wallet-1319856-mI was reading The Power of Just Doing Stuff (Rob Hopkins, 2013) the other day and came across the Bristol Pound. What is this, you may ask? In 2009 a small group of Bristol citizens, inspired by what they had seen happen in Totnes, Brixton and other transition towns decided to try out a local currency in their own home. At 12 noon on September 19th, 2012 at the local Corn Exchange the Mayor held up a note and asked loudly, “What will anyone give me in exchange for my Bristol Pound?” A local baker offered a loaf of bread and the currency was thus launched.

What is a local currency?

A local currency is a complementary currency – it does not seek to replace federal currency, such as the British Pound or the Canadian Dollar, it aims to operate along side it. Once one has traded federal money for local dollars, the local dollars can be spent at any participating business or organization. In Bristol, business can even pay municipal business fees in Bristol Pounds.

A neat feature used by some local currencies right now (in Brixton and Bristol, UK, for example) is the pay-by-text service where a business patron can text the total amount of their bill from their account to the account of business they are purchasing from. The business gets an instant confirmation text and the transaction is complete.

Why use local currency?

The main benefit of local currency is that it encourages local spending. When federal currency is used at a big chain store, most of that money is immediately funneled out of the community where it was earned and spent. It is shipped off to the bank accounts of some big company that likely has little invested in the many individual communities where it has built stores.

When local currency is in use, however, people spend more money locally, in ways that keep more of that spent money within the community. This retained money is recycled within the community and results in more local economic activity. Rob Hopkins estimates that the £180 000 that has been turned into Bristol Pounds will generate £1.8 million worth of this vital local economic activity (The Power of Just doing Stuff, p 57). As a result, more local people have more opportunity to be paid, to use services, to purchase local products and generally to support the great things their neighbours and other community members are doing. Sounds good to me!

Where does this happen?

Local currencies can be found on every continent (well, except Antarctica…) but Europe seems to be the global hub for local currency action.  Germany has around 15 and the UK, France and the Netherlands each have close to 10. In Canada there have been a number of initiatives worth noting. Calgary Dollars (noted as being one of the most active local currencies world-wide), Salt Spring Dollars and the Kawartha Loon are just three examples.

And what about our hometown? So far Guelph doesn’t have it’s own currency, though there are Downtown Dollars – gift certificates that can be bought and then used at any downtown business. Maybe this is something we could grow into our very own local currency!