It’s been great to read in past issues of Now Then about Sheffield’s desire to experiment with new types of economy and new forms of collaboration. The Sheffield Pound and the Sheffield Creative Guild are both existing initiatives that seek to broaden the way we work together and create added value that has a local impact.

At St Mary’s Community Centre, we’ve been exploring some similar questions. How can skills and abilities that don’t fit inside the mainstream economy be valued? Can we connect these with the assets in our neighbourhoods, like under-used buildings, left-over green spaces, waste materials, rejected food, corporate surpluses, spare goods and services? Can we see people not as ‘service users’ or burdens on a system, but solutions to a community’s problems?

To help us get closer to the answers, we’ve developed a time banking scheme called TimeBuilders. If you’ve not heard of time banking, it’s often described as an alternative currency based on hours, a way of helping people exchange skills using ‘time credits’ instead of money. One time credit represents one hour of work.

TimeBuilders has been developing an innovative time banking model that concentrates on group volunteering activities more than exchanges between individuals. Our members earn time credits by working together: cooking meals using surplus food, picking litter, growing food in unused spaces, teaching English to recent immigrants, and a host of other community projects.

Our focus on group volunteering comes from an understanding that in order to negotiate the challenges of life it’s not enough to have a few close friends with shared experiences. Each person needs a large number of acquaintances with a range of experiences to draw upon for advice and support. Social networks provide the single most important buffer against mental illness, but at different times of life we can find that our social networks are not as strong as we’d like them to be.

Many chronic health difficulties do not respond to medication because they are caused by how people feel about themselves. A poll of UK GPs carried out by The Campaign to End Loneliness in 2013 found that between one and five patients a day attend their surgery primarily because they are lonely. We’ve seen that a person’s self-esteem grows when they are defined by what they do and how they contribute, rather than their needs or problems. Earning and spending time credits can become a natural loop of meaningful tasks and informal socialising that leads to broader networks and friendships.

We’ve also learned that all types of people find value in time credits: those with practical skills, those with life-long experience, those with creativity, those with plenty of time, and those with – the most important – natural people skills. Everyone can contribute whatever they have.

There are so many ways to earn time credits by volunteering, but creating ways to spend them remains a challenge for us. We have some great partners in Sheffield who give us their surplus, including football match tickets, swimming and skating vouchers, gym passes and theatre tickets. Our members run classes, host events and produce goods. But our time credit economy isn’t quite as circular as we’d like it to be and we know the answer lies right here in our city.

We are always reaching out to form partnerships and welcome new members with new ideas, skills and passions. If you know someone with a business that has down-time periods or spare goods, perhaps they can be part of our time credit economy. Running an alternative currency is a challenging experiment. Join us in finding out how it can make a difference to people’s lives.                                                                     

timebuilders.org.uk
sheffieldcreativeguild.com

James Starky