was that we only needed one person to bring savoury and one person to bring sweet food, because when we all brought something to the first session, it was too much for us to eat! As a neighbour pointed out, this wasn’t really ‘walking the talk’!
It’s also important in this first session to set up the ‘Rules of Engagement’ by which the group will abide. These should be brainstormed by the group, but include things like:
- ‘We will be respectful of each others ideas’
- ‘Share the air’
- ‘We will finish on time’
- ‘We will have fun!’
The biggest advantage of doing this is that if someone is talking over another, anyone can just point to the rules and say ‘This is what we agreed’. We used this strategy multiple times to gently pull us back on topic, and it was an effective tool that fostered greater group cohesion and respect.
For each chapter, there is a suggested meeting plan so that whoever is facilitating feels supported in their role. Each session goes something like this:
- Chat about how our week had been, and how we’d gone with the challenges from the last chapter
- Discussion of the current chapter’s information
- Afternoon tea
- More discussion and nomination of which challenges we were going to do for that month
- Establishment of details for the next meeting.
The Transition Streets workbook uses education and challenges to make people think about what they do unconsciously. Some of the challenges have a moderate cost, but most are free or very cheap to do, making them accessible and achievable for everyone.
In my experience, if you can get people questioning and changing small habits, it can kick start a process of them striving to improve on their last usage bill just that little bit more! The power of this program is that people can see how much they are saving, and when they multiply this across the group, it deftly illustrates the power of working together. In short, it puts us back in control of our future on this planet.
Our group successfully completed the seven sessions in November 2015, just in time to wind up the year with a street Christmas party! We invited other people from neighbouring streets, and the other 3 remaining households, and they all turned up. A Beer Brewing sub-group that had formed during the program, provided the beer and ciders for the afternoon. I felt connected, appreciated and content with my neighbours around me.
We continued to meet regularly throughout 2016, with successful workshops on Kombucha, crochet, and knitting, a movie night, a board games afternoon and a very successful potluck lunch. All events were well attended and thoroughly enjoyable. In fact, the crochet meeting went an hour and a half over without anyone noticing! In 2017, a Sustainable Greensborough was started up, to expand our reach to the rest of the Greensborough and Watsonia areas. We offer regular meetings and events to our group and the wider community, and we are committed to connecting with each other, other groups, and the local and state governments to effect real change in our community and world.
But back to Transition Streets. The benefits of my street participating in the program have been so many that I found it hard to cut the list down! We have had:
- Proper chats with each other that go beyond the weather
- One neighbour house-sitting for another multiple times
- Multiple chook-minders for when we go away
- A compost bin in my front yard that the neighbours can use for their scraps too
- Excess produce from our gardens shared around
- Use of bottled water by one neighbour is for emergencies only now
- Another neighbour reports that he can pick out from his bill whether they’ve been turning the microwave off at the wall or not
- Plenty of laughs
- When neighbours have gone through tough times, they have genuinely been supported
This last one is the one that confirmed for me, that Transition Streets can build strong communities.
The feedback to me from my group has been that it is the sense of place and belonging that this program develops, that is most valued.
- “I can be more at ease with people whom I didn’t really know before.”
- “It has deepened that sense of community spirit”.
- “I value the friendships that have arisen from being part of the program.”
- “People help each other now”.
There are so many small changes, ripples, that continue to be made in all our lives for the better, because of the Transition Streets program.
This connection to where we live is something that I want to see expand across our city and the world, as I believe that it is a way forward in an increasingly uncertain future. Making changes as individuals is great, but doing it collectively has a magnifying effect.
Transition Streets is what you have been searching for
For me personally, the program has given me hope that I can make a difference, the confidence that I have some knowledge and skills to share, and a framework through which to approach my life. So, three things that I would like you to take away with you are:
- connecting with neighbours can be an antidote to loneliness;
- connecting with the place where you live can build community resilience;
- connecting to the wider world through a shared vision and purpose leads to individuals working together, to make a big difference.
I will be forever grateful that I listened to that little voice inside me that spoke up and said, ‘Transition Streets is what you have been searching for’.
I am grateful to Banyule and Darebin Councils for having the foresight to run the Community Leaders in Sustainability program, for free, so that anyone with passion about sustainability issues can find other people who are passionate too.
I am grateful to my family and my neighbours for getting behind me, and embracing this program so whole-heartedly.
Too often it can feel like you are doing it all alone, and this is how initiatives fall over. You need people to connect over their love for the place that they live. You need to support them to develop and work towards a vision for their future as a true community. And you need to show them they are connected with other communities, all around the world, working towards achieving this brighter future.
This can start right now, in your communities, if you support the Transition Streets program.
Megan Cassidy, Sustainable Greensborough, Feb 2018
Editor’s update: In 2019 Megan helped organise the 2nd local Transition to a Safe Climate Conference. In 2020 she is coordinating the organising of the 3rd local conference which has of course been postponed because of the pandemic. Through Sustainable Greensborough’s strategy of developing constructive relationship with the councillor for their local ward, Megan has also been influential in persuading Banyule Council to declare a climate emergency and to follow this up with serious action.