Part 1: An Introduction to Transition Towns

The first time we stepped into a Transition Town was when we went on a road trip to Greyton in December 2020. Actually, we wouldn’t even have known that Greyton was a Transition Town if Masego’s mom hadn’t mentioned it right before we left. We wandered along the main road and ended up spending a while talking to one of the locals who runs a co-op nursery and told us about how Transition Towns began. Ever since, we’ve been enchanted by this idea and wanted to know more about what this movement was all about. So, in case you are curious, we thought we’d share our learnings with you too.

The beginnings of the Transition Movement

What we found was that Transition Towns came about to answer the question: What must we do, during a climate crisis, while we wait for the powers that be to realise that something needs to change? They tell a story of inclusion, resilience and sustainability. Barnes (2015) describes the Transition Movement as, “a community-centric development model designed to respond to the social, economic, and ecological implications of peak oil, climate change, and a dysfunctional global economy.”

The Transition Town concept began as a student project in Kinsale, Ireland, in 2005 when Rob Hopkins (Founder of the Transition Movement) was a permaculture teacher and asked his college students to design an Energy Descent Action Plan for Kinsale, to imagine a post-peak oil world (Connors & McDonald, 2011:561). ‘Peak oil’ refers to the time when global oil production reaches a maximum rate and begins to decline, which proves to us that oil supplies are finite and cannot accompany endless economic growth in the long-term (Murphy & Hall, 2011:57). The idea was then piloted in Kinsale before moving to Transition Town Totnes – the first official Transition Town (Connors & McDonald, 2011:561). The Transition Movement has spread globally and in 2019, it was estimated that there were 2000-3000 communities involved in Transition Initiatives in over 50 countries (Rapid Transition Alliance, n.d.).

The Transition Movement has a few core principles that embody not only environmental wellbeing, but social wellbeing too. The principles include: respect resource limits and create resilience, promote inclusivity and social justice, pay attention to balance, form part of an experimental, learning network, freely share ideas and power, collaborate and look for synergies, and foster positive visioning and creativity (Transition Network, n.d.).

According to the latest report on the ‘Impacts of the Transition Movement’ which is based on responses from Transition Movement Evaluation Survey, conducted in late 2020, a few key impacts that were identified included: raising awareness, creating positive narratives of a healthy, resilient and equitable future, taking practical action, connecting and caring for each other, contributing to a wellbeing economy, broadening and deepening participation and addressing injustice (Transition Network, 2021).

The importance of economic and social localisation

The main philosophy behind the Transition Movement’s approach to building resilience and urban development is localisation. The strengthening of the local is seen as central to the success of the Transition Town movement because it is at the local level that individuals feel most empowered to act (Connors & McDonald, 2011:560).  In Transition Towns, resilience is seen as, “the capacity of a system to adapt, innovate and transform, under certain conditions, into new more desirable configurations” (Brunetta & Baglione, 2013:253). This involves two types of localisation: economic and social.

You probably already know that we are big believers in financial sustainability and supporting local businesses, which is a form of economic localisation. Economic localisation is viewed as a response to the effects of peak oil and climate change and refers to the process of developing the capacity to fulfil basic community needs at a local and community scale, instead of relying on globalised supply chains (Barnes, 2015:317). In practice, this would involve the contraction of supply chains and consumption cycles, as well as the encouragement of cottage industries (Barnes, 2015:317).

Ky Bxshxff wrote a beautiful article titled, ‘20/20 Vision: Choosing Community Over Convenience’ and this quote stuck with us and we think it sums up the importance of supporting small and local:

“We have to support a return to small industry – or cottage industry as it was quaintly known, before the Industrial Revolution messed everything up. Now is the moment! This period of discovering what’s available in and from our communities, must replace our conveniencelust.

How much of your money can you shift from spending at big corporations and re-direct it towards home and small industry? The other day I ordered my loaf of bread, via Instagram, from an art director who lost their job due to the pandemic and now bakes for a word-of-mouth network of Gardens homes. From another “cottage”, I collected a sweet potato pie for dessert from someone who started baking to create a livelihood. And there’s the weekly oat milk, packaged in returnable re-used wine bottles, from Oh Oat, a small local batch producer in Woodstock. This is community, the opposite of capitalism and consumption.”

Ky Bxshxff

The idea of economic localisation is supported by the idea of social localisation, which involves the fostering of strong, social relationships between active community members, to embody the ideas of openness, inclusiveness, and consensus-building (Barnes, 2015:318).

A new way of defining wellbeing

These two kinds of localisation also speak to a new way of measuring success and progress, because wellbeing is what is being aspired to, instead of endless economic growth. This aligns with the narrative of ‘sufficiency’ instead of ‘efficiency’ as proposed by the Friends of the Earth Europe, who describe ‘sufficiency’ as:

“It instead prioritises quality of life in work, education, and leisure, as well as the freedom of responsible choice and the right to self-determination. Freedom includes not only the freedom from suppression and discrimination, but also the freedom for an active participation in society. One of its central battle cries is “better, not more!”

(Potocnik, Spangenberg, Alcott, et al., 2018:5)

During the hard lockdowns, we saw that the communities that were the most self-reliant were also the most resilient in the face of major shocks – Transition Towns echo the same truth. They have been called “scalable microcosms of hope” and that is what they are.

A lot of the philosophy around Transition Towns is not only about the practical measures put in place to build resilience, and promote wellbeing, but also about encouraging a sense of hope, which creates a more active and engaged citizenry. As Connors & McDonald (Connors & McDonald, 2011:562) point out, “being aware that the immensity of the issues can be overwhelming and developing collective responses that are meaningful, achievable and context-driven ensures that participants feel that they are achieving something.” So, hope becomes important in terms of mobilising people towards positive action in the face of an overwhelming climate crisis.

We hope that this article has been informative and (hopefully) reminded you that we are all capable of being a part of the change we want to see in the world. The Transition Town movement teaches us that small actions can have large impacts, and that we can all start where we are and with what we have. The most important lessons we can learn are about resilience, community and care.

Now that you know a bit more about how the Transition Movement, you may be asking yourself: So, what can I do now? Well, keep a look out for Part 2 of this article where we will be sharing some lessons from Transition Initiatives in South Africa and the practical steps that we can all consider taking in our own communities. Until then, we hope your curiosity has been sparked!

With love,

Masego and Stella

Note: we know we don’t usually include an academic reference list, but since Stella ended up researching Transition Towns for a university paper, we thought we’d share the references used in this article with you 😊

Barnes, P. 2015. The Political Economy of Localization in the Transition Movement. Community Development Journal. 50(2):312–326.

Brunetta, G. & Baglione, V. 2013. Resilience in the Transition Towns Movement: Towards a New Urban Governance. TeMA: Journal of Land Use, Mobility and Environment. 6(2):251–263.

Connors, P. & McDonald, P. 2011. Transitioning communities: Community, Participation and the Transition Town Movement. Community Development Journal. 46(4):558–572.

Greyton Transition Town. n.d. Greyton Transition Town – Home. [Online], Available: [2021a, March 29].

Greyton Transition Town. n.d. Valley Food Gardens – Greyton Transition Town. [Online], Available: [2021b, March 29].

Murphy, D.J. & Hall, C.A.S. 2011. Energy Return on Investment, Peak Oil, and the End of Economic Growth. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1219(1):52–72.

Potocnik, J., Spangenberg, J., Alcott, B., KIss, V., Coote, A., Reichel, A., Lorek, S. & Mathai, M. 2018. Sufficiency: Moving Beyond the Gospel of Eco-Efficiency. [Online], Available:

Rapid Transition Alliance. n.d. Transition Towns – the quiet, networked revolution | Rapid Transition Alliance. [Online], Available: [2021, March 29].

Transition Network. 2021. Overview of Responses from the Transition Movement Evaluation Survey: Impacts of the Transition Movement. [Online], Available:

Transition Network. n.d. Transition Network Values & Principles. [Online], Available: [2021, March 29].


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Chrystal says:

    Dankie! Reading this felt like meditation. It sparked a few ideas too


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