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Last Wednesday, I caught the early train up to Newcastle-under-Lyme. My target – Cultural Squatters and a chance to see their cafe and talk to Narina and Mike about CounterCoins. As a concept, it is extremely interesting. The cafe was friendly and it was nice meeting everyone who turned up.
You can read all about Countercoins below in an extract from my forthcoming book – British Transition Town Money.
For now, have a shufty through the pictures (below) and enjoy!
“In February 2007, Mike Riddell sat down with some friends including John Rogers (author of ‘People Money, the promise of regional currencies’) and started talking about alternative solutions to local problems. Ten years later, in 2017, CounterCoin came into being. Even today, it is still a scheme in the making, and plans are being developed as this is typed. The concept of CounterCoin is akin to a LETS rather than anything else, but there are significant differences. For a start, currency can only be earned into existence. There are fixed issuing schemes and, at the moment, few places to redeem the coins (such as a local major cinema chain). The rough concept is that five CounterCoins represents an hour’s work. However, when redeeming, there is no reciprocal sterling value. In some ways, the coins themselves have no value. The work earning them is voluntary, so has no monetary value. When they are spent, they take up (say) an empty seat in a cinema, which would have no value to the cinema if it stayed empty.
“So, unlike most other forms of alternative currency, they do not represent actual pounds at any stage. The organisers hope that soon many other places will consider accepting them, including local buses and sports clubs. If a football club has empty seats for a fixture, is it better to accept hard-earned tokens, rather than let a seat go to waste? After all, ancillary spending, such as burgers, soon make up the profit.
“As a trial, the scheme designed and produced acrylic tokens for their first issue in 2017. Their next project was a new community café which was trumpeted by The Guardian as a potential game-changer for decaying town centres, a place where the currency is hope. ‘Cultural Squatters’ café opened on 1 May 2018 as a ‘creative space’, complete with ping-pong parlour with equipment donated by Table Tennis England. The menu is cheap: coffee or tea is £1. A bowl of lobby with bread is £3, and a full fry-up with tea or coffee is £4. There is also a dog menu, with options including a dried pig’s ear for 30p or a sachet of Winalot for 80p, and finally, visitors can even participate in a workshop to design ceramic CounterCoins – the next leg of the journey.
“This is the nub of their project’s uniqueness. ‘Cultural Squatters’ is staffed by volunteers rather than paid employees. They include people with all sorts of backgrounds and include adults with learning difficulties and people who have been unemployed long-term. Rather than being paid a wage they receive CounterCoins, which they can then exchange for good or services from other local businesses such as the bowling alley. Early in 2018, the team reckoned that being the heart of the potteries, it was more appropriate to make tokens in clay, and that is precisely what the 2018 issue comprises.
“As this book is going to press, ‘Castle’ is gearing up to launch the Counter Coin Challenge in each of the seven pottery towns. To quote from their website, “Dear friends, the time is nearing for us to act. I honestly don’t know anyone that isn’t suffering to some degree or other. For most of us, in relative terms, that’s not a great deal. There’s always someone worse off than you. But you don’t need me to wax lyrical about the pain people are in. You guys – especially the social workers and front-line community workers – you see it day in and day out. And for that – WE SALUTE YOU. This hardship and pain is inflicted, cruel and unnecessary when all we need to do is back each other and share our resources more fairly and sensibly. With £400 in total to run the CounterCoin Challenge across 7 venues, and produce 7000 clay coins, our work is cut out. Fine. We’re cool with that. London might have the money, but Stoke has the goodwill.”
“It looks as though this will be an interesting and rapidly developing scheme to watch in the future. “
Having come this far, don’t pass up the chance to go and visit Curious Banknotes