Tools for a Fairer Economy – Reflections

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Back in the office now after a whirlwind few days in Liverpool for the Guild’s Tools for a Fairer Economy conference.

This was the second major conference for the Guild, and I had worried that the amazing energy and enthusiasm that had been a feature of our inaugural event in Bristol in 2014, was not going to be repeated. Happily it was, the room was buzzing with conversation throughout the whole two days, and many attendees came up to me afterwards saying how nice and supportive everyone else had been, so a huge thank you to all who came for being so fabulous!

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I planned the event with a specific outcome, this was to widen the scope of the Guild beyond the “transition currencies” model, and in doing so ensure that groups wishing to start new schemes think carefully about what their community needs.

I get many enquiries from groups and individuals around the country saying they want to have a Bristol Pound in their local area, and apart from being flattered my first reaction is to ask why?

The Bristol Pound is not a static project and is developing all the time, and has so far spawned the Prospects Network and the Real Economy to address particular issues. Similarly in the workshops we talked a lot about how the Brixton Pound saw themselves as a community hub project first and a local currency second.

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I concentrated on this theme with my talk about the transition currencies, proposing that they need to be about “People not Economics”. Even if a currency only works on a scale too small to make a significant economic impact (which all UK ones do), then this does not mean it is not successful, and indeed the usage figures should not be the measure of its success. Instead how the currency is situated within a community and how it is used is more important.

I always like to mention how the clunkiness of TXT2PAY helps create conversations in shops, and this theme of design was extended with Nigel Dodd talking about money not being an object but a social relationship and how we needed to warm up our relationship with it.

On Thursday the theme continued with Charlie Waterhouse’s entertaining design talk and Tom Crompton talked about the purpose of a currency to reflect the values of the community that creates it in his workshop and subsequently the blog post here.

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Solidarity and support is also a key feature and Peter North talked about how this was important to many of the South American currencies particularly in Argentina during their economic crisis in the 90s. Bristol Pound has the signature, “People of Bristol”, on all it’s paper pounds and exciting projects like the Brixton Fund directly support local projects.

Working away in the relative calm of the Bristol Pound office, I am heartened to know that there are many others who are sharing my joys and frustration doing this difficult work. I counted twenty different schemes in the room last week, a truly supportive network, with many inspiring stories and experiences.

Thanks to Liverpool Pound for hosting, the venue, food and warm welcome was very much appreciated and I notice this morning that further progress towards a new currency for Liverpool is being made already!

Next stop Birmingham in the Autumn for a smaller more workshop type event, and in the meantime there will be some regular Skype meetings as requested by the lively “what next for the guild” workshop group, who still had plenty of energy last thing on the second day. Looking forward to them already.

Graham Woodruff
Coordinator, Guild of Independent Currencies