Event notes: Community and Complementary Currencies

time banking

Photo posted on Flickr by jseattle

On Oct 17, people gathered at our Transition Cafe event to find out more about local community and complementary currencies with speakers from Sheffield Lets and St Mary’s Timebuilders.

Local trading currency
Barabara from Sheffield LETS kicked off by describing Sheffield Stones, and how the local system works as an exchange of skills with one hour of time being roughly charged at 5 Stones, but negotiable, depending on the skill. A really wide range of skills are traded, and the scheme provides an interesting way to meet other like-minded people. They’re now looking to develop their website so that requests and offers can be made available online as well as through their current, paper based directory. Techno-wizards please get in touch!

Developing skills and community spirit
Beth from St Mary’s Timebuilders followed on, presenting their timebanking scheme primarily as a way to develop skills in people who are excluded from mainstream economic activity through illness, disability, lack of English, etc,  In the timebanking system, an hour of time given is always equivalent, no matter the type of skill offered e.g. legal advocacy, washing up, or driving a minibus. The emerging strengths of the scheme is the evident development of cooperation amongst participants, building local community links and a motivation to give time to others irrespective of monetary rewards, and to value individuals as more than the sum of their skills and effort.  They’re aiming to reach 900 participants by the end of their 5-year funding, so if you have any ideas about local projects that could benefit from a similar approach, then do shout up.

Local currencies
Susannah from Transition Sheffield described some of the local currencies set up by Transition groups e.g. those in Totnes, Brixton and Bristol.  The primary benefits of these systems are to keep money circulating for longer in the local economy, rather than leaking out via corporations whose profits go to owners or shareholders which may be many miles away.  The idea is to plug the ‘leaky bucket‘, and to build economic resilience within a local area. As such these local currencies are often championed by local independent traders.  The Bristol pound is also strongly supported by Bristol Council, where it is possible to pay council tax and business rates via the local currency and the Mayor has elected to take all of his salary in Bristol Pounds.  As austerity measures are starting to bite in Sheffield, this would be a timely moment for proposing the Sheffield pound.

Discussion points
The discussion was wide-ranging:  Alternative trading systems should be valued because they allow individuals to take back a measure of control over local financial systems rather than relying on the debt-based fiat money of a national currency which can become worthless through hyper-inflation and lack of trust.  However, these alternative currencies are subversive not just because of their ability to disrupt conventional  economic systems, but also in their capability to promote cooperation rather than competition.
Various examples of cooperation were mentioned: trading cooperatives such as the Spanish giant Mondragon and Sheffield’s own Regather, and also local housing cooperatives in which cooperation rather than competition is the norm.  There are also a number of online experiments such as Ripple which have potential to edge out commercial payment systems such as credit cards.  There was some discussion about the impact of scale on maintaining trust in a cooperative system, but a general feeling that there was scope for people to simultaneously participate in a range of different cooperative and trading systems at different scales and levels.

We covered a lot of ground, and I think everyone went home having learnt, understood or shared something about these different kinds of trading systems and currencies, and a number of key benefits were articulated:  valuing, including, and developing individuals, building a spirit of community cooperation, and taking control of our financial resilience.  All in all, they’re seen as creating happier and more stable communities.  What’s not to like?


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