Time is money

Time is money

Time is money

First Published 12 January 2017

Cash for community projects is drying up. But a time-based credit system is reviving ailing communities free of charge. By Martin Simon

Deborah and her teenage daughter were rendered homeless by floods. Their home was devastated, and it looked as if they would have to resign themselves to months in temporary accommodation.

Deborah’s distress was compounded when her doctor told her that, as she had no home to return to, the surgery that her daughter urgently needed would have to be postponed.

But there could be a silver lining in all this. Deborah was a member of Fair Shares, a ‘timebank’ network of people with the local knowledge, connections, skills, freedom and goodwill to cope with such emergencies. Within days, time bank members helped find an affordable house for her to rent. They decorated it and found furniture. Deborah’s daughter’s operation went ahead successfully

We all experience times when we need that extra little bit of help to deal with emergencies or with tasks which we cannot manage on our own.

Timebanking offers a framework for people who would not normally meet to come together and get to know each other better; a local information system about who to call upon, what skills they have and when they are available; a modern way of matching people and recording the hours of ‘social capital’ they exchange using the latest computer technology; and a range of incentives to encourage people to pool their efforts (and share any risks) to produce ‘public goods’ like safer communities.

So how does timebanking work? You give an hour of help and earn one time credit, while the person receiving your help owes one time credit. They pay back by helping someone else. And everyone’s skills are valued equally.

A new time-based ‘currency’ is put into circulation that becomes every bit as real as the cash in people’s pockets. Time credits are basic building blocks for healthy communities and inspire giving, receiving and reciprocating. Slowly but surely the exchanges of practical and emotional support spread mutuality and trust -a new sense of community.

Timebanks are more powerful when the staff of statutory and voluntary agencies join in and relate to their ‘users’, their families and the wider community as equals -even if it is only for a few hours each month.

By promoting timebanking, housing professionals can transform themselves into a force for social change. In return, they will be able to bank on the co-operation, local knowledge and skills of their tenants and other local people.

The timebanking movement is growing fast. In the UK, 122 timebanks have been set up and there are another 89 in the pipeline. In recent years, new ones opened at a rate of about one a month, but this year the number has accelerated to about two a week as a result of the recession and moves by local authorities to encourage the growth of social capital. There are more than 15,000 participants, many of whom are from the ‘hard to reach’ groups such as older people, ethnic minorities and people with mental health histories.

Pilot timebanks in the field of social housing have been a great success, particularly the Hexagon in London and the Rhondda Housing Association in Wales. Timebanking has been used as a tool for strengthening communities -relationship building, the co-management of communal space, carrying out simple repairs and as an incentive for training in new skills.

Thirty-one housing organisations attended the seminar we held in London in early 2016. However, a timebank is not just a quick fix remedy for an ailing community.

Timebanks are platforms for cohesion initiatives and contribute to communities’ connectedness, growth and security.

Martin Simon is chief executive of Timebanking UK. For more details go to http://www.timebanking.org.uk