Community-led initiatives in Europe

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A wide diversity and growing number of community-led initiatives (CLIs) can be found all across Europe, with documented histories in some cases of over 50 years. Initiatives associated with the Transition, Permaculture and Ecovillage movements, along with Community energy, Solidarity economy and various forms of community food initiative are found across the whole of Europe, though distribution of particular networks can be clustered and/or patchy. Despite significant recent research effort, the full numbers, nature, scope and impacts of CLIs in Europe are not yet documented or established.

Nature and Diversity of Community-Led Initiatives in Europe

According to findings of the TESS research project on community-led initiatives (CLIs), CLIs in Europe tend to be created in order to advance environmental and/or social dimenions of sustainability on the environmental and social dimensions. In a survey of members of CLIs from six European countries (Finland, Germany, Italy, Romania, Scotland and Spain), more than ninety percent of respondents reported that the most important goal of community action for them was one of the following:[1]

  • Providing opportunities for social interaction
  • Using natural resources more efficiently
  • Combating climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Promoting more sustainable behaviour, life styles and social practices

Many CLIs are connected with specific networks, and some of these networks have particular strengths in or focus upon specific domains are activities, it is very common for a single initiative to operate simultaneously in multiple domains of activity. Among 63 initiatives surveyed in TESS, nearly fifty per cent were active in the domain of food, 38 per cent in waste, 28 percent on transport and 27 per cent on energy.[1]

Key networks of CLIs in Europe include the Transition movement, Ecovillages, Permaculture movement, Community energy, Solidarity economy, Degrowth, Community-supported agriculture (CSA) and Slow food. These networks have many historical and present-day associations, with overlap, intersection and collaboration all common. Many can be regarded as some form or another of commoning movement, where communities of co-users or other stakeholders self-organise to create and implement appropriate governance and management mechanisms.[2] Many Transition initiatives and projects adopt methodologies from permaculture and solidarity economy, initiate community energy or CSA projects, and act as examples of degrowth in practice. Since 2014, ecovillage, permaculture and transition networks have formally collaborated at European level as the ECOLISE meta-network. These connections within and across networks promote the translocal mobilisation of social movements called for by, for example, researcher Flor Avelino as a strategy for collective nurturing and empowerment.[3]

Regarding their legal status, the majority of the 63 CLIs studied within TESS were cooperatives, with different organisational forms evenly distributed among the six countries involved.[1] Nearly a quarter of TESS case study initiatives had no formal legal organisation. Governance procedures vary in their degree of formality: some CLIs deploy structured decision-making process such as general assemblies and committees, some base decision-making on full participation and consensus.

Age and Geographical distribution of CLI in Europe

Taking TESS project sampling as potential representative of CLIs in Europe, most were created around 2010, in the early times of the financial crisis, with nearly a quarter of the studied initiatives having more than 14 years of existence and another quarter being created between 2012 and 2016, showing an acceleration of initiatives being created [1]. Some of the oldest initiatives we know of are the Findhorn intentional community, ecovillage in the UK that was founded in 1962 and the Les Jardins de Cocagne and a first CSA-like initiative in Switzerland that started as early as 1978.

An assessment of number of CLIs in Europe is difficult and depends strongly on the sources we use. Not only each network might register and map a very different number of initiatives on their national and global maps, but also different mapping exercises come out with different numbers per network and country. However, based on the ECOLISE map for Transition movement, Ecovillages and Permaculture movement we already reach 1000 initiatives in Europe [4]. Adding the 250 Community energy initiatives [5], two million Solidarity economy organisations [6] and nearly 2800 Community Supported Agriculture alike initiatives, we can start understanding the dimension of these movements in Europe.

TESS project realised that most of CLI projects are either acting at the NUT3 spacial scale (city/municipality level) or SubNUTS3 (village, neighbourhood), with an almost equal share [1]


Number of CLI at ECOLISE website (including only initiatives from the Transition, Permaculture and Ecovillage movement) [7],

In some European countries (such as Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina) there is currently an absence of CLI in the terms we know it (definitions and concepts). However, this gap needs further inquiry and ECOLISE is actively searching to understand and connect with partners, institutions and people that are able share and learn together the knowledge and experience between these countries and the ones are currently connected within ECOLISE.

Ecovillages in Europe

GEN today lists more than 1000 local ecovillage projects and networks worldwide , among them approximately 130 in Europe [8], a number slightly lower than the number mentioned by GEN Europe, that includes 41 projects (aspiring to become ecovillages) and 50 Ecovillages [9], but much lower than the 430 community projects identified in 2014 by The independent Eurotopia-Directory [10]. ECOLISE maps currently 57 ecovillages [11]. Within Europe there are several regional networks, such as the Baltic Ecovillage Network (BEN) and the RIE, the Red Ibérica de Ecoaldeas which includes projects in Spain and Portugal. National networks are very widespread in Europe as shown by the SUSTAINABLE LIVING COMMUNITIES OF FINLAND, the National Network GEN Hungary [12] and RIVE, the Italian national network. Outside Europe, GEN is strong in Africa, Latin America and Asia [8].

While Findhorn intentional community, founded in 1962 and harbouring nearly 500 people, Sólheimar is one of the oldest communities in Europe. Founded in 1930 it is today a village with 100 inhabitants focusing on social, artistic and ecological aspects of sustainability [13].

Transition in Europe

Globally there are 934 local initiatives and 26 national or regional Hubs registered within Transition Network [14]. In Europe we can find nearly 630 initiatives [15] and 18 Hubs [14]. While Transition hubs tend to form at various levels of scale to catalyse and support Transition, local initiatives are groups of local people who come together to design and implement collective sustainable to regenerative solutions in their area.

The first and oldest is Transition Town Totnes which was launched in 2006 and is home to Transition Network that coordinates and supports the Transition movement since 2007. Transition was quickly adopted in communities across Britain before spreading to other countries in the world.

The Hubs are usually national networks as shown by Transition Italia (Italy), România În Tranziţie (Romania) and Red de Transición (RedT) (Spain). However, hubs can be informal and support territorial units crossing existing national/political borders, such as TINI, the national umbrella organisation for Transition Ireland & Northern Ireland, which is currently operation as an is an informal network with a Facebook page[16]. Also, some national hubs can by supported by existing organisations such as the Luxembourg case, which is supported by CELL, the Centre for Ecological Learning Luxembourg.

Permaculture in Europe

The Permaculture Association was set up as a charitable unincorporated association in 1983 and in 2006 registered as a charity in England[17] The LAND Network of permaculture learning and demonstration sites run by the Permaculture Assocation (Britain) includes 115 registered projects in England and around thirty others in Scotland and Wales.[18] According to Andy Goldring, chair of the association, this comprises only a small fraction of the projects that actually exist, with substantial numbers of unregistered projects in cities such as Leeds (ten or more) and Bristol (fifty or more); the actual number of community-level permaculture projects in Britain is probably around 500-800.[19]

Regional and national networks: Finnish Permaculture Association The Permaculture Association According to its website,[20] the charity´s mission is to: "Empower people to design thriving communities across Britain, and contribute to permaculture worldwide"

The Norwegian Permaculture Association, founded in 1987, lists 2 LAND centres, 2 LAND learners and 5 local networks.[21]

Permaculture is well grounded in Portugal, being one of the countries with more projects per capita and land area according to Worldwide Permaculture Network [22]. In Portugal, the national Rede Convergir map lists 46 registered permaculture projects in late May 2018 [23]

Permakultur Danmark lists more than 250 registered permaculture projects In Denmark with the highest concentration in urban areas, there are 10 local networks established or in development and 14 LAND centres and starters.[24].

The Latvian Permaculture Association (LPA) is representing the transition movement in Latvia as a national hub of the Transition Network.[25] Permacultura-Romania Institute for Research on Permaculture in Romania (ICPR)

Solidarity Economy Projects in Europe

Solidarity Economy initiatives count to more than two million worldwide and growing fast during the last decade [26]. The SUSY report of 2015 on Social and Solidarity Economy indicates that while solidarity economy gained ground tremendously after the crisis of 2008, it is still a very young sector with most of the projects founded after 2012. [27]

Commmunity Energy Projects in Europe

More than 250 energy cooperatives in Europe [28].

Community Energy England (CEE),

"Middlegrunden Wind Farm is a very large-scale offshore project in Copenhagen harbour, half-owned by the municipality and half by a local co-operative with over 10,000 members. The project received widespread support at the planning stage in the 1990s. It was greatly helped by Denmark’s institutional support for both renewable energy and community scale projects, as well as the lead role played by local government".[29]

Community Food Production in Europe

Within Community Food Production we are considering Community Supported Agriculture projects, Self-Sufficiency projects as well as Community gardens. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is defined by the European CSA Research Group in 2015 as “a direct partnership between a group of consumers and producer(s) whereby the risks, responsibilities and rewards of farming activities are shared through long-term agreements."

According to URGENCI, the International Network for Community Supported Agriculture, the first CSA-like initiatives in Switzerland were founded in 1978 (Les Jardins de Cocagne) and 1982 (La Clé des Champs), but the majority of todays CSA initiatives dates from 2007 or later. URGENCI's 2015 report on community-supported-agriculture in Europe documented CSA activity in 21 European countries and recorded 2,783 initiatives producing food for almost half a million people. When CSA-like initiatives like the French Jardins de Cocagne and all Italian GAS are also taken in account, these number rise to approximately 6,300 initiatives and one million consumers.[30] The same study found that these initiatives range from „fully democratic associations of farmers and consumers, through cooperatives of self employed farmers with volunteers, to more conventional firms supported by subscribers.[30]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Celata, F., Hendrickson, C., 2016. Case study integration report (TESS Project Deliverable No. 4.1)
  2. Bollier, D., & S. Helfrich (eds.), 2012. The Wealth of the Commons. Amherst, MA: Levellers Press
  3. Avelino, F., 2018. Time to ignite the power of Translocal social movements. Accessed October 7th 2018.
  4. ECOLISE map, accessed on June 2018
  5., accessed on June 21st 2018
  6. accessed on June 21st 2018
  7., accessed on June 21st 2018
  8. 8.0 8.1 Kunze, I., Avelino, F., 2015. Social Innovation and the Global Ecovillage Network. Research Report, TRANSIT: EU SSH.2013.3.2-1 Grant agreement no: 613169.
  9., accessed on June 21st 2018
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  11., accessed on June 21st 2018
  12. Accessed on May 24th 2018
  13. Accessed on May 28th 2018
  14. 14.0 14.1, accessed in June 21st 2018
  15., accessed in June 21st 2018
  16. Accessed on June 11th 2018
  17. Accessed on June 4th 2018
  18. Accessed May 28th 2018.
  19. Andy Goldring, personal communication, May 2nd 2018.
  20. Accessed June 4th 2018
  21. Accessed on June 15th 2018
  22., accessed on Jun 2015 (before changing project eligibility
  23. Rede Convergir. Accessed May 28th 2018.
  24. Accessed on June 18th 2018
  25. Accessed on June 11th 2018
  26. Troisi, R., di Sisto, M. & Castagnola, A. "Social & Solidarity Economy as Development Approach for Sustainability (SSEDAS) - Final Report. (2015)
  27. Troisi, R., di Sisto, M., Castagnola, A., 2018. Transformative economy: Challenges and limits of the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) in 55 territories in Europe and in the World. Sustainable and Solidarity Economy, Firenze.
  29. "Dr N. Simcock, R. Willis and P. Capener in association with Lancaster Environment Centre – Lancaster University. THE BRITISH ACADEMY 2016. Cultures of Community Energy International case studies"
  30. 30.0 30.1 Volz, P., Weckenbrock, P., Cressot, N. & Parot, J., 2016. Overview of Community Supported Agriculture in Europe