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Meeting with Nigel Topping
Tuesday 6 January 2009
Nigel Topping, Hannah Lewis, Mamading Ceesay, Duncan Law, Beatrice Garoche, Steve Charlton, Josh Ryan-Collins, Susan Steed.
Overview of Meeting
Nigel Topping (from TT Totnes) came to speak to the currency group. To enthuse, inspire and give some handy hints. A summary of the conversation is below.
Background on Nigel
Nigel is on the currency group at Totnes. His background had been in manufacturing and management. He then studied an MSc In holistic studies Schumacher College where he did his research project on the business response to Climate Change. He currently works for the Carbon Disclosure Project.
The Totnes Pound
This came from the Economic and Business Group who were looking for something positive and tangible to contribute to the TT Totnes.
Stage 1: Pilot of Totnes Pound:
They did a pilot where they gave away Â£300 of Totnes pounds at the launch of the Economics groups. Anyone that turned up got one. It was accepted in 18 shops. The note was large with tick boxes for the stores. After the pilot they researched with 18 shops how they felt it went. This was a good way to get some basic feedback – â€˜it was too big for walletsâ€˜ (!). This gained trust, confidence and credibility.
Stage 2: Launch of Totnes Pound
After the 3 months pilot there were mixed feelings among the group. Some people wanted 6 months research time to get it right. However others felt momentum would have been lost so blasted ahead and printed 10000. The currency was designed on Photoshop and printed at a local printer (who were paid in 600 Totnes pounds) with some infrared to prevent forgery. It was launched at Schumacher college.
To give people an incentive to buy the currency you could exchange Â£9.50 sterling for Â£10 Totnes Likewise to disincentivise people from cashing them back into sterling the rate to transfer them back was Â£10 Totnes to Â£9.50 sterling.
The print run was Â£10000 but not all were sold initially so there were Â£5000 in circulation.
Credibility has been very important (hence the have backed it 100% with sterling).
Stage 3: Now
Eliminated the Â£9.50 for Â£10 (local businesses were disincentivised to accept them as they would be losing 5% when they converted back). It stifled the liquidity of the currency.
Totnes have found it difficult to get businesses to trade locally: A business to business problem. There is a business to business resource group in Totnes but they havenâ€™t been that active. They have had to think practically about the issues faced by businesses, how they can put it through the till, keep it in the float and discussed staff training. They have tried to work on individual businesses, for example they paid the printer in Totnes Pounds. After 6 months the printer had most of the money in Totnes pounds unspent so they asked then what they would like to spend the money on and went about making those links for example with a local minicab firm.
Going through process of becoming an Industrial and Provident Society: Wanted a democratic governance model. A historical quirk means that they are governed by the FSA. Spent Â£700 with Co-ops UK to do this. They have queried the name (the use of the name Totnes Currency and the use of the pound).
About Â£6000 in bank.
Who uses the currency and why?
In reality a relatively small number of people use the currency and many of them are the already converted. Main success is in raising awareness about local economy. Although there was an economic incentive people principally used it as an intellectual commitment to stimulate the local economy. The conversations have been the most important thing. Conversations take place anytime anyone uses a Totnes pounds (even sometimes when they donâ€™t or the shop doesnâ€™t accept them). This creates Community Capital.
What sort of businesses use the currency?
The easiest to get on board are the organic food shops, handmade shoe shops, local butchers, local fruit shops. Nigel warned against stereotyping and gave an interesting example of a small hole in the wall builders cafÃ© that accepts the currency. Cab companies are also good. Nigel thinks that supermarkets should be allowed to use the currency. By accepting the currency they are making the commitment to spend it locally.
Brixton has in the past had a very strong LETS scheme and we spent some time discussing LETS. This raised the issue of equitability and how people who canâ€™t buy into the currency can participate. This links into discussions in previous currency group meetings and the diagram of disadvantages of different types of local currency. Nigel outlined ideas about how LETS schemes and hard currency can link up. A currency should be a living system so there is convertibility from one to another. No closed system will live.
Some Hints from Totnes
- Have fun. He wishes they had done more clever marketing rasmataz
- Totnes used Â£1 denominations. Larger denominations would be useful.
- Put a lot of effort into going round and talking to people. No business person will go through without personal conversation. Do anything to anything to train and enthuse.
- Put an expiry date on the note. Totnes didnâ€™t. An expiry date is useful as money that is not exchanged back to sterling at the end of the period can be used as funding for the continuation of the project.
- Create links with businesses and stories about the currency to support it. Each transaction turns into a conversation.
Other ideas Totnes have discussed and considered:
- Floating 400 Totnes over the next 3 months as a loan to local businesses. This links into policy ideas coming from Brown about Credit Unionâ€™s generating credit for local businesses.
- Training for business staff. Every time someone spends a Totnes pound there is a conversation and there is the potential for more every time a pound is given back in change. How to train staff to talk confidently about the currency.
- Giving pounds out to every household.
- Operating a system which takes on role of lending to community groups (I.e. not all the money stays in the bank but one third is lent out to community groups). This means there is risk in the system.
- Backing with community agriculture.
- An electronic Version – something that you can hold on a mobile phone. Link to the Digital Money Forum. Someone who was very enthusiastic in Totnes was from the FSA. The regulations around a digital currency are lighter.
It is hard to get funding for local currencies. Nigel stated that the main tangible output was a significant amount of press coverage for the local community – a lot of that on the back on the pound. There may have been an increase in tourist but not by a measurable amount.
When asked whether Brixton Brick or Brixton Pound were better names Nigel preferred the pound. He felt we had a good group of people on board and wished us luck towards our September launch date. .