By Barry Floyd
Lewes, the county town of East Sussex, is carrying out a most interesting experiment; promoting its own currency for use in local shops around the community. At a time when the pound is falling in value in global financial markets it is encouraging to note such an enterprising venture and one hopes the Lewes initiative succeeds. The current vogue for localism lies at the heart of the move. It is designed to support and promote local businesses and could bring real benefits to Lewes traders and producers.
The big question is: could Rye emulate the scheme?
The Lewes experiment is not unique. Similar schemes have already appeared in other parts of the world. It is estimated that there are some 9,000 complementary currency projects in operation. In the U.K. a similar scheme was launched in 2008 in Totnes, Devon, where 8,000 local £ notes are now in circulation. Over 70 traders have joined the project. In the United States the town of Berkshire in Massachusetts has over $1.5 million “Berkshire” shares in circulation since the scheme was launched two years ago.
The Lewes Pound serves as an alternative to sterling but is not a replacement. Although not legal tender, the alternative currency acts somewhat like book tokens; customers can exchange them for goods and services but only in those establishments which have joined in the project and are willing to accept the Lewes pound. The rate of adoption is still underway but already 130 traders (over half those in town) have accepted the Lewes Pound; 30,000 notes are being circulated
The scheme works in two ways. Firstly, it encourages people to shop locally as it is only accepted in the town of Lewes. IT provided an incentive; “once you have the town pound in your hand you think, I might as well go and spend it in one of the local outlets”. Secondly, the scheme stimulates debate, promoting the idea of buying from local traders and producers. It is an important talking point among the community and a physical reminder of the value of local trade to the town as a whole.
The Lewes pound is also having an impact upon visitors to the town. According to the manager of the Pelham House Hotel; “Our guests have truly embraced the Lewes Pound and are using it to good effect. It has really created a buzz and I think it has made visitors eager to shop locally. From our perspective they have also spend Lewes Pounds on food and drink here, which we have then spent with other Lewes Businesses, thus creating a virtuous
circle that benefits the town” (1)
It is worth noting that no one is being forced to use the local currency so that, if you don’t want to participate but have acquired Lewes Pounds for one reason or another, you can trade them for sterling at the town hall or other issuing outlets. No questions asked.
Many positive comments on the scheme have been made thus far. The only adverse remarks concerning the current circulation relate to the absence of larger denominations. Since the notes in use at present are only £1 in value, some of the more expensive stores have opted out of the scheme, much of what they sell would require customers to bring in a whole bunch of Lewes Pounds, not a very practical arrangement. The answer to this is quite clearly to offer some £5, 20 and even 50 notes to meet the problem.
Perhaps the Rye Chamber of Commerce, among other organisations in town, would like to carry out a feasibility study, examining the pros and cons of launching a Rye Pounds scheme. We are sure the editor of Rye’s Own will also be willing to receive comments and suggestions as to how the scheme might work in our own community.
(1) Jim Keoghan, “Lewes cashes in on success”, The Countryman (April 2009), p81
“Rye’s Own” May 2009