The World Transformed (TWT) is best known for its annual festival, held adjacent to the Labour Party conference. Behind the scenes, the organisation’s year-round staff and volunteers are dedicated to socialist political education, building free courses and networks supporting regional ‘Transformed groups’ to organise their own festivals.
These groups run smaller-scale political education festivals or events, echoing TWT’s annual festival model of political education, arts and music with a locally-relevant focus and set of objectives. Though they are largely autonomous, TWT supports Transformed groups in kickstarting their plans, with training, publicity, and other support provided via the Transformed Network.
We know that effective mass political education has to be localised and reach beyond those who are inclined and able to attend an annual festival. At the same time, knowledge and ideas generated at local levels must inform work done at a national level. This is the rationale behind the Network, which links autonomous political education groups across England, Wales and Scotland.
Before the 2019 general election there were about 30 active Transformed groups, from Bradford to Barnet and Stoke-on-Trent to Southampton. The pandemic put on hold many physical plans, however, and some groups took a break from organising, especially as mutual aid emerged as a pressing need. Now, an exciting second wave of new groups is organising Transformed festivals. Cardiff, Bristol and Kernow (Cornwall) all held Transformed festivals in 2022, with Sheffield and Preston Transformed events scheduled for later this year – the former on 1 October.
In addition to the dozen currently active in-person or online groups in Britain – including Brighton and Hove, Derbyshire/Belper, Norfolk, Tynedale and soon-to-be-started Essex, Glasgow and Wessex – we’ve even seen promising interest for Transformed-style festivals and events abroad. On these pages, three Transformed group organisers share their experiences of and hopes for local groups and the wider network.
John Whitcher on Kernow Transformed
In the aftermath of 2019, there was a very visceral sense of the left as scattered and demoralised. Having been involved with setting up an Acorn community union branch in Falmouth and Penryn, it had become obvious to me how difficult it was to get people to dust themselves off and get back into organising. But the reality is that if anything we have to organise even more intensively – that’s why we started Kernow Transformed.
We need new spaces to raise consciousness and support one another. Simple as it sounds, there is something powerful in having a pint or a bit of food with someone and listening to music, while learning about each other’s experiences and organising practices. The festival provided such a space for the different elements of the Cornish left to come together, debate and listen, and explore ways to work together.
One of the great things that happened in the aftermath of Kernow Transformed was to see the number of people who met for the first time at the festival who are now starting their own projects. Discussion has led to tangible action here in Cornwall.
Isaac Kneebones-Hopkins on Bristol Transformed
After the defeat and disappointment of 2019, it was easy to feel dejected. Many of us had been working at full speed for five years with the clear and realistic aim of getting a socialist government. Our horizons suddenly felt much smaller.
Despite the defeat we still had an unprecedented number of seasoned socialist activists and an established network of radical cultural institutions – from media organisations such as Novara, Tribune and Red Pepper to various Transformed festivals across the country.
Bristol Transformed managed to put on a festival with 700 attendees in March 2020, straight off the back of the election, and did the same again after the worst of the pandemic had subsided in 2022. These were and continue to be the biggest socialist events Bristol had put on in decades and it felt crucial to us to show that our movement still had the ideas, the skills and the confidence to continue to fight for the working class in this country and across the world.
2022 saw Bristol Transformed continue to build our capacity, organising door-knocking sessions in working-class communities in Bristol with the offer of very cheap tickets. The aim was to make sure our ideas were reaching beyond the usual left-wing bubbles, as well as ensuring our organisers were able to communicate those ideas to people outside the movement.
For too long before Corbynism, the class war had felt like a one-sided assault on working people – it was crucial for us to show that we would continue to fight back. We have used our platform to prepare people for the long fight ahead. It’s allowed us to do amazing things, such as putting on fundraisers for striking workers in the RMT and St Monica’s Trust care homes, as well as continuing to arm people with the skills and ideas they need to fight back.
From giving people an understanding of Marxist economics to outlining the basics of trade union organising, we’ve felt it was crucial to make the breadth of ideas that our movement has to offer accessible and enjoyable for all who want them. Bristol Transformed allowed us to do this and more, and remains a crucial centre of gravity and source of hope for the left in Bristol and the surrounding areas.
Mark Seddon on Sheffield Transformed
A lot has changed since Sheffield Transformed was founded in the summer of 2019. United in support of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and inspired by The World Transformed, we set up our group in the hopes of fostering political education in Sheffield through discussion, debate, arts and culture.
Despite the dramatic political changes that have characterised the past two-and-a-half years, we remain united in our socialist politics and passion for political education. We want to create spaces that allow the left to explore how big political ideas can inform our activism at a local level and we’re proud of the events we’ve held since our inception.
We take new hope from recent grassroot campaigns to resist the policing bill, support migrants’ rights, fight for workers, call for climate justice and oppose war and occupation. We believe that Sheffield Transformed and the broader Transformed Network can play a useful role on the left by creating spaces where socialists can be among comrades, discuss ideas and be uplifted.