In 2011 Nicola was introduced to the Transition Town concept and she flew over to the UK to speak with the founders and to attend the Transition Town Network annual conference. Nicola indicates that there was a strong contingent of Brazilian people at the conference and the way transition is interpreted in Brazil seemed to be appropriate to South Africa. In effect it has turned out to be the biggest driver of social change that she has witnessed in 30 years in this work. Transition’s mission is to bring the community together to find local solutions to the global challenges of peak oil and climate change, to create resilience and sustainability.
Nicola points out that their town of Greyton and surrounding villages is relatively small, self-contained and manageable which means they are popular for piloting various ideas, concepts and initiatives. They are strong on monitoring and evaluation so they can prove what works. They tackle the issue at the most profound level, trying to evoke an inner transition, a mind shift in children and adults. Nicola says children are more open and engaged, and also not so disconnected from the natural world, so they focus on them in particular through their humane and environmental education programme, which is headed by a qualified teacher working in schools alongside other teachers. The programme is delivered within the curriculum, and after school via their eco-crew programme which currently attracts nearly 450 children.
Humane education, with interaction with animals, especially those in her animal sanctuary on the farm, awakens empathy in the children and helps them to care. When they care more about themselves, they then care more about each other, their parents, teachers, and the environment.
Furthermore, they work with children and with adults on various sustainability initiatives that encompass waste reduction, renewable energy, food security (every school now has a vegetable garden), natural building, water conservation, care of the environment. They have four eco-businesses that help support GTT, a registered NPO, so it is less reliant on grant-funding. They are a 60-bed backpackers, called Greyton EcoLodge, Greyton EcoCamp an off the grid campsite, Pure Cafe a vegan restaurant and a sewing co-operative which makes longlife shopping bags in order to support Greyton’s aim to be the first single-use plastic shopping bag-free town in SA.
Nicola Vernon is chairperson of GTT and they are the current winners of three out of seven categories in the national Eco-Logic environmental awards. In 2010, when she could no longer ignore the impact of animal farming on the environment, when she did the research and realised this is the main driver of environmental degradation (not to mention the suffering of the animals, the humans who have to slaughter them and the impact on human health) she became vegan and promotes a plant-based lifestyle both personally and professionally.
Nicola’s work can be seen on their website, www.greytontransition.co.za and their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/GTTfriends/.