Pounds with a Purpose
The Bristol Pound is the UK’s first citywide currency. Bristolians don't use it just to buy beer and bread, but even to pay their taxes and electricity bills – and thus help maintain the city’s unique vibe with its small shops and creative start-ups. Read More
The Bristol Pound is the UK’s first citywide currency. Bristolians don't use it just to buy beer and bread, but even to pay their taxes and electricity bills – and thus help maintain the city’s unique vibe with its small shops and creative start-ups.
Nestled in a corner of South West England, Bristol is a pretty awesome and unique place to live. It has a community feel with the buzz and attractions of a big city. If the people, river and lush green spaces do not make you smile, then let the ridiculously good food scene and nightlife tempt you. I can’t quite describe it in words, but Bristol just has this ‘vibe’ you experience and come to appreciate more the longer you live there.
But don’t take my word for it (I’m biased of course) – it’s been crowned top place to live a good few times by the UK national press and most recently made it into the top ten happiest cities in the UK. Along with these enticing accolades, the city has a reputation for creativity and innovation. It’s a fiercely independent city known for doing things in the famed Bristol fashion, nonconformist and open to new ideas. Check out the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, a group of artists and activists from Bristol’s Stokes Croft area, for a sense of what I mean.
Bristol is a pretty awesome and unique place to live.
With that in mind, it is no wonder that Bristol is home to a vast array of independent businesses and unique start-ups. Gloucester Road, one of Bristol’s high streets, boasts one of the largest concentrations of independent retailers, even though a few chain stores dot the two-mile stretch.
Bristol is also a city that is synonymous with social enterprise and fair trade. It was recently named European Green capital (2015) in honour of its green ethos. As a consultant for a social enterprise, creating change and supporting people in making a difference in their lives is central to my work, but also well aligned with my own personal ideals. So I get excited when initiatives such as the Bristol pound come about!
Keeping it local
The Bristol pound (£B) is the UK’s first citywide local currency. It was launched in 2012 with the aim of supporting local independent traders and benefiting the local economy. The idea is simple: people use Bristol pounds to pay for goods sold by independent local businesses, which in turn supports the local community.
Or as Wikipedia puts it: “In economics, a local currency is a currency that can be spent a particular area at participating organisations. Usually it will act as a complementary currency that is to be used in addition to a national currency, rather than replace it.”
Using Bristol pounds gives people the opportunity to make a difference in the local economy in a real and innovative way. As more people use Bristol pounds, businesses are encouraged to spend money locally, paying staff in Bristol pounds or using the currency to buy supplies from other local businesses. This keeps the money cycle moving and, more importantly, keeps money in the city.
You can use Bristol pounds to buy anything from bread to beer, yoga classes to bikes, knowing that your pounds are supporting local independent traders.
The list of businesses that accept Bristol pounds is exhaustive and constantly growing. There are currently over 800 local businesses registered. You can use Bristol pounds to buy anything from bread to beer, yoga classes to bikes.You can purchase your train and bus tickets, and even enjoy a night out on the town, taking in a film followed by dinner and drinks – all while knowing that your pounds are supporting local independent businesses.
The paper Bristol pounds are quite literally little works of art, which only adds to the initiative’s appeal (I had a £B5 note stuck on my fridge for months because I could not hear to part with its prettiness). Each side of the note is themed, representing parts of the city’s culture, history and present, all beautifully illustrated by local designers, artists and citizens.
The system has expanded beyond just paper notes, and businesses and individuals can pay for products and services online or using a text-to-pay service. This important online system makes business-to-business transactions easier while giving consumers more than one payment option for shopping.
One major achievement is that Bristol citizens can choose to pay their council tax in the local currency if they wish, and businesses can pay their rates in £B too. The city’s previous mayor - George Ferguson for you non-Bristolians – even takes his salary in Bristol pounds, and so participates in redirecting more resources back into supporting local businesses and communities. In 2015, Good Energy, a 100% renewable energy company based in the South West, started accepting payment in Bristol pounds. With buy in from the city’s council and over £B 800,000 circulated across the city, the Bristol pound is clearly not a fad, but a welcome, genuine approach to building a resilient economy.
Empowering people to make a difference
We enjoy the diversity and distinctiveness that independent businesses bring to our streets, but living in uncertain economic times means smaller, independent businesses usually bear the brunt of economic upheaval, leaving the field wide open for larger chains to fill the void.
Locals can choose to support local shops rather than feel helpless in the wake of globalisation.
The Bristol pound means that individuals can feel empowered to make a real difference, promoting a more meaningful sense of place. Locals can quite literally put their money where their mouths are and choose to support local shops rather than feel helpless in the wake of globalisation. It means people can clearly understand the impact of every pound spent and know that money is being put back into the city that we all love, creating vibrant and robust communities. The success of the Bristol pounds is a real example of how people can come together to revitalise and support local economies.