This article by Brendan Barrett is republished from The Conversation

Walking down the high street of a place described as one of the UK’s most ethical towns, the first thing you notice is the absence of national chain stores and fast food outlets. Instead, you find a diverse mix of independent shops selling organic food, clothes, art, antiques and furniture, as well as cafes and restaurants and an abundance of charity shops.

This is Totnes – a small, historic market town in the south-west of England that has garnered a reputation as a thriving hub for art, music, theatre and alternative lifestyles. Noticeboards around the town advertise everything from yoga lessons to Zen meditation, together with posters for various events – including the next Extinction Rebellion non-violent direct action training session.

In many shop windows today, there are stickers which read “Totnes pound accepted here”. Sadly, after 12 years of operation, the Totnes pound will come to an end on June 30, 2019. This highly symbolic initiative inspired other local currencies including the Bristol pound and the Brixton pound, which encourage people to spend locally and keep money in the community.

The Totnes pound. Totnes Pound.

But the gradual shift to a cashless society and a lack of uptake by local government agencies have ultimately led to the Totnes pound’s demise. Rob Hopkins – co-founder of community-led charity Transition Town Totnes and initiator of the local currency – thinks the Totnes pound has helped to build a sense of community and strengthened the town’s identity, with the £21 note reflecting the local sense of humour.

The impact of austerity

The Totnes pound is just one example of the kind of outside the box thinking that has kept this local community resilient in the face of austerity. Since 2010, the pressure on local authority budgets across England has been intense, with a 50% decline in central funding support. The result has been cuts to public services and less money circulating in local economies.

In Totnes – as elsewhere – there are visible signs of these trends, with the closure of local bank branches and “to let” signs on vacant shops. According to Francis Northrop, former manager of Transition Town Totnes, smaller rural communities like Totnes face difficulties because they lack the economies of scale which make cheap goods and services more accessible in big cities.

Leer más: Retail decline, in maps: England and Wales lose 43m square metres of shop space

Totnes has responded by developing a new ethical economy that puts community values at the core. The closure of the Dairy Crest factory in 2000 convinced many locals that the answer was not to wait for inward investment from big businesses outside of the town. Instead, the focus is on internal investment: harnessing community wealth to address community needs.

But unlike anti-austerity efforts seen in larger cities – such as Preston – a small town like Totnes cannot rely on anchor institutions including local government, universities or hospitals, to redirect their spending into the local economy.

Indeed, one such institution – Dartington College of Art – relocated to Falmouth in 2010 with the loss of an estimated £6m a year in local spending from 900 students and staff. Instead, Totnes has had to show it’s possible for small towns to withstand such losses, by drawing from a toolbox of different methods to build community wealth.

A new ethical economy

The response has grown from more than a decade of community trust building, since the launch of Transition Town Totnes in 2006. Initially set up to promote local resilience in the face of climate change and peak oil, Transition Town Totnes now coordinates an extensive range of local projects, and forms part of a global Transition network, with initiatives from around the world sharing knowledge and ideas.

Some of these projects focus directly on combating the effects of austerity. For example, Caring Town Totnes is a collaboration of around 80 organisations seeking to counter the impact of budget cuts on local health and social services.

Totnes High Street is busy throughout most of the day.
Brendan F.D. Barrett., Author provided

Current Transition Town Totnes manager Jenny Gellatly is also working with the Common Cause Foundation to explore how it may be possible to place compassionate values at the heart of the future transformation of the town. During a recent visit for my research, she explained to me how initiatives like these promote caring for neighbours, friends and family, to help ensure that the most vulnerable people in the community get the support they need.

Other projects focus on building up the local economy and making it more self-sufficient. An important breakthrough came with the launch of the Reconomy Center, to support new enterprises and promote local investment. The centre hosts an annual Local Entrepreneur Forum to crowdfund low carbon, ethical and sustainable business projects.

A number of organisations also came together to produce a Local Economic Blueprint, which highlights the economic benefits for small independent businesses in Totnes of sourcing goods and services from other local businesses and suppliers, to ensure more money circulates in the economy.

The next critical step was the launch of the Totnes Community Development Society – a not-for-profit that raises funds and implements local development projects. It’s currently implementing the Atmos Totnes project, to transform the disused Dairy Crest site into a school for food entrepreneurs and a business incubator, with affordable housing.

In the face of severe challenges, Totnes has shown how a community can mobilise to achieve a more ethical and resilient local economy. It will be fascinating to observe how the town changes in the years ahead, and to see what the next initiative will be, to replace the Totnes pound.

Author Brendan Barrett is Specially Appointed Professor, Center for the Study of Co*Design, Osaka University

2 Comments Demise of Totnes Pound won’t Stop this English Town Pushing Back Against Austerity

  1. AvatarDouglas Jack

    I’m aware & involved in Local Currencies since 1975 with such as LETS, then active since 2004. In order to achieve local ‘economy’ (Greek ‘oikos’ = ‘home’ + ‘namein’ = ‘care-&-nurture’) we need to reframe ‘community’ (Latin ‘com’ = ‘together’ + ‘munus’ = ‘gift-or-service’) right down to the cellular level which we already all are generating economy. Better-Business-Bureau are already promoting local ‘business’ money but are disconnected with average citizen/resident energy. BBB don’t acknowledge the central control of ‘exogenous’ (L ‘other-generated’) trickledown oligarchs in our false ‘money’ (Greek ‘mnemosis’ = ‘memory’). In 2004 I presented ‘Indigenous’ (Latin ‘self-generating’) ‘Economy’ to the international Local Currencies in the 21st Century conference at Bard College in upstate New-York.
    MULTIHOME-DWELLING-COMPLEXES (the forgotten human fractal)
    Given oligarch disconnection from the population, the rest of us can promote local ‘busy-ness’ nests particularly in the Multihome-Dwelling-Complexes (apartment, townhouse & village) where 70% of us live. Governments being institutionally fixated, don’t help organize at the most effective multihome level of community interaction. Rather than focussing upon ‘currency’ flow of goods & services, our starting strength is to ‘CATALOGUE’ our talents, goods (new & 2nd-hand), services, resources, gifts & dreams starting in the Multihomes where we live. The average size of multihomes is 32 dwelling units or ~100 people, exactly the critical-mass, which all humanity’s indigenous ancestors employed in Longhouse, Pueblo, Village & other connected housing. ‘Privacy’ is essential to community, as is ‘proximity’ for ease of collaboration among intimate, caring & familial community partners. ‘Fractal’ implies that ‘multiplier or building-block, where the part-contains-the-whole’, upon which human systems must be based in order to work at every level from the interpersonal to the international level. Present day systems are imposed because they lack fractal integrity.
    ~100 person intergenerational, interdisciplinary, female-male critical-mass, economies-of-scale animated Multihome-Dwelling-Complexes (eg. Longhouse-apartment, Pueblo-townhouse & Kanata-village). String-shell (eg. Cowrie, Wampum, Quipu, Bei etc) time-based equivalency accounting was used in specialized Production-Society-Guilds to record & valorize contributions as: a) Capital (L ‘cap’ = ‘head’ = ‘collective-intelligence’), b) Currency (flow), c) Condolence (social-security), d) Collegial mentored-apprentice educational credit, e) Time-math Communication, f) professional Costume & much more. Such integrated value accounting recognizes all & thereby empowers, enables includes & economically-welcomes all.

    DO-WE-KNOW-WHO-WE-ARE-? is drawn from ancient east African ‘indigenous’ (L ‘self-generating’) economic practice to catalogue our complementary strengths. Cataloguing helps us know about each other’s gifts. Then we can join together as families, extended families, neighbours in our Multihome intergenerational, interdisciplinary, female-male critical-mass, economies of scale & join our strengths together. Solidarity recognition & bringing our truths together in formal council are the human salves which all humanity’s worldwide ‘indigenous’ (Latin ‘self-generating’) ancestors used to collectively heal our broken hearts. ‘Do-we-know-who-we-are-?’ neighbourhood, web-based, open-source, open-data, community-economy software is about bringing ‘economy’ (Greek ‘oikos’ = ‘home’ + ‘namein’ = ‘care-&-nurture’) back to its roots in the collective multihome.
    Imagine the complementary range of talents & tendencies available in your own multihome with food-preparers, gardeners, clothes repair & makers, home-repair carpenters, cupboards with unused goods sitting idle, accountants, youth-elder animators, elders as mentors, youth as legs. Let’s start with cataloguing all our strengths for everyone & then accounting for each transaction between individuals & or businesses as credits & debits. ‘Do-we-know-?’ employs an accounting unit called the ‘Mem’ (Greek ‘mnemosis’ = ‘memory’ = ‘money’). Those without the Queen’s money can contribute their talents first & receive money or Mem credits. Present-day social-work & other government programs do ‘needs assessments’, which end up pegging every citizen, patients, students & residents as deficits.
    Divide, conquer, command & control in England erased our indigenous Celtic Briton memory about our role in humanity’s worldwide universal long 100s of 1000s of years of indigenous’ economic practice? We were institutionalized by Romans & subsequent exogenous invaders, to forget about the Cowrie string-shell time-based equivalency accounting systems used worldwide, or the Production-Society-Guilds in which each specialty including Multihome Domestic labourers organized ownership.

    ‘DO-WE-KNOW-WHO-WE-ARE-?’ reflects indigenous human resource traditions, in developing software for neighbourhoods to create websites with online 1) Human Resource Catalogues HRC, 2) Resource-mapping & 3) digital web-based accounting in Community, Contribution, Investment & Exchange Systems CCIES. Other Indigene Community web-sections provide tools for implementing ‘self-generating’ economy, right where we live & work.
    Block-chain digital ‘currencies’ such as ‘Bitcoin’, without local community animation & valuation, are estimated to be achieving over 50% of their transactions in illegal drug, arms, stolen goods, money-laundering etc. Digital currencies are a scam presently employed by such para-governmental organizations as America’s CIA, NSA, Britain’s Mi5, Canada’s CSIS etc. in order to carry out foreign & domestic interference.
    Its up to the rest of us to ‘Become-the-change-we-want-to-see-in-the-world’, by thinking & acting locally with intimate resources. Indigenous String-Shell accounting & values along with Production-Society-Guilds, ~100 person Multihomes, Graphic-writing Character continental international written languages, Council-Processes, Vision-quest & Mentored-apprenticeship ‘education’ (L ‘educare’ = ‘to lead forth from within’), Polyculture-Orchards etc were international worldwide systems on every continent & island of the world, before the violence of colonial empire. Empire has never been able to recreate such worldwide human solidarity.

  2. AvatarDanyl Strype

    It would have been useful to have a little bit more information about the events and decisions that led to the Totnes Pound project being closed down, and what can be learned from that groups running similar local currency projects – including those inspired by the Totnes experience.

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