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The Bristol Pound - changing our relationships with the money we use

September 19th will see the launch of the UK’s most ambitious and sophisticated community currency scheme - the city-wide Bristol Pound (£B). The project, 2 years in preparation, is a collaboration between the Bristol Pound Community Interest Company, Bristol Credit Union, Bristol Council, the Transition Network, nef and QOIN. The currency, like the Brixton Pound and other UK schemes, aims to create local economic resilience and greater self-determination in the face of globalisation and chain-store dominance. We also hope to change the way Bristol’s citizens relate to money itself.

How do you feel when using sterling for a purchase? Transactions, as they have become faster, have become more impersonal. Sterling has become almost ubiquitous so people don’t think about what they are using and what its effects are.

One good reason to exchange sterling for Bristol Pounds is that you will be investing in Bristol Credit Union, who will hold the sterling backing for the scheme. The credit union is an ethical local bank that makes low cost loans to local residents and small businesses. 

So I’ve got some Bristol Pounds and decide I want a coffee. Instead of diving into the nearest Costa, I take a quick look at the Bristol Pound directory on my phone to see where I can get a coffee for Bristol Pounds. I see a list of places, some of which I’ve never heard of, and decide to try one out. The online map shows me the nearest place.

What happens when I go to pay for my coffee? Apart from a fast and secure electronic payment, there is also the recognition that both the coffee shop employee and I are doing something more than just trading in coffee. We are both part of something which explicitly supports our community. Following this transaction we are more likely to chat and have our positive values reinforced.

The business now has some Bristol Pounds and that again is something new, interrupting the norm. In the process of considering where to spend these new Bristol Pounds, the business will begin questioning where it is that they traditionally source their goods from and how much of that they could potentially source locally. We don’t expect a miracle of supply chains changing overnight, but we do think it will stimulate more consideration within the sourcing process. To support this, the Bristol Pound team will be actively working with businesses to help them spend their Bristol Pounds.

The coffee shop realises that it can get some of its supplies from Essential, the Bristol based cooperative wholesaler. The Bristol Pounds change hands, and a new business relationship is formed. Essential then have the possibility of using the Bristol Pound farm link initiative, a scheme that will encourage more of the regions primary producers to trade more within the city, rather than going further afield, to buy some quality local produce.

And all this happens with no risk to the businesses, because if they do find that they have too many Bristol Pounds (what a nice problem to have), and can’t find realistic ways to spend them on, then they can use their Bristol Pounds to pay their business rates to Bristol City Council via Bristol Credit Union.

All I’ve given here is one example of Bristol Pounds passing through the economy. There are a myriad of different ways it can happen, not just down supply chains but also across and up too, for example by paying professional services and trades-people, or staff through the Bristol Pound payroll scheme, again administered by the Credit Union. Imagine the strength and richness of the business networks that can develop through the collective action of using Bristol Pounds and the commitment to support the city in this way.

The Bristol Pound is not trying to take over the Bristol economy. Its just creating a small shift in the way money works towards those values we hold dear. Follow our progress at www.bristolpound.org and on Twitter @Bristolpound.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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