Rob Hopkins's interview

Here is the transcription of the meeting between Rob Hopkins -Cofounder of the Transition Towns- and Antoni Rius –the promoter of the Transition Town Santa Coloma- and our teacher Mar Mullerat on 25th June in the office of Transition Town Totnes. First,  the three students of our class -who realized the Research Project of 4th ESO about Transition and had skyped its founder- talked to him and took some pictures.
A.R.  Where does Totnes food basically come from?
R.H.  There is a study about food and it says that about 80% comes from supermarket and 20% is local and that is very good as in most places it is much lower. Totnes for a long time has a strong culture of local food. There are some successful local organic food business and very good markets.  Local restaurants are very dedicated to local food:  we have local wine, vineyards, cheese, bacon,...
A.R.  Do you also have greenhouses?
R.H.  River food farm has got lots of “politans”
A.R.  Because of the weather you can not grow food in all seasons. In our town as the weather is dry and cold we can only produce edibles in spring and summer. Some people try to use “politan” to enlarge the season
R.H.  This glass is very very expensive.
A.R.  The initial cost is very high
R.H.  To save, to collect the rain water is always a very strategy
A.R.  We are thinking on using the water from the waste water treatment plant outside the town to see the quality and the flow.
R.H.  There is a very good thing from America called “small plot”, intensive spin used quite often with herb and food growing. We tend to think more like a garden and   like a commercial market garden, how do you grow the most food in a small place and how it can be profitable. It is a very interesting model.
A.R.  Which kind of edibles do you grow?
R.H.  I think In the town mainly “high value…” things, salad and greens, no potatoes or carrots which can be grown in farms much cheaper and better. Salads, beans and peas and fruit.
A.R.  And is there an enterprise that processes this food in order to have more value?
R.H.  At the moment here in Totnes it is not on the scale that we need that really. We are looking there to have more the process like mill for flour…
A.R. Do you see a future possibility for enterprises to grow here to elaborate this kind of products?
R.H. Absolutely, this whole project is about new enterprises (Atmos)
A.R. And also about renewable energies? And tourism, too?
R.H.  Yes, that side is next to the railway station, so it is perfect.
A.R.  This was  an old milk factory that was down falling to pieces 
R.H.  We want to develop as a community action.
A.R.  Do you have fun with this entire project?
R.H.  Yes at the moment we are just trying to get the people who owned to work with us and I think that is going very well.
A.R. Because it is better to involve the owners that pay for the building…
R.H.  Exactly, it is a very successful campaign
A.R.  During these years since you started the transition here, has the town changed? Have you measured it?
R.H.  We haven’t really measured the impact on the transition in the economy but a lot of shop keepers say that they notice the benefit and people visiting Totnes because of the transition. So the man who ran the chamber of commerce and is just retired in the local paper talked in his last speech about how all the traders would have noticed the benefits from the transition. I mean, because at the same time in the 5 or 6 years since the transition began, the business have closed down , the economy is always a kind of changing but I think people start to get a sense of possibility through transition new economy for the town…
A.R.  This message arrive more to people (more than the fight against pick oil and climate change).  Do you work in TTT or do you have another job?
R.H.  I work with transition network which is different from TTT. TTT employs 2 and a half job and TN, 9 jobs and 5 are based here. So, we are paid to work which is nice and TTT is mostly volunteers.
A.R.  How do you get the funds to pay?
R.H. TTT has some funding, one organization funded the Project Managers for three years; they have some funding for the project manager  and then we make some money through events that we run, the talks we put on, Hall’s tours, and we have people in the town who pay some pounds a month –maybe 10 or 5 pounds- it’s not lots of money, just a bit. And transition networks funding comes from different trusts and charities and support we do.
A.R. Do you participate also in projects with University, funded by the government or the European Commission…?
R.H.  I think TN has been involved in some but not so much because the paper work is huge!
A.R.   I know it is true. Do you work together with the new economic foundation? Because I have seen it in the web and I suppose that you are working in some aspects…
R.H.  Yes, we do some things with them. The festival of transition which ran last week with lots of activities…
A.R.  I have seen they offer some courses in the Schumacher College. Do you participate in the design of the courses?
R.H.  Yes, they have a course called Economics in transition and we created that course with the economic foundation.
A.R.  How long is that course?
R.H.  One year, it is a masters
A.R.   Is the New Economic Foundation located here?
R.H.  No, it is in London. Not in the University, it is an independent organization
A.R.  Do they work with the London Economic School?
R.H.  I don’t think so
A.R.  This morning Hall showed us that in the Civic Hall there are solar panels. There are some offices in order to create enterprises or to start them. Do you think that it can be a good project?
R.H.  Yes, but we would like to do that at Atmos
A.R.  And are you thinking in people who are going there to start their enterprise, a social enterprise for example, developing ideas and make a business?
R.H. Yes, they come just with an idea or with an existing business and need a desk five hours a week , so they need an office, and they will get a support. That’s the idea of Atmos.
A.R. How is the administration or the council involved?
R.H. We have Town Council, then we have a District Council and then we have a County Council. The Town Council are very supportive, very enthusiastic , they like Atmos, they like Transition and they are very excited. The District council worked on transition streets project and that was very good and the County Council, I don’t know…
A.R. Do they fund you?
R.H. A little bit of funding for Transition Streets, but that was all.
A.R. I have seen that there is a project about energy, to generate energy here. Which is the idea? To create an enterprise?
R.H.  We already have the Totnes Renewable Energy Society which is our energy company. So we have bought shares, maybe 550 members and you can buy anything between 20 pounds to 20.000 pounds (a share is like a piece of the company= accions/participacions). If I pay 20 pounds I have one vote. There are 550 members –one person, one vote- it is a cooperative project. We are just about to put the planning application, compromising to put up 2 windmills “winterbies” which would be fantastic; that will happen quite soon. And they are also planning to do some other projects. They would be our partner with Atmos, they would do the energy aspects of Atmos.
A.R.  Is this energy enterprise is real? Or is it still a project?
R.H.  Well, the company exists and now we’ve got some finance and we just need the permission
A.R. The energy that you are using now comes from the National Grid.
R.H  Yes, and I think that they will always do because if you want to take or cut off from the grid is very very expensive because all the infrastructure is owned by the grid. So if you wanted to make Totnes completely independent, you would need to create a new grid, you can’t use the existing grid and that is so expensive. You can take maybe some, Atmos would be off the grid for new developments you can be off the grid but where there is already electricity, so those “winterbies” would feed in the National Grid, they went just supply Totnes. The money they make will stay in Totnes, that is the difference.
A.R.  If people have photovoltaic solar panels on their roofs, can they sell the electricity to the company?
R.H. Yes, during the day, when the sun shines, if the y use the electricity in the house, they get free electricity. If they make a cup of tea at night, the electricity comes from the grid.
A.R.  So, these people can sell and buy electricity…
R.H.  Yes, and their bill is on the balance
A.R.  This is not allowed in Spain. You can make an installation and you can sell electricity to the company but you can not make it to use yourself and when you use less than your production, you can not sell it. I think that point is better in England
And do you think that wind is better tha solar or biomass?
R.H.  I think wind is the one to get the most energy from the least amount of money.
A.R.  With the wind you need a storage system to store the energy when you are not using it.
R.H.  In fact, it is too expensive. And also I think there is a social justice dimension; in places like Totnes that maybe have more money than some very poor ones and Totnes can afford to buy some electricity and another place can’t. And everybody cuts off from the grids and that’s not very good, so we make our electricity system and everybody can share.
A.R.  Hal has shown us the Totnes pound, he said that there were about 6000 of them, am I right?
A.H.  Yes, something like this, it’s very small. Part of the problem is that there isn’t a Totnes pound note, like in other places (like Brixton) where they have a 5, a 10 and a 20, and some people hardly ever use cash. So in Brixton and in Bristol, they have a system where you pay by text, you go into the shop and when you send a text to the shopkeeper and that is your payment.
M.M.  Are you thinking on changing your Totnes pound?
R.H. Yes, we’ll definite go to have these notes, a 5, a 10 and a 20 pound note in Totnes. The text thing, I’m not sure …
A.R.  I have seen the Royal Tea Card in a shop here. I’ve taken this picture; is it a credit card just for Totnes?
R.H.  It’s not a Transition Town thing. It’s a private commercial thing. The idea is that the shops pay maybe 20 pounds to be a member and then every time that you spend more than 5 pounds in a shop, they stamp the card and when you have maybe 50 stamps, then you get 5 pounds off. It’s a discount to encourage people buy in local shops.
A.R. What do you think about this idea you had some years ago is spreading all over the world?
R.H. And that it arrived in Santa Coloma? (laughing)
A.R. It’s amazing, it’s great!
R.H.  It is very exciting, it’s a privilege!
A.R.  Did you start it in Kinsale? Are you from Totnes?
R.H. Yes, in Kinsale and I’m from Bristol (near here) The most exciting is to listen to histories like yours.
A.R.  Do you think that it is a good way to change the world?
R.H.  I hope so. I haven’t heard of anyone better, it depends on the people. If the people want to do it, I like the fact of people coming to us saying that transition is so exciting, there is this and there is that…and we don’t do these things: these people excited go off and do it, which is great. It’s the way to make changes, not with words but doing things
M.M.  By doing little things
R.H.   Yes, and it looks different in every place because the culture in every place is different, it has to reflect that culture.
A.R.  We have brought you some Transition Santa Coloma bookmarks for you, with the logo and the sentence from Gandhi Almost everything you do will be insignificant, meaningless but very important.
R.H.  Thank you very much
A.R/M.M.  And some jam to eat handmade in our village
R.H.  Did your students enjoy with their project?
M.M Yes, a lot.
R.H. Will you continue the Transition Project with the next year students or is that finished?
M.M. We are finishing it but we hope that from now on, as we have started the initiative in Santa Coloma, some young students will be involved in the initiative. In fact, some of them are in the Youth group. We are going to try to go on with it, not doing the same project but we are going to work on it.
A.R.  It has been a good start for the town, I mean, starting at school.
M.M.  They were involved in the first talk we gave, in the presentation of SCeT, then the parents came and this engage people. Although they are young and some of them just hear things, they will remember and they will be aware of the world situation, because we have a difficult moment, we need to re-economy urgently, we have to do something. It is a pity that we have just started, we should have started some years ago, we shouldn’t have lived so well. That’s true.
A.R.  We feel very motivated and positive now, because we have some groups working on energy, education, health, economy, mobility. We have started some projects… Let’s see.
R.H.  We can be in touch about what is happening in the Re-economy. There is the Transition Training and there is a Spanish Transition Network. There was a national event..
A.R/M.M  Yes, we didn’t go but we met Juan Del Río in a BioCulture Fair in Barcelona. We are in contact. There are some villages near ours where they are also starting this initiative. You can be very proud. It is spreading quickly
R.H. How exciting. If you need any support or anything we can provide…
A.R./M.M.  We have a lot of information now… too much; we need to sit and process. Very good information. We like it because you have a lot of new ideas and projects.
R.H. It’s very good.  Fiona from Atmos project is doing some work for Totnes, a blueprint for Totnes. At the moment the council has no plan. We think that we need to be more local and more resilient.    
The blueprint pretends to evaluate the impact of localization in economy. Every year 20 million pounds are spent on supermarkets; if the ten per cent of this money  was spent on food local, that’s two million pounds a year remaining in the town.
A.R. That is very interesting! Let’s take a photo. Thank you very much.
A.R. I remember in May when I was on my computer and went to your blog and I saw that you have posted about Santa Coloma, we were so happy and it helped to make people aware that we are IN TRANSITION!

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