The boss of the UK’s largest local currency, the Bristol Pound, admits that consumer use has dropped off in recent years, but is determined the currency can still make a difference.
Diana Finch, who was appointed managing director in September, said the organisation needed to “get people engaging with the currency more”.
The owner of the shop who conducted the currency’s first transaction agreed, adding: “A new direction is a positive move.”
Ms Finch spoke as Bristol Pound urged the owners of old bank notes to transfer them for new notes before this month’s deadline.
“From 2012 when it was launched there was a lot of new stuff going on in Bristol and the Bristol Pound was very much part of the Zeitgeist and I think that momentum carried on up to the Bristol Green Capital in 2015,” Ms Finch said.
“Since then, it hasn’t been in the news that much. While the membership hasn’t changed, the usage has dropped off.
“My message is, if we can make a currency work anywhere, we can make it work in Bristol and what we need to do that is to get people engaging with the currency more.
“It’s only by using it that we get that liquidity in the system, which is then spent with other businesses in the network…and that’s how we’re going to make a difference and turn it around.”
Launched in September 2012, the Bristol Pound has grown to be the largest local currency in the UK, with 1,500 consumer members and over 650 full business members across the city. Most Bristol Pounds are used to pay for goods electronically using Text2Pay or via Bristol Pound’s app, as well as the paper currency.
Bristol Pounds are used by businesses to trade with other local businesses. Bristol City Council also allows council tax and business rates payments to be paid using the currency. It is estimated that at least 80p in every Bristol Pound stay’s in the local economy.
Recently the currency launched its Champions Programme involving ‘Community Champions’ – volunteers working as ambassadors to spread the Bristol Pound message through out the area – ‘Business Champions’ and also ‘Funding Champions’ – philanthropic supporters who want the local currency to succeed in its aims through donating money.
Another new innovation which is hoped to be launched in the new year are free loans for businesses. These will be offered from 1,000 to 15,000 Bristol Pounds, repaid over one year.
A positive move
Joe Wheatcroft who runs ‘The Source’, a deli-cafe in St Nicholas Market and was involved in the Bristol Pound’s first transaction in 2012, agreed with Ms Finch’s assertion.
“When we first started taking Bristol Pounds it was fantastic. We had loads of uptake and it was just the right kind of demographic for us – people who care about independent shopping and lived in Bristol and cared a lot about the kind of things we do here,” he said.
“It gathered momentum and was going really well and then something changed. It lost momentum and in the last couple of years it was 10% of what it was.
“The traffic has really dropped, so I think a new direction is a positive move.
“The circular economy is super and keeps the money here in Bristol, reminding people about sustainability – it’s not just being an environmental thing it’s also a financial thing.
“I hope the Bristol Pound can do some really good stuff as it’s a fantastic project.”
Level Playing Field
Ms Finch said she was still positive about the future of the Bristol Pound: “At the moment we are in a transition phase where we move from what has been a largely grant funded organisation to a proper social enterprise which makes its money through its own trade and its own activities.
‘The idea is to create a more resilient, sustainable and inclusive economy for Bristol.
“The Bristol Pound is about levelling the playing field for local businesses by creating a network which keeps money circulating between businesses in Bristol.
“There’s an ethical aspect to every time you spend money. We need to think what is happening to that money? Is it actually helping local people in my area.
“There are a lot of way’s to spend Bristol Pounds it’s not just coffee shops, plumbers, builders. You name it there are lots of different businesses, but the best thing is to find local suppliers for your needs whether you’re a consumer or a business member.”
Out of date
Time is also running out to swap old paper Bristol Pounds which will be out of date after 31 December 2018. Due to financial regulations Bristol Pound notes are issued as vouchers with an expiry date.
Ms Finch said: “We need now for everyone to take in their old notes to the Bristol Pound cash points before 31 December and change them for the new notes.
“We want to honour your notes, so go in and change them for the new notes… and spend them!”
Old notes can be exchanged one-for-one for new notes, which were introduced in July, at sites in the city or paid into Bristol Pound accounts at the Bristol Credit Union.
Top image credits: Nikki Ruck