(The second of two pieces about Countercoin. The first by Mike Riddell set out the basic philosophy and reported on the event that Carolyn mentions below.)
There are some great things happening in the Potteries and Newcastle-Under-Lyme – couldn’t they happen in Greater Manchester too?
Captain CounterCoin who drummed up interest in the streets with Narina Stead who runs the café
We were making CounterCoins out of clay that had been donated by local supplier Valentine Clays to raise awareness of CounterCoin and the part they might play in regenerating town centres and contributing to sustainable communities.
It was uplifting to see and hear about the enthusiasm local people have for essentially linking a community volunteer reward scheme with resources that might otherwise go to waste. Businesses are starting to join the scheme which will expand the things that CounterCoin can be used for.
What exactly is CounterCoin?
CounterCoin is an innovative scheme which rewards community volunteers for time they spend making a positive contribution to the community – any work, in fact, that benefits society and/or promotes good citizenship.
How does it differ from other schemes?
It is different from timebanks and LET schemes, which also recognise voluntary work, as it is not about sharing and trading between members of the scheme, instead it is about enabling community volunteers to use businesses and services that would otherwise go to waste.
It is different from town Pounds (such as the Bristol, Brixton, Totnes, Lewes Pounds) which can also be spent in local businesses and services, as it has no value beyond what a business or service will offer. It is not linked to the money system in any way. CounterCoin cannot be bought and cannot accumulate as money does. If a business collects CounterCoin, they can simply return them to the body that issued them.
It is different from local discount schemes (such as TagItOn) which also encourage local spending, because it is clearly linked to excess resources and community volunteering and not just to using local shops and services, although the local aspect is built in to the CounterCoin model.
It is different from other volunteer reward schemes, (such as Tempo Time Credits ( also known as Spice ) which has national as well as a local spending opportunities on routine goods and services, and is not specifically linked to excess community resources) or school volunteer reward schemes such as Vivo Class as there is no commercial link to a company providing rewards and very clear emphasis on local businesses.
It is different from the corporate social responsibility work of local businesses where they engage in a range of different activities, usually over and above and often quite different from their usual business activities. Instead it seeks to enable businesses to use spare goods and services in return for community volunteering.
If it is not any of these things, what is it?
CounterCoin explicitly links time spent in community volunteering with spare or excess resources in local businesses and services, which would otherwise be unused or go to waste.
Some examples might illustrate the idea.
A cinema sells tickets for a show but has some spare seats which are unused. This space is wasted. The film is being shown, the cinema heated but there are empty seats. At no cost to the cinema, these seats cold be filled through customers part-paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community, so that only the balance is paid in cash. For example, the cinema could sell of £6 seats not purchased an hour before the screening for £2 plus 4 CounterCoin. That way they are increasing their audience, improving the atmosphere in the cinema and increasing revenues by £2 in a manner which hasn’t devalued the price of a seat for the regular cinema-goers.
A bowling alley is quiet in the afternoon. The lanes are empty, the place is heated and the lights are on. The empty space is wasted. At no cost to the bowling alley, these lanes could be filled through customers paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community. Indeed by buying drinks and food, and by part-paying in CounterCoin these customers would add revenue to the bowling alley.
A butcher’s shop has some unsold meats at the end of the day that cannot be kept for another day. They would either be thrown out or sent for animal feed. At no cost to the butcher, this meat could be made available to customers paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community. Indeed this might increase future footfall to the Butcher and increase their local reputation.
A cake shop has some cakes left unsold at the end of the day. At no cost to the cake company these cakes could be made available to customers paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community.
A bus company is running a service from X to Y. There are empty seats on the bus. This space is wasted as the bus is running anyway, is being heated and lighted anyway. At no cost to the bus company, these seats could be filled through customers paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community.
A newsagent has some unsold newspapers that will have to be returned for recycling (a process which uses further resources). By agreement with the publishers, at no cost to the newsagent or publishers (in fact a saving, as the recycling costs would not be incurred) the newsagent could make the spare papers available to customers paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community.
In all of these examples, businesses and services are using their spare resources and capacity to reward community volunteering. And community volunteering is rewarded by being able to choose to gain access to goods or services.
So, there is no cost to the redeeming businesses and often a saving of disposal of unsold goods or even an increase in footfall and reputation as a result of being a part of the scheme.
Why was CounterCoin invented?
CounterCoin was established to do three things:
- Help increase the sense of self-worth and confidence of local volunteers by valuing what they do and thereby helping them, where possible, along the pathway into employment;
- Enable businesses to extend the contribution they make to their communities whilst increasing both footfall and revenues;
- Reduce waste and use spare capacity, thereby bringing about a more sustainable and inclusive local economy.
The idea initially was to increase the vitality of areas which had become socially and economically depressed over a number of years, with high levels of unemployment and a weakened community spirit.
In practice, how does it work?
Charities and community groups who take on and support volunteers issue CounterCoin. It enables them to attract and retain more volunteers and thus helps them raise awareness and promote their activities, and to achieve their objectives.
Businesses and services can choose which goods or services they supply as rewards –the provision of perishable goods which might otherwise go to waste, or perhaps use up spare capacity; or it may be in part payment for goods on sale. They can accept payment wholly in CounterCoin or part in cash, part in CounterCoin. There is no cost to business and often a saving. Most importantly, it enables them to use up resources and capacity that would otherwise remain unused.
Businesses and services will be able to demonstrate their engagement with the local community at no (or very little) cost. Awareness of their offering will increase and footfall will rise. Instead of selling off surplus capacity at a discount, CounterCoin will enable businesses to increase turnover in a manner that has not devalued the product.
Communities will benefit in three ways. Firstly through the increased volunteering on activities that are of community benefit. Secondly on an increased use of local businesses and services. Thirdly through the clear support for local community building demonstrated by participating businesses and services. Further than this, though, the CounterCoin project in Newcastle-u-Lyme and the six towns of Longton, Hanley, Burslem, Stoke, Tunstall and Fenton is already a tale of widespread community engagement. Local school pupils and their teachers, a range of local people, artists, and local businesses have all been involved in designing, creating and making both the CounterCoin stamps (different ones for each town) and the CounterCoins themselves, as well as publicising the scheme. (See the video made by high school students ). To do this they have discussed and thought about the matter of wasted resources, and the roles that volunteering and business play in creating and sustaining strong communities. More than any lectures on climate change, and localising the economy, or admonishments that we have to live differently, a sound awareness of these matters has emerged from involvement with CounterCoin. As someone said to me ‘my life will never be the same after CounterCoin’.
Volunteers will benefit, not only from the voluntary activities they engage in, but in gaining goods and services they might otherwise not be able to afford. The incentives to build enough CounterCoin to spend, may mean that they do more volunteering which in turn increases their confidence and skills, helping those of working age into paid employment. There will be an increase in the number of groups who can use volunteers which will help to ensure that older people and those living with long term health or disabling conditions are not isolated and lonely.
So, what’s not to like about CounterCoin? What would it take to start a CounterCoin in Greater Manchester?
An active community group or social enterprise, established to addresses local problems or enhance the community in some way would simply have to set up a local governance board to begin issuing CounterCoin. They would issue them to their volunteers who participate in activities addressing these issues in their communities.
Backbone support can be provided to help the group develop commercial partnerships with the shops, venues and transport providers that the community themselves have identified as having unused resources and being of interest to volunteers. The best way to think about this is as a revenue share model which incentivises both parties to work together for mutual commercial and community benefit, at no cost to either. Contact CounterCoin via the CounterCoin website , via Twitter @counter_coin or via Steady State Manchester for more information about the scheme and the support that can be offered.