To celebrate its five year anniversary, the Brixton Pound (B£), a South-West London complementary currency scheme - an initiative which I am proud to have been part of in the past - has just issued a new special edition five B£ note.
Set up in 2009 by a group of local volunteers as an offshoot of Transition Town Brixton, the scheme also seeks to create connections, strengthen community, and to highlight the positives within an an area that has been often only talked about in terms of its social problems.
But how does it all work? Anyone can exchange their Pounds Sterling for B£s, at a number of issuing points scattered around the Brixton area. The exchange rate is one to one. The beautiful notes come in four denominations: one, five, ten and 20 B£s.
B£s can then be spent in about 200 local independent businesses who are on the scheme. Some businesses will also offer discounts to B£ customers, to encourage the use of B£s and help increase its circulation.
Since 2011, people have also been able to pay for their local goods and services via SMS, through an innovative Pay by Text scheme enabling B£s to be transferred from customer's to the business online account. How?
It takes just a few minutes for people to set up an online B£ Pay by Text account, which they then just have to keep topped up with credit. They do so by transferring their chosen top-up amount of Pounds Sterling into the Brixton Pound bank account, and by receiving the equivalent B£ Pay by Text credit in return.
They can then again simply spend this within participating local independent stores, who also have a Pay by Text online account to which money from their customers goes, and from which the businesses' own payments for local goods and services within the local area can also be made.
Some might wonder why they would want to go through the loop of exchanging their national currency for Brixton Pound, or of setting up a Pay by Text account.
As opposed to money spent within large chain stores with no links to the areas in which they operate, and driven by distant shareholders' profits, research by the New Economics Foundation shows that more of the money that is spent within local independent businesses is re-spent locally, to the benefit of the local community, of which these businesses are part and parcel. Something known as the local multiplier effect.
The B£, and local currencies in general, are a tool for people to show their support for their
local community, by putting their money where their mouths are. Because local currencies can only be spent locally, they stick around and benefit local areas for longer than when the national currency is spent locally. The B£ strapline 'Money that sticks to Brixton' encapsulates this trend.
The B£ has come a long way in its five years of operation and can boast some exciting achievements since its launch on 17 September 2009, when 60 local businesses came on board. Exactly two years later, and with more than double the amount of businesses on board, the scheme unveiled its electronic Pay by Text service, the first time such a payment method was ever used in the UK. An app also followed in 2014. Circulation now stands at 100,000 B£, with some 200 businesses accepting the paper currency, and 250 businesses accepting Pay by Text.
The designs of its second edition notes feature local landmarks and inspiring local people: Lenford Kwesi Garrison (B£1), Luold Deng (B£5), David Bowie (B£10), Violet Szabo (B£20). 'The Bowie' – as it soon came to be known as - was an instant hit.
This year, the scheme has launched the Brixton Bonus, its very own lottery scheme, with a 1,000B£ monthly prize up for grabs, with money raised going towards supporting local initiatives.
And coming up is the Brixton Fund, first of its kind in the UK. "Financed by revenue from the Brixton Bonus and digital B£ transaction fees of 1.5%. The fund will support local individuals, businesses and projects that would struggle to access larger funding pots, and increase local employment opportunities, take action for social justice and produce activities beneficial to the local community"
I might be a little biased, but there is no denying that this is a very dynamic and innovative community project with some big ambitions and achievements to match. Its stunning five year anniversary note is a bold testament to that.