Someone told me recently that it takes 12 bees, their entire lifespan, to create one teaspoon of honey. Thankfully, no one has communicated this fact to the bees who may be so discouraged by the fact and so not bother at all.
Not long after, I was thinking about the economic benefits of a local currency like Kingston Pound and, I started thinking more widely, about the potential efforts and actions available to our policy makers and actions that we all can take, to improve our community and local economy.
When people think about ‘community’ it conjures images of giving; good will; kindness; music and art; and volunteering. But, when people think about the local economy it conjures perhaps less appealing thoughts about profit; council tax and business rates; high street shops; and banks. Not many people would think that ‘community’ and ‘local economy’ can work well together, in the same way oil and water in a bottle tend to separate. An occasional shake is needed to mix them up for a while. There are others who feel that the community and the economy must coexist and work together arguing that if they stay separate, neither can wholly succeed.
I am not sure which side the majority is on, but one side of the equation is not enough if we want a successful and resilient economy, and strong community spirit.
For example, the Kingston Pound as a method of payment is one thing, but who cares about the ability to pay with a local app if it does not register some sort of meaning to the wider community. Perhaps we need to consider a wider context and consider how a local currency might fit within that. Only then can the local currency be assessed as a valid part of the wider solution.
What solution? What is the problem? You may ask.
For most of us, the problem facing towns and boroughs is not one that many care about, after all, we have our own problems at home paying the bills. But in the UK many towns and regions are struggling and this has an impact on the availability of jobs, council revenue and high streets where local businesses are finding it harder to operate. This has a knock on effect on the desirability of our town as a place to live or businesses to establish in our area. In many regions of the UK and their town centres, large chains dominate and the local independent businesses are harder to find because they have been marginalised into back streets or simply struggle to exist at all. The irony is that a lack of local independent businesses is not good for anyone because it lowers footfall, which is also bad for the larger stores. So, we end up shopping on line. It continues to be convenient post COVID and we can do this from our own armchair without the need to go to town and then perhaps spend a bit more money having a coffee and a cake at a locally owned cafe or deli. The big problem with on line shopping is that the money we spend leaves our borough and doesn’t come back. That means our money leaks away like heat from a poorly insulated home. And like a badly insulated house, having the money leak away is not efficient and is not going to benefit our town.
So we have to discover a local ecosystem, one where more of our money sticks around in the borough but an ecosystem that people can understand and make sense of for themselves and their families. This ecosystem relies on the community and the local economy to truly coexist.
I am going to name this ecosystem Kingstonomics on the basis that it is about the borough of Kingston and we are all part of it’s community and the economy because we either live or work in the borough.
I also want to reimagine the concept of ‘money’ and refer to it as ‘value’. This means we can dispense with classical interpretations of what an economy is and consider non monetary issues of ‘value’. In this way it allows ‘money’ to move from the economy side of the equation and enter the realm of ‘community’. Of course, value can be measured by money but it can also be measured by the extent to which our community benefits. Take for instance, a volunteer at an event. This provides value to the community even though no money changes hands. If you pay for a ticket to attend an event, it is often the quality of their volunteers that provides extra value for money to the attendee. Value also comes from our local politicians, our police; Ambulance crews and Fire fighters. It also comes from the welcoming smile when you visit one of our local independent businesses.
For some, volunteering is totally unrelated from the need to support local independent businesses. The idea that a local money system and an art based community event, for example, can coexist is impossible but coexist they must because they are attempting to bring about the same thing. Businesses offer great support to events and prizes for raffles and sponsorship etc and community events bring lots of people together.
What then, are the key economic issues that have the potential to benefit our community? and what exactly does the word ‘benefit’ mean in relation to this? On the one hand, it could mean a benefit to businesses, which translates into more turnover and profit. On the other hand, the community may benefit from increased jobs available to our citizens and make our region more attractive to new businesses, after all, why would a business choose our borough over Merton, Richmond or Sutton?
It could be argued, that a larger local tax take will make it easier for the local council to invest in infrastructure, for the benefit of the wider community. Of course many actions taken by local politicians are looked upon sceptically by some and welcomed by others, I mean, if it’s your team that scores a goal, then that’s great, right? However, there many neutrals who don’t really care that much. They are too busy with family, paying bills and stress at work. This means that any project needs to try harder to convince the neutrals and the unengaged that what is happening is important. This is a problem facing all community projects whether they art based or projects looking to help improve the local economy.
Kingstonomics is really not just about money and it is not just about improving the profits of local independent businesses. Kingstonomics is really about participation in the Kingston economy in a different way. It is trying to change financial transactions into social interactions where we can have another way to participate. Any participation within Kingstonomics needs to be measurable so that there is a clear link between small actions and the wider community benefits. In this way, Kingston Pound is trying to get people to consider that spending money locally is good for the community. The fact that Kingston Pounds are more likely to be spent again, with other Kingston businesses, allows the local economic impact to be doubled or even tripled. This is less likely to happen with Sterling alone and Kingston doesn’t even benefit from any money spent on line.
Kingston Pound is one of the projects that can help to bridge the gap between local businesses and the community. Kingstonomics is the ecosphere that is conducive to community wealth building, jobs, tourism, financial education and recognising that our small collective efforts can make a difference. We just have to believe that we can.
Enjoy the Honey!