In the week of the first birthday of the Brixton Pound, we investigate a new idea for the local economy
Music, cake and even photo-calls with the mayor were in place last night for the celebration of Brixton Pound’s first birthday at the Granville Arcade. But as plans for the co-operative council get underway, Lambeth is going to be experimenting with yet more alternative models for community living. The New Economics Foundation (nef), responsible for much of the impetus behind the Brixton Pound, has come up with a proposal to incentivise people to take on new responsibilities in their locality.
Nef, in cooperation with the Transition Towns network, has suggested the introduction of a loyalty scheme – much like the Tesco Clubcard or BA Air Miles – in which residents collect ‘points’ by carrying out actions beneficial to the community, such as recycling waste, or shopping at local businesses. Points can then be redeemed in exchange for public transport tickets, sustainable goods and services or cultural activities such as free cinema or gallery tickets.
Nef are also working with Social Trade Organisation (STRO), a Dutch NGO which has designed an online software payment scheme that could be adapted for a public loyalty scheme. According to nef, Cyclos “is a not-for-profit open source system that is dynamic and allows for continuous innovation as new currency models are adapted. Cyclos allows users to administer their accounts, view their transactions, and make (secure) payments via web access or mobile phone.” The STRO representative on the nef team has already designed another, very similar scheme in Rotterdam called the Nu Spaar Pass, a card which allows residents to collect points and trade them in for services.
Lambeth Council is in talks with nef, but is still considering different proposals and has not endorsed the idea yet. There is another public meeting on 23 September where residents are invited to “contribute and help shape the commissions’ final report”.
The Lambeth Mayor at last night's birthday celebrations
Quite a crowd gathered for the music on 'Fifth Avenue' in the arcade
'Re-imagining the high street' - the report released today
On the eve of Brixton Pound’s first birthday, Brixton has become a ‘clone town’, according to a survey released today by the new economics foundation. It studied the number of chain stores in towns and boroughs across Britain to highlight the importance of a diverse high street.
Despite its endorsement of the alternative currency, Brixton moved from ‘border’ status in 2005 to ‘clone’ status this year. The survey was conducted in 2009, before the additions of H&M, Starbucks and T-Mobile. It found that over half of Brixton’s high street shops are now chains. Nef created a scoring system which gave Brixton 50.5 points out of 100, with twons scoring over 65 classified as ‘home’ towns.
The report cites Philippe Castaing, owner of Opus and founder of Brixton Green, who has said that “Brixton is one of the most expensive high streets in London in terms of commercial rent, a major barrier for independent businesses.”
Nef first conducted the Clone Town survey in 2005, when Exeter came in as Britain’s blandest high street. This time, Cambridge took the bottom spot. But it wasn’t all bad news for South London – Streatham scored highly, with 76 on nef’s scale of 100, and was classed a ‘home’ town.
The survey is slightly skewed, however, because it only looks at the high street, not taking into account the number of independent shops elsewhere in the area. In Brixton, of course, many independent businesses have opened in the past year in the market, so it’s unclear whether it would remain a ‘clone’ town were the survey to be extended.
What do you think? Is Brixton ‘clone’ or ‘home’?
Sunday: Bring your drum along to The Ritzy at 6.45pm tonight for a drumming workshop with djembe master Afla Sackey. And then stay on in the upstairs bar for the Sunday Blues night featuring Errol Linton.
Tuesday: The Brixton £ Group is holding its first fundraising dinner at Olley’s fish ‘n’ chips restaurant in Herne Hill. The fish and chips at Olley’s aren’t what they used to be and it’s slightly odd that a B£ event is happening in Herne Hill, but we can forgive all that for a good cause and comedy from south London comedian Trevor Lock.
Wednesday: You can actually do this any day, but why not on a Wednesday? Make some postcard-sized artwork for the ‘Send Me a Postcard Darling‘ exhibition at Red Gate gallery in October. Postcard-size is 6″ x 4″, by the way.
Thursday: Go down to Mango Landin with your four favourite records for Open Deck Night and, just a few minutes away, it’s the monthly Reggae Train with David Rodigan at Hootananny.
In September 2009, the Brixton Pound was launched with all the accompanying fanfare from the national media. What has happened since then, now the B£ is no longer so much under the spotlight?
As a community presence, the B£ Group seem to be flourishing. They have stalls at every major Brixton event, Transition Town Brixton have a community shop in the Granville Arcade and new businesses are being added all the time. The notes can now be accepted in over 160 businesses, more than double the number in September. Recent additions include BX Merchandise in the Bon Marche centre and several of the ‘Brixton Village’ shops.
Jenni Hulse, press officer for the B£, said “Now it’s all calmed down a bit, we can focus on communicating with local businesses. The main challenge is encouraging people to offer the B£ back in change – not just accept it – to create a more circular view.”
One major difficulty for the Brixton scheme as an urban currency has been that local market traders often do not use suppliers from London, let alone from Brixton, which means that very few could sign up to the Pound in the first place.
That’s still a problem and the B£ Group has just received funding to map out the supply chains in Brixton to help put businesses in touch with each other, source their produce in the area and provide mutual support. Two paid researchers will be employed from September to do this research. In the meantime, there are thoughts to launch an ‘adopt a shop’ initiative to encourage residents to build up a stronger relationship with their local businesses.
It’s too early for there to have been an extensive survey of the B£’s effect on the local economy, but it seems unlikely – let’s be honest here – that the B£ will ever have a significant impact on local carbon output. For me, however, that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is a community initiative that celebrates Brixton – and that can be no bad thing.
For all those who have expressed their frustration with the Brixton Pound – and for those who absolutely love it – now’s your chance to make improvments. Brixton Pound Group will officially become a Community Interest Company after the aims and values consultation and they are calling for directors.
Simon Woolf of the Brixton Pound Group said, “our main aim is to attract a diverse selection of people, so that the directorship of the B£ reflects the local community. In order that we can best achieve this, we are keeping this as an open-ended process.”
A Brixton Pound announcement in its last newsletter stated: “Although there are some skills and experience that we feel would be particularly useful (e.g. business experience, community links, accountancy) essentially passion and commitment to making the Brixton Pound work are the most important qualities our directors need to have.”
There have been enough applications so far for some directors to be appointed and the CIC can now be established, but Woolf emphasised that “we would very much welcome additional applications, as it is quite possible that we will appoint additional directors in the future.”
You can learn about the duties here and apply here. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.