“Nobody can really say they’ve run a truly successful community currency. And none of us can really say that we know what we’re doing” – this was how Tom Shakhli, manager of the Brixton Pound, opened CCIA’s conference last Friday, 24th April. While this may seem a strange way to welcome fellow enthusiasts and prospective converts, Tom’s admission highlighted the young, innovative and still evolving nature of the community currency field. It also pointed to the reason why people had come from all over the UK and further afield to attend the event: to learn from one another about the potentials, challenges and impacts of other projects.
Facilitating such exchanges is one of CCIA’s central aims. Leander Bindewald from the New Economics Foundation – a lead CCIA partner – gave an overview of our six pilot currencies. While several are still in very early stages of implementation, a number have made tangible steps towards achieving their goals – be it the e-Portemonnee’s aim of encouraging more environmentally friendly behaviour or the objective of the time credit programmes run by Spice and Makkie to reduce inequalities. Preliminary findings of the impact of CCIA currencies can be found in our interim report.
Next up, two speakers from Lambeth Council showed that, even if Tom thinks he doesn’t know what he’s doing, they are more than convinced of the benefits of the Brixton Pound. The first, Tom Bridgeman, summarised some of the challenges the council and residents of Lambeth are facing, particularly around gentrification and housing costs. Sue Sheehan then spoke on how Lambeth Council are seeking to address such issues through transforming themselves into a “cooperative” structure, with the Brixton Pound hitting “a lot of the council targets around social, environmental and economic objectives”.
After lunch, our two headline acts took to the stage. Brett Scott, author of The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: hacking the future of money, took us through some of his “adventures in alternative currencies”, from the global phenomenon of Bitcoin to the Greek TEM, which emerged in response to the current crisis. Regarding the Brixton Pound, Brett identified its value less in its actual economic impact than in the fostering of a mentality of economic solidarity among local residents and small businesses. This, he suggested, could be pushed further by using the currency as a tool to bridge the gaps between the multiple economies within Brixton, countering the divisive dynamic of gentrification.
Nigel Dodd, a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics and author of The Social Life of Money, then embarked on a tour de force which took in everything from 1980s thrash metal to his delight upon recently being told by a student that “researching money is cool now”. Community currencies, said Nigel, help us to see the nature of money and reveal its transformative, utopian potential as well as its dystopian effects. The “fuller, more enhanced forms of money” represent a subversion of the types of money created by powerful individuals and institutions, appropriating and redesigning a social technology to fulfill the needs of various communities.
If you missed out this time, join us for CCIA’s closing conference in Brussels on 19th May.