Over the last few years, a number of local currencies have launched in the UK, Totnes, Stroud, and Brixton being the most significant. The Brixton pound has now taken it one step further and next week, at its second birthday party, launches as an e-currency. Users will be able to pay by text, making it more versatile and opening up more opportunities for smaller traders that cannot currently accept credit cards, such as market stalls.
It’s the first local e-currency in the country, a pilot organised by the Transition Network, the New Economics Foundation and Dutch organisation QOIN. Brixton is a good place to run the experiment. It’s a distinctive part of London with its own identity and a thriving subculture. It’s young, diverse, and has a reputation for free thinking. It’s socially deprived, and has been for a long time. It’s also got a considerably larger catchment area than Totnes or Stroud, with lots of passing traffic through the Underground Station too – and yes, you can use Brixton pounds at the newsagents in the station.
Brixton is also home to many small businesses, a genuinely alternative ‘shopping experience’ for most Londoners, with backstreets full of ethnic grocers and hairdressers, Reggae music shops, cafes. Tesco eats these sorts of places for breakfast.
That’s where alternative currencies come in, functioning as a loyalty scheme, encouraging people to seek out local traders. By spending money in locally owned businesses, money circulates within the community, rather than leaving the community through chain retailers.
Whether these local currencies have had any great impact or not is hard to tell, all three of the big ones still being largely experimental. But they’re fascinating and vital experiments in an unstable economic system, and I will continue to watch their progress.
- For more on local currencies, see Peter North’s book Local Money.