Totnes, England

This Town Has Gone Green, Local & Organic. This Is What They’ve Done Right.


I n early June we went to the South of England to visit a town that takes the lead in the Transition movement. Totnes is a vibrant community composed of 8000 souls that work on strengthening the local economy while minimizing people’s impact on the planet. If it seems hard to believe that a small town in a Western society could ever succeed in building a sustainable future, Totnes proves that it is indeed possible. Here’s how they have nailed it:

1. Many independent shops serve local and organic products

Map of Totnes’ independent cafés, restaurants and pubs

Unlike most British cities, in Totnes you will not find coffee or fast food chains like Starbucks or McDonald’s. To maintain the diversity and uniqueness of businesses that give the city most of its charm, residents have always demonstrated against multinationals that have tried to establish in the area, and as a result most shops, cafes and restaurants are still run independently. A city map lists all these places so everyone can easily find products they need: local, organic, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free. Each place is unique and we were impressed by the quality of goods on the shelves as well as the beautiful designs that make all these stores welcoming.

2. An incubator for local entrepreneurs

The REconomy Center is an active community space for people to meet and work. Just a few days before paying them a visit, the Local Entrepreneur Forum 2016 was taking place; this was an event in which local entrepreneurs present their ideas to other residents. For the rest of the year the REconomy center works as a coworking space and a training center on transition-related topics, offering rich resources for anyone willing to develop projects that balance the economic, social and environmental dimensions. This center is a beautiful symbol of Totnes’ dynamic and its willingness to build a better future.

The “Local Entrepreneur Forum” event in Totnes

3. A local currency accepted in most shops

Many stores accept payment in Totnes Pounds, a currency that complements the pound sterling. When you exchange the national currency into the local one, you increase your purchasing power, which makes people more likely to use the town’s money. So far it seems to be a great deal because studies have shown that on average the community currency is exchanged 2.5 times more than the national currency, meaning that in the end it creates more wealth for all its users. By the way, there is a 21-pound note in Totnes, another symbol of the town’s uniqueness.

4. Plenty of services for the “inner transition”

In the main street as well as in each cafe, we saw many ads for massage services, yoga retreats, meditation sessions, visiting Buddhist Lamas and what not. In addition to the external developments, locals in Totnes work on an inner transition with groups often getting together to help each other and provide paid and and donation based services related to personal well-being and spiritual development. For example, the community meets every Tuesday for an affordable yoga session called “Time to Breathe”.

5. Commitment to reduce the environmental impact and increase renewable energy

Solar panels on Totnes’ roofs

People interested in energy transition meet regularly at the community center to talk about ideas and projects dealing with reducing Totnes’ dependence on high-carbon sources. A group works on an Energy Descent Action Plan and cooperates with other sub-communities that focus on related topics: for example some locals work on having 80% of Totnes’ food produced locally and others raise awareness on the practice of “Reducing, Reusing, Upcycling”. The projects also include improving energy efficiency of existing houses, promoting the use of local materials and installing green electricity production systems at the level of a house or a neighborhood. The main idea is to cut down on the bills, improve livelihood and reduce people’s impact on the planet. We saw that the town hall is leading the way with its numerous solar panels on the roof.

6. A local brewery to regain a sense of community

Enjoying a New Lion in Totnes’ most popular pub

Throughout the British Isles, pubs are part of the local landscape, but offering drinks supplied by foreign multinationals did not suit the locals’ values and philosophy. In 2013, a group decided to relaunch the local brewery, an enterprise that had flourished in the nineteenth century before dying out in the interwar period. The brewery has now become a community enterprise and all the oats that are used to make the beers are grown locally and organically. The “New Lion” is again another symbol of Totnes’ originality.

7. Old buildings redesigned to suit new community needs

In 2007, Totnes’ dairy company closed after 70 years of activity and its shut down impacted the local economy severely leaving about 200 people unemployed. The factory had been abandoned since then and the community launched a participatory project to come up with ideas to reuse the site: in total more than half of Totnes inhabitants gave their input. After this large brainstorming session the community officially announced that the factory would be converted into a residential and work area, creating 160 jobs and 99 homes, including 62 for low-income families. This citizen-driven initiative shows that motivated locals who join forces can take back the control of their town’s future.

The Transition team in front of the old factory that will be redesigned

What do you think about Totnes and the Transition movement? We’d love to read your comments.

Kind regards,

Ruth & Thomas


Originally published at www.weareco.org.