Sunday, 7 October 2012

Funny Money

In 2000 I bought a book called Funny Money: in search of alternative cash by David Boyle. Around that time I was really interested in Time Banks and Local Exchange Trading Systems, having been introduced to them through a training day organised by Groundwork Black Country, who I worked for then. I remember being really inspired hearing stories about Edgar Cahn and the US Time Dollars and Time Bank which he founded.

I don't think that we ever got any alternative currencies going through Groundwork, and at that point in my life I was mostly still socialising with people I knew from university - a number of whom had become accountants. They clearly thought I was talking nonsense when I mentioned this sort of thing, and I remember debating it with a friend who graduated in International Business and being told in no uncertain terms that there was no way that the economic system we have would change, and these sorts of things wouldn't work. Not being well-versed in economics (or business), I didn't have a particularly strong position to argue from, I just remember feeling incredibly angry about the economic system and passionate about alternatives which promoted what seemed to me to be a much more equal world. It's strange looking back and realising that these conversations took place before Freecycle had even started. I'm so pleased that what I was so angry about is now written about by people who know their stuff and expose a lot of the myths around economics - for example in People First Economics (well worth a read).

You can therefore imagine how delighted I was to meet up today with a good friend from Bristol who has already swapped her pound sterling for Bristol Pound notes and hear how the local currency works. Hundreds of independent businesses have signed up to accept the Bristol Pound, and the whole system seems really easy to start using. But what made me tingle with joy was when my friend explained that she had eaten in a restaurant that doesn't (yet) take the Bristol Pound, and accidentally left the tip in Bristol Pounds. The waitress happily picked it up and said 'brilliant, I can get my lunch tomorrow with that from my local shop'. Wow!

My friend's Bristol £5 and £1 notes - beautiful

I'm feeling inspired to re-read Funny Money, and related books that have been gathering dust on my bookshelves for the last decade ... and perhaps look harder at the opportunities for introducing alternative currencies in some of the projects I'm involved in, such as East Coseley Big Local - especially as the Local Trust are exploring alternative, community-based economic approaches. We've also discussed time banks in relation to some community asset based health improvement work I'm doing - it feels as though these ideas are grabbing peoples' imaginations and feel possible.

I'll start by proudly showing people the Bristol Pound note which I exchanged today with my friend Carrie, and use it as reminder of what is possible when people come together and believe they can make change.

You can follow the Bristol Pound on twitter: @BristolPound
There's also interesting work being led by Localise West Midlands