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Transition, Arts and Wellbeing

We are facing a stressful time of global upheaval and change: financial uncertainty, climate crisis and resource scarcity threaten our individual and community resilience. A local grassroots movement focusing its attention on these issues might not seem the most natural home for a yearlong celebration of happiness and wellbeing through the arts – but that’s just what is happening this year in Tooting, SW London.

Transition initiatives are a community-led process that helps a town/village/city/ neighbourhood become stronger and happier. They are springing up in well over a thousand highly diverse communities across the world - from towns in Australia to neighbourhoods in Portugal, from cities in Brazil to rural communities in Slovenia, from urban locations in Britain to islands off the coast of Canada – see here on the Transition Network website.

Transition communities are starting up projects in food, transport, energy, education, housing, waste... and the arts, as small-scale local responses to global challenges. These local initiatives, focusing on people doing something active and constructive alongside their neighbours, have led to reports of those involved feeling happier and their communities feeling more robust and more connected.

We know that tapping into our emotions can help us affect and accept change, so it’s important to consider them during such times of stress. In times of change we also need to take stock of what we have, build our inner resources, and equip people with tools to meet, cope with and accept change with positivity and confidence. If we do this individually, then work with our immediate community, there is a contagion effect, where learned positive responses affect others throughout the community, building resilience to any potential adverse effects.

In addition, research shows that we need a change of priorities, both at the societal level and as individuals, in order to move towards a less materialistic and lower consumption-based society. Happiness and fulfillment come less from material wealth and more from relationships; less from focusing on ourselves and more from helping others; less from external factors outside our control and more from the way in which we choose to react to what happens to us (Action for Happiness: 2012).

Additionally, evidence suggests that for people to make value shifts so that they can become more pro- environmental, they need to focus on those relationships i.e. the community and having altruistic values or bigger than self’, or social values (Orientation Altruism model, Schwartz 1977).

The arts have a key role to play in this process - in 1999 the Health Education Authority reported that their “evidence suggests that arts projects and initiatives make a unique contribution to building social capital and enhancing well-being and self-esteem” (HEA, 1999). The arts enable us to connect with our imagination and our emotions, to fully experience, to make meaning and to connect – all key aspects underpinning our wellbeing.

Bringing all these elements, transition, the arts and wellbeing together, the Transition Town Tooting Wellbeing Year 2012 is a way to introduce people into the ideas of wellbeing and happiness as a way to build resilience, in a considered and measured way. As a community project, we can also begin to enable societal value shifts, so that people start to think about those ‘bigger than self’ values, which will lend themselves to re- addressing those materialistic priorities.

We know that happiness and wellbeing does not come form wealth. There is increasing recognition that a range of interconnecting factors influences people’s health and wellbeing. The WHO states health as being a complete state of mental, physical, social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease. or infirmity. According to nef (2007), the concept of well being comprises two main elements: feeling good and functioning well. Recently, Gus O’Donnell (former Cabinet secretary) emphasized the importance of wellbeing at the Wellbeing statistics debate in parliament (2012).

Feelings of happiness, contentment, enjoyment, curiosity and engagement is characteristic of someone who has a positive experience of their life. Equally important for well-being is our functioning in the world. Experiencing positive relationships, having some control over one’s life and having a sense of purpose are all-important attributes of well being.

Thus taking this into consideration, we have developed ’12 keys to Wellbeing, influenced by pioneering work by some of the following: NEF’s (New Economic Foundation) 5 steps to wellbeing, Action for Happiness 10 keys to happiness, Martin E.P. Seligman (Flourish 2011), Mental Wellbeing Impact Assessment and a Resilience Development Practice delivered by Agency for Life LTD.

The 12 keys are: Connect, Give, Vitality, Appreciate, Learn, Change, Spring back (resilience), Talents, Optimism, Positive emotions, Community assets and meaning (and purpose).

A key part to this year is a daylong interactive walk through Tooting celebrating the many places and things that contribute to our happiness and wellbeing. From the Lido to the Library, the Bingo Hall to the Market, the Community Garden to the Islamic Centre, at each location one of the 12 keys- an aspect of our happiness and wellbeing, will be experienced and celebrated through participation in different art forms.

The activity at each location will vary and will be appropriate to the location – for example dance, craft activity, story-telling, clowning or performance.

A related arts project – the Tooting Transition Shop led by Encounters Arts – will open up on the day of the walk, not selling anything but exchanging memories, ideas, images, questions and experiences through a participatory arts practice
about the joys and challenges of living now in Tooting. It marries Transition and arts concepts with wellbeing theory and evidence, to deliver community based encounters, where people are able to have a dialogue with one another and the space they inhabit.


Hilary Jennings and Belinda Sosinowicz are independent practitioners in the arts, creativity and positive psychology and members of Transition Town Tooting or Belinda on

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