by Mike Foden

Way back at the beginning of January I took a brief pause from the day job for what has fast become the traditional RIPPLES new year get-together (episode IV). After previous meetups in Edinburgh, Sheffield and Stirling, this time it was the turn of Tim Braunholtz-Speight and his colleagues at Tyndall Manchester to kindly host us.

As in previous years, we started by sharing our experiences of the past 12 months and the various successes and challenges that it brought. Tim then led us in a lively mini-workshop on the future of community energy, drawing on his ongoing work at Tyndall. We talked about our own individual and collective plans for the year ahead, from funding bids and job applications to conference sessions and writing projects. We ate, drank and laughed together, and were even welcomed along to the Tyndall institution that is Falafel Friday, which frankly every workplace should replicate.

Towards the end of proceedings, after spending the best part of 24 hours in each other’s company, we tend to turn to the existential question: what is RIPPLES for? This year was no different. Does our little community still serve the purpose it did three years ago when a bunch of like-minded, largely unpublished postgraduate students and early career researchers got together for solidarity, mutual support and to explore opportunities to think and write together?

Instrumentally there has been much to celebrate in our work together. For example, 2018 saw the publication of not one but two co-authored papers on the roles of community in sustainability transitions, together drawing on the combined experience and expertise of 11 (eleven!) RIPPLES members. Other pieces of collaborative writing remain in progress (watch this space!).

But for me there’s something much more important. Clearly, we are immensely privileged, and as critical social scientists this should never be far from the forefront of our minds. But at a career stage and in a sector that feels increasingly fraught, where academics (and everyone else) are asked to do more with less, when students are paying more but available resources seem to be diminishing, and above all where success in employment, job security and career progression often pits us against our closest colleagues and friends, many of us are battling physical and/or mental ill-health.

For me, and I hope for others, RIPPLES means respite. A few times a year, whether at an organised meetup or coming together in the course of our respective work, we get to create our own space that (while far from perfect) feels different, where we can celebrate with and support each other, hatch plans, ask provocative questions in a not-too-threatening environment, and laugh.

In a year when some of us had our first taste of successful (albeit challenging) industrial action, the value-yet-hard-work of solidarity is clear to see. Here’s to the year ahead and creating those spaces however, wherever and whenever we get the chance.