Local currency banks on community spirit

While many of us moan about the trend for national and multinational retailers and businesses to take over and clone our high streets or our town and city...

This is why the efforts of those behind the setting up of the Stroud Pound Co-operative are so admirable.

The co-operative was established to try to stimulate the local economy through the creation of its own local currency which it launched last month. It is not the first local currency to be launched, and others have already followed, but its co-operative structure distinguishes it from the others.

Stroud Pound Co-operative has been set up as a not-for-profit enterprise that will run and administer the scheme on behalf of its members. The co-operative is an initiative of the Transition Stroud Lifestyles and Livelihoods Group and the new currency is seen as one piece in a jigsaw of initiatives that will help to create an alternative economy for the area. 

Supporters of local currencies argue that a sizeable proportion of any pounds sterling transaction goes to service the debts of the global economy, thereby bringing very little benefit to a local community. A local currency actually commits consumers to buying locally, encourages the development of local businesses, stimulates the local circulation of goods and services and creates a tool for wider local development.

Molly Scott Cato, one of the organisers of the Stroud Pound Co-operative, says Stroud is well placed to succeed: “The aim of the currency is to keep economic value within the local economy, but the link to the local identity is also important. There is a big farmers’ market in Stroud and we hope there will be a synergy between consumers and producers.”

She argues that, far from being a risky time to launch the currency, the current economic climate offers opportunities: “People are now really questioning where money comes from and who controls it. If you’d ask people to think about those things a few years ago, you’d have been dismissed as a weird, fringey person — but now people want to know.

“We do need stronger, local economies but people are nervous about anything new. Experience has shown, however, that people who respond imaginatively and creatively in a recession tend to benefit.”

Having a sense of ownership and control over your own currency is not something most of us have experience of, so there is perhaps some understandable nervousness from the people — and more especially the businesses — of Stroud.

“For co-operators, the idea of putting something back into the community is nothing new,” says Dr Cato. “But many new businesses are extraordinarily self-contained and don’t feel part of their community. Getting them to show a commitment to that local community is quite an uphill struggle.”

“We need to reach a critical mass that will create an upward spiral of involvement. If businesses stand back and wait to see if it will work, then it won’t.”

There are many businesses that have already signed up — including the local post office, bookshop, bakery and butcher — and a pre-Christmas campaign will encourage people to do their Christmas shopping in the town.

Local Labour/Co-operative MP David Drew is a supporter. Writing on his blog after the launch he said: “It is estimated every £1 of spending yields £4 of economic activity; the more we spend on our own local goods the quicker our economy will recover and the sooner we will see economic growth in the constituency. I purchased some currency and look forward to spending it at the farmers’ market next week.”

The currency, designed by local artist Ronan Schoemaker, comes in four denominations — £1, £2, £5 and £10 — each note bearing a locally relevant image. These include local wildlife, as represented by the Adonis Blue butterfly found on nearby Minchinhampton Common, and the lawnmower which was invented in Stroud.

The £10 note features one of Stroud’s most famous sons, the author Laurie Lee. His widow Cathy, who attended the launch, believes he would have been a supporter.

• Further information on the Stroud Pound Co-operative is available at www.stroudpound.org.uk.

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