How the Transition Towns movement can help Croydon to thrive

By - Friday 12th August, 2016

Katie Rose finds inspiration in the hive of activity that is Crystal Palace Transition Town

Photo by Crystal Palace Transition Town, used with permission.

Having lived on the Croydon side of Crystal Palace for five years, I appreciate the role that Crystal Palace Transition Town (CPTT) plays in making Crystal Palace a welcoming, vibrant and creative community. Croydon is of course also a Transition Town in its own right, and having felt inspired after attending previous annual gatherings, I was looking forward to hearing about this year’s growth in the CPTT gardens.

According to its website, the Transition Network “is a charitable organisation whose role is to inspire, encourage, connect, support and train communities as they self-organise around the Transition model, creating initiatives that rebuild resilience and reduce CO2 emissions”. Founded in Devon by Rob Hopkins and Naresh Giangrande in 2005, there are now forty-five national hubs and thousands of groups worldwide.

Each group has its own personality and CPTT defines itself as “a community-led response to climate change and shrinking supplies of cheap energy. We run projects that reduce our carbon footprint while building local resilience, sustainability – and lots of friendships!”.

Since launching in 2010, CPTT has nurtured the growth of over thirty initiatives, many of which “began their life as an idea at our annual celebration”. This year, its AGM was subtitled a ‘market of ideas’ and each project had been given a stall around the edges of the Salvation Army hall, creating a ‘3D interactive annual report’. This is typical of the creative, proactive approach of CPTT, which co-chair Joe Duggan describes in his presentation as a “do-ocracy – we value the do-ers”. Before the event had even started, the hall was a humming hive of activity.

The evening opened with a video celebrating what CPTT members have been up to over the year, in addition to the rich harvest from regular projects, highlights including the food market being featured in the book 21 Stories of Transition and Channel 4’s Eating Well with Hemsley and Hemsley, a visit from Rob Hopkins and a series of cooking on a budget workshops funded by Croydon Council’s Active Community Fund.

In 2012 thirty people attended: now the hall is full

Photo by Crystal Palace Transition Town, used with permission.

All of this activity has grown from the objectives defined by the CPTT constitution, which, Joe explained, seemed theoretical in 2011 but is now a reality. There are clear growth markers: in 2012, thirty people attended the AGM but the hall was now full. At the first Crystal Palace Overground Festival, CPTT had just one small table – last year it ran three stalls and a twenty-three stall market. The Food Market, initiated as an idea by Karen Jones at the 2012 AGM and co-run with Laura Marchant-Short, has seen £1m go to local farms and SMEs. You can hear Laura talk about her experience of running the food market on the latest episode of Inside Story Radio Show on Croydon Radio.

Whilst the whole event was conducted with a spirit of celebration, Joe reminded us of the immense challenges that we face on a global scale: NASA recorded the hottest year ever in 2015. CPTT cannot stop climate change, he said, but it can be a model of exciting moves away from carbon and by building networks in the capital it can make a very visible impact. There is also the ongoing challenge of recruiting and retaining volunteers.

Reaching different sectors of the community is a challenge shared by Croydon Transition Town, as John Clingan explained to me. Hillary Jennings told us how appealing to the commonality of shared neighbourhood concerns helped to unite different communities in Tooting.

The Edible Garden has fertilised my life

Photo by Crystal Palace Transition Town, used with permission.

The general business of an AGM is handled with creative humour – co-chairs are elected by the generation of noise amongst the crowd. The event features music from DJ Olatuni Buraimoh and a ‘compost rap’ by George Ranson about his experiences at the award winning Edible Garden which has “fertilised my life”. Each project was then invited to make a short pitch before the chairs were cleared away to make space for interactive dialogue and delicious food supplied by Comfort & Joy.

It’s impossible to do the projects represented justice here, and I highly recommend visiting the CPTT website, The Food Market or going along to a monthly green drinks event to find out more. Projects include:

  • The Patchwork Farm, which sells produce from over sixty growing spaces including The Edible Garden, St John’s Meadow, the Edible Bus Stop, the Museum Garden, the Tipsy Garden, the Permaculture Garden, Spa Hill Growers and the Sensible Garden in South Norwood – formerly a fly tip and now a flourishing garden which boasts a dedicated seat unveiled by Captain Sensible in 2014.
  • Other food and growing projects include Palace Pint, Palace Preserves, Palace Trees and Food Not Waste meals.
  • Energy groups include Transport Group, Palace Power, Climate Change and Faith, Carbon Conversations Courses, community clean uips and up-cycling workshops
  • The Food Market sources a wide range of local organic produce and encourages community creativity, hosting Buskers’ Paradise, run by Steve Broe, and Handmade Palace run by local artists.
  • Children’s activities include Bugs Club, Palace Buds, Kids at the Market and exciting expeditions with CP Dinosaurs.

These projects are the result of the dedication of local volunteers who clearly derive great fulfilment from being part of the nurturing CPTT ecosystem.

Crystal Palace is in part Croydon but also its own unique community

The finale to the evening featured a fifth birthday cake made by Brett and Bailey with crystallized mint leaves from the Patchwork Farm. I enjoy the honour of leading a rousing chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ and being cake waitress. More importantly, I leave feeling hopeful about a sustainable future, as expressed by the words read to us by Hillary Jennings:

“Something brilliant and historic is already underway, and our message to the Obamas, Camerons and Merkels of this world is that it’s already happening without them, and they need to support and enable it, but even if they do nothing, it will continue to grow, because it’s the future” (Rob Hopkins, from 21 Stories of Transition).

Crystal Palace, as the hilltop convergence of five London boroughs, is in part Croydon and also its own unique community. While Croydon faces its own challenges, it would do well to more fully include, support and celebrate the achievements of CPTT as part of its diverse landscape. Just as Ally McKinlay has demonstrated with Saffron Central that it only takes one person with a vision to make something happen, the collaborative model of CPTT shows that when we create space and support to grow our communities, anything is possible.

Katie Rose

Katie Rose

Katie Rose - Singer, Composer, Conductor, Writer - Katie loves singing and helping people sing. Described by the Guardian as a 'fine singer' and by fRoots magazine as an 'eye (and ear) opener,' she has released three albums. Committed to creating uplifting, inclusive experiences of singing, Katie has led singing sessions in hospitals, hospices, festivals and community choirs across London. Convinced of the power of music to make waves in the world she has conducted mass choral events for Sing for Water and is directing Croydon's first Festival of Peace 2018. For more information visit

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