Time credits scheme flourishes

Could using our time instead of cash to pay for what we need, create a fairer society?

Ever heard the saying ‘time is money’? For Martin Simon nothing could be closer to the truth. In 1998 he set up the UK’s first Time Bank, encouraging people to use their time as currency. There are now about 20,000 people taking part in the scheme in the UK, and the number is rapidly on the rise.

Despite feeling, on a practical level, that money is “one of the greatest inventions,” Martin believes that cash can too easily lead to greed, in a way that using ‘time credits’ as currency cannot.

“We’ve depended on money for too long as a way of exchanging things, and as a way of getting what we need and want, but we don’t have to rely on it,” he says.

As the founder of Time Banking UK and a figurehead for the concept, Martin often speaks about the scheme at events and has just written the first UK book on the subject – Your Money or Your Life: Time for Both, funded via the crowdsourcing website Buzzbnk. It’s a rich chest of stories that demonstrate the transformative power of time banking on individuals and neighbourhoods.

“There are so many miracle stories”

“There are so many miracle stories,” says Martin, who clearly, is deeply touched by what he’s seen in the 13 years since he helped create the first Time Bank in Gloucestershire.

“Take Stephen, for example, who has severe learning difficulties. There was a time when kids used to throw stones at him in the street,” recounts the author. “But, he is a strong young man and he accumulated a wealth of hours through helping people move furniture and other items via his local time bank.”

Stephen’s now become a ‘time philanthropist’, donating his hours to others in need. These days, he is full of confidence and is a co-worker and travel assistant for his day centre.

There are now more than 200 local time banking groups in the UK. There is also a national database run by Time Banking UK, which stores people’s hours and abilities so that time credits can be swapped, not only across communities, but across the country. As a testament to the lasting power of the system, the original housing estate at the centre of the first time banking project is still thriving.

In 1998, the estate, in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire was full of unrest and bad feeling. Older people blamed the young single parents for all their woes, and vice versa. But it all changed when Martin, who had just returned from working as a community organiser in the US for the Cadbury Trust, set up a time bank with some of the locals.

“The older ones had a lifetime of childcare experience and the younger ones were fit and agile, and so were able to do chores like shopping. Through swapping hours of their time, they improved each other’s lives,” he explains. Today, there are 85 people on that estate and the time banking system still thrives.

Across the UK, the movement is growing faster than ever. Up until two years ago one bank was starting up in the UK every year, and it then rose to one a week earlier this year. And, recently, Martin noted that seven new time banks had  started in one week.

“I think cuts in government money for all forms of social care will mean people have to get organised and share locally,” says Martin. “And, I think the flexible nature of time banking makes it more attractive to modern society. You can fit it into your life.”

So, could an economy ever be run on time credits alone? Quite possibly, says Martin. “When the national currency of Argentina collapsed in the 1990s, ‘global barter clubs’ sprung up and millions of people survived by sharing their time and skills and bartering until the currency stabilised a few years later.

“People escaped from the imagined ‘prison’ – the perception that we are reliant on money to achieve anything,” he says. “Time credits are a new kind of ‘social’ money that is recession proof and offers people real incentives to come together to protect and value their social environment.”

With some financial support from NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and Arts), in the coming year Martin intends to grasp the opportunity for change that is arising as much of the world reassesses our financial systems. As interest grows in alternative economic tools, including bartering and swapping, perhaps the time is now for time banking.

What is time banking?

There are more than 200 time banks across the UK, and many more across the world. The concept is that every hour of someone’s time is worth the same of someone else’s, regardless of what skills or help they can offer. When participants provide an hour for somebody, they automatically bank an hour where they can have somebody else do something for them. They can also pass their banked hours on to someone else, either locally or elsewhere in the country via the national time bank network.