Posted by: Mike Grenville | 10 November 2008

Unleashing Local Money

Peter North puts out a call for input to a forthcoming book about local currencies:

Green Books in the UK will be publishing a guide to alternative currencies as part of their “Transition Guides” series called: “Money: how to unleash a money revolution where you live”.

I am writing it, and it will be published in September next year. It won’t be an inaccessible academic tome, but an affordable accessible ‘how to’ guide. I have to deliver the manuscript in February.

This is an open call for you to get in touch with me if you think you have a good story about setting up an alternative currency scheme of any kind (LETS, LETSystem, Time Money, Time Dollar, Hours, scrip, Totnes or Lewes Pound, regional money etc) that you feel those interested in setting up currencies, perhaps as part of their transitioning to deal with climate change and peak oil.

I am interested in good examples of:

  • setting up currency schemes in different examples.
  • designing systems that do work (ie, you have a track record of success, NOT “it would work if only you did xxx” Tell me when you did xxx and why it worked.)
  • managing circulation – avoiding overlarge hoards or debts, managing people leaving without paying off debts, credit limits, deciding how much scrip to print)
  • involving hard to reach communities, and businesses.
  • working with local authorities.
  • publicity and promotion
  • explaining to new people how it works.

I am relatively familiar with things in the UK, New Zealand, Hungary and Argentina, and quite up to date with the States and Canada – it would be good to hear about things elsewhere. We have a good track record in overselling what complementary currencies can do, and not talking about what does not work. So I want the experiences to be grounded and verified, not just peoples hopes and pet theories about what could happen – but also optimistic.

Experience is that when financial systems crash we see an effervescence of alternative currency networks. We now have a lot of experience about what works and how to avoid the pitfalls. This is a chance to distil that experience. Of course, anyone who gets in touch with me and we use their stuff will be credited.

I look forward to your experiences.

Peter North (P.J.North (at) liverpool.ac.uk)
Department of Geography
University of Liverpool

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Responses

  1. Peter,
    Graham Burnett and I were the ‘re-kindlers’ of South East Essex LETS from 1996 to about 2003, when it changed into a time bank, and seemed to lose energy and dissipate. Graham and I presided over a time of substantial growth in SEELETS and the launch of our local ‘pier’ currency (after Southend pier). I think we learnt that it was difficult to run effectively over a large geographical area such as South East Essex and many of the current initiatives locally (Freecycle, Southend Credit Union, Transition Town Westcliff) stem in my mind from that first attempt at ‘re-localisation’, so whilst SEELETS might not have been hugely successful (about 100 members at its peak) it has enabled people to think differently about how we can organise economically, for local need rather than global greed. I still believe that LETS are viable economic alternatives whose time will come again.

  2. Thanks for this Stephen. One of the key issues to grapple with is what is ‘local’ for a local currency. For a babysitter, local really means a street or two away, but for a business in Southend then Essex, East Anglia or the South East might be what they mean…..

  3. Hi – we’re putting together some ideas for you, Peter, based on our experiences of running a community currency system here in Durham.

    In the meantime I was curious to hear more about your experiences, Stephen, especially as we have recently gone from being a LETS (with touches of Time Bank) to a Time Bank (with more than a touch of LETS!) The bit about ‘seemed to lose energy and dissipate’ is of particular concern to me, and am also curious about why you turned into a Time Bank. If you are willing to share your experiences, please email me at: j.u.panther@durham.ac.uk – that would be great.

  4. Sorry it’s taken so long to get back to you, Peter. And is now probably past your deadline. Still in case it’s any use to you…

    Our group has found the following works for us:

    1) It is important that members are encouraged to contact each other to arrange exchanges, if they feel confident enough to. Some people need more support than others, and it may be necessary for someone to take on the role of ‘broker’ or ‘go-between’ on behalf of members who want this. But you get more ‘social glue’ if people can begin to create their own relationships with other members.

    2) It’s important that in the end it’s based on trust, people may take some time to trust each other, but if in the end it’s not about trust, it’s not really about friendship and community either. We publish balances, so people can offer services to people with high positive balances, and request help from people with very negative balances
    we have set up a yahoo group, so people can keep in touch with each other in between meetings, or if they can’t come to meetings. Publishing balances makes the whole thing very transparent to members, which encourages trust.

    3) For thousands of years, people have combined socialising with exchanging things, eg. market-places, tupperware parties whatever. Regular social meetings are really important if community currency systems are to take off. If these are to be well-attended, it helps to have both food and drink, and things to exchange, at these meetings. Socialising leads to exchanging of things which leads to socialising. The things often provide an excuse for people to come along, and help break the ice between members who haven’t met before. we meet nearly every month – people are much happier to start trading when they have actually met other members. At every meeting we have a chance to say if we have any requests or offers. After the meeting these are typed up and emailed / posted to all members. We send email reminders a few days before our meetings, and try to phone everyone to remind them, or to ask if they have any requests / offers to pass on.

    4) It’s really important that new members realise quickly that community currency units aren’t like money. If they are worried about their accounts becoming negative, they won’t spend their credits and the system won’t become very active. If you tell people they can’t spend their units until they’ve earned them, you risk the whole thing never really getting off the ground. At the same time, the organisers need to keep an eye on people who have high negative or positive balances, and check the members have ways of bringing these balances back towards the middle.

    5) We have grown mainly by word of mouth so we have had slow and steady growth, with people who are really interested.

    6) We are not dependent on external funding – our admin work is reimbursed from a System Account, which all members contribute to (£1 to £5 a year). This means we don’t have to spend hours making funding applications. In other contexts funding might be essential… but I think people should recognise that funding has both upsides and downsides…


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