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Contemplating local currencies

"Bristol Pound sticks to people, builds community connections and works for people not banks to create fairer, stronger, happier local economy" (Bristol Pound)

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My personal experience of the Bristol Pound- by Lauren Ray (a Bristolian now using Calgary Dollars)

Bristol seems to take great pride in being independent and alternative, so the city welcomed a community currency with much enthusiasm when it was launched back in 2012. The Bristol Pound offered us with a refreshing economic alternative that was sorely needed in the aftermath of the 2008 banking collapse. Today, the Bristol Pound is the largest local currency system in the UK and represents to many of us the value of independent business, local consumerism and the spirit of community.

From the very beginning local people was encouraged to get involved with the Bristol Pound project, with many entering a competition to design the banknotes. This added to the anticipation of the new currency when the winning entries were revealed showing beautiful illustrations of iconic Bristol landmarks.

For many, the main attraction of the Bristol Pound is that it helps to keep money in Bristol. According to the founders, before the alternative currency was introduced 80% of the money spent in Bristol would typically leave the city, swallowed up by large international businesses and remote shareholders. Instead, by using the Bristol Pound money is retained in the local economy which stimulates growth and boosts local business for the benefit of our community. It also encourages businesses to source stock from suppliers in the Bristol area, helping to create local employment opportunities and reduce carbon emissions for greener trading. Knowing where and how your money is being spent and thus having greater economic transparency was hugely appealing for many people dealing with the fallout of the financial crash, and remains a huge incentive for many of us today.

Keeping businesses local and independent is also really important for many Bristolians. This is particularly evident in Stokes Croft, a fiercely independent and alternative area of Bristol, where for months and months residents protested (alas unsuccessfully) against the multinational corporation Tesco from opening another store. Many of the local consumers and businesses in this part of the city embraced the Bristol Pound, eager to demonstrate the rebellious nature of the area.

Following extensive advertising and local support over 800 businesses now accept the Bristol Pound. On a regular day I can buy my coffee and lunch in any number of cafes, pubs and restaurants around the city, and use Bristol Pounds at the cinema, museums, theatres and even to enter the cathedral. With the support of the Bristol Credit Union, money can be taken out from cashpoints or deposited, as well as used electronically which makes the currency much more convenient.

Unfortunately, one of my main concerns with the Bristol Pound is that its users are not representative of the wider community. Indeed, many of the areas that promote and accept the Bristol Pound are predominantly the affluent middle class areas of Bristol. There remain large parts of Bristol where the Bristol Pound is not accepted or even heard of, meaning those residents have far fewer opportunities to spend the Bristol Pound if at all. Clearly, many in Bristol do not have the privilege that allows them to afford the more expensive locally sourced organic produce.

That said, the currency may be more accessible for some following the decision by Bristol City Council to get on board. As a result of their involvement all of the community leisure centres across Bristol now accept the Bristol Pound and even our local taxes can be paid in the currency. In recent months we are now able to buy bus tickets and can even use Bristol Pounds at the train station. Arguably, one of the biggest endorsements for the currency came when the Mayor of Bristol agreed to take his entire salary in Bristol Pounds.

Evidently, the Bristol Pound is taking Bristol by storm. By using it we are proudly regaining control of our local economy and embracing the sense of community it brings to the city.