The New Cash Currencies Adding Value To Communities

B£ 2015 (3d)
  • Article by Amy Bradney-George
  • August 14, 2015 at 8:24 AM

As electronic payments become more and more common, a small number of communities are turning back to cash in a very creative way.

Instead of the familiar banknotes of their own countries, these alternative thinkers are creating currencies that can be shared between businesses in their communities. The paper notes they use are symbols of the rise of artisanal everything, with each alternative currency featuring pictures and graphics lovingly designed by locals.

BerkShares are of the most established of these new currencies. Set up in 2006 in Berkshire, Massachusetts, the local currency is now available through six bank branches in the region and is accepted at 400 locally owned businesses.

“BerkShares are meant to maximize the circulation of goods, services, and capital within a defined region, thus strengthening the local economy,” the BerkShares website says.

“The people who choose to use the currency make a conscious commitment to buy local, and in doing so take a personal interest in the health and well-being of their community by laying the foundation for a truly vibrant, thriving economy.”

In the UK, the Brixton Pound was introduced to the eponymous London region around six years ago as a way to support small shops and businesses struggling through the recession and the rise of bigger commercial chains. It recently made headlines after the release of a new five-pound note designed by award-winning artist Jeremy Deller.

Brixton Pound designer Charlie Waterhouse – who helped roll out the new notes – says the currency notes are amazing visually and also through what they stand for.

They’re beautiful and mysterious; spiritual and politicising. In two small sides of paper it provides the most compelling response to the rot that emanates from the Square Mile that I’ve seen since we were all told we had to live under the yoke of Austerity,” he says on the Brixton Pound blog.

Perhaps inspired by the success of the Brixton Pound and other local currencies in Totnes, Lewes and Stroud, people in the city of Bristol also developed a local currency. The Bristol Pound was launched in 2012 and features colourful and creative designs that symbolise different values the community upholds.

The current five-pound note, for example, was designed by local street artist Biography Stewy and features “a collection of famous people either born in Bristol or famous for their work in Bristol: DJ Derek, J.K. Rowling, Robert Wyatt (of Soft Machine), Blackbeard, Tony Benn, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Tricky, Elizabeth Blackwell M.D., Banksy, Alfred the Gorilla, Colin Pillinger CBE, Claudia Fragapane.”

The Bristol Pound website says suggests creating such interesting images is a great way to support the local currency and the community.

“With £B800,000 spent in the first two and a half years of the Bristol Pound, we cannot wait to see how many of these new paper £Bs will be swapped for sterling and used to support local, independent businesses,” it says.

Other cities and countries have also turned to local currencies as a way to add value to their communities. There’s the Makkie in Amsterdam, the school-based Chiemgauer in Germany, the Calgary Dollar and Toronto Dollar in Canada and Ithaca Hours in western New York State, which have been around since 1991.

Each of these currencies come with their own stories and values that create a closer connection between businesses and customers, strengthening the sense of community.

So even though alternative currencies have been around for a while – as well as alternative methods of payment such as bartering – the growing interest in these new notes suggests they are also becoming an antidote to modern society’s reliance on technology, bringing people back into their communities and the people around them.

Images: A screenshot of the Bristol five-pound note, source: Bristol Pound website; a screenshot of the Brixton five-pound note, source: Brixton Pound website.

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