Time banking: Fairness the watchword for time well spent
THERE are 22,000 members of nearly 300 time banks in the UK – with 29 in Scotland – and the movement is growing all the time. But what are they and how do they work, asks Alice Wyllie
IF TIME is money, then what’s its value? How much, for example, is one hour of time – your time, my time, anyone’s time – worth? For a cleaner on minimum wage it’s £6.08. For footballer Wayne Rooney it’s about £3,700. In the world of time banking, however, one hour is worth exactly one hour.
Introduced by American anti-poverty activist Dr Edgar S. Cahn, time banking is a straightforward concept: members of a local time bank can contribute their own time doing anything from fetching groceries for neighbours to DIY, cooking or just checking up on an elderly person in the community. For each hour of input they earn one ‘time credit’ which they can use to ‘buy’ time from other members.
The concept is nothing new (Cahn came up with it in response to cuts in social programmes during the Reagan years and it came to the UK about 15 years ago) but, in the shadow of the economic downturn, it’s on the rise, particularly in the worst-hit countries like Greece and Spain.
In his book, No More Useless People, Cahn writes that, in response to government cuts, he began to think: “If we can’t have more of that kind of money, why can’t we create a new kind of money to put people and problems together?”
In his 40s, he suffered a massive heart attack and was told he could no longer work. He was left feeling useless but began to reason that, unlike traditional paid work, the work of caring, loving and befriending, of being a citizen and a neighbour is what underpins society, even if it is not valued by the market economy.
The movement has five core values: everyone is an asset; some work is beyond a monetary price; reciprocity in helping; social networks are necessary; a respect for all human beings.
In the UK, there are 22,000 members of nearly 300 time banks. Collectively they’ve banked more than 1.6 million hours. There are 29 time banks across Scotland and Edinburgh has eight, including the Leith Time Bank, which launched earlier this week.
Eunice Main, 53, from Wester Hailes, has been a member of West Edinburgh Time Bank since August 2009 when it launched. She contributes her time in different ways; getting groceries for a friend, spending time with elderly members of the community at the local day centre and knitting blankets.
“I just wanted to help other people and I knew it would get me out of the house,” she says. “When I was a youngster I used to knit a wee bit and I wanted to get back into it, so I thought this would be a great way to do it. I enjoy getting out and about and meeting other people. It’s a brilliant scheme and it feels like we’re all one big happy family at the time bank.”
Eunice is one of 130 members of West Edinburgh Time Bank, which is run by ‘time broker’ Tracey Lee. The projects, Lee says, “bridges age, race, class and gender” and even reaches out to inmates at the local Saughton Prison, who are able to volunteer within the prison (helping new inmates find their feet, for example) in return for time credits which can be used by people on the outside. This can include their family members who, with a father, brother or son in prison need help with things like shopping, gardening and DIY.
Most time banks use the online database provided by Time Banking UK, where members can bank hours and claim them back whenever suits them. Many people worry at first that they have nothing to offer, but it is the job of the time broker to figure out what they have to contribute, whether it’s teaching someone how to make a pot of soup or chatting to a person who’s isolated from the community.
“Everyone’s time is valued equally,” says Lee. “Whether you’re giving legal advice or teaching knitting, it’s all the same and it’s not dependent on the market value for a service.” In short, an hour of a doctor’s time is equal to that of a cleaner, and the contribution of a 90-year-old is valued as highly as the contribution of a 30-year-old.
“We find that there’s a good intergenerational mix,” adds Lee. “It helps to build social networks and enables people from different social backgrounds to come together. It attracts people who might otherwise have felt excluded from the community and wouldn’t necessarily have become involved in more traditional volunteering. For unemployed people it can also be a journey into work, providing them with a reference and making them feel valued.”
When people first join a time bank they indicate which services they might be able to offer. Some teach yoga, languages or music, others alter clothes, cook or clean. They are sometimes paired up with a suitable person with whom to ‘exchange’ their time, and often these working relationships become friendships and all notions of keeping a record of hours earned is forgotten.
A 2009 US survey of members over 60 years old in one time bank found that 90 per cent had made new friends and 71 per cent saw those friends at least once a week. Members reported feeling closer to their communities and feeling a greater sense of trust of people who were different to them.
Originally an anti-capitalist movement, time banks don’t allow market forces to set the value of members’ labour and so are proving increasingly popular in Greece, with more than 1000 people registered on the Athens time bank. They value contributions that a pure market system overlooks. Additionally, unlike traditional banks, there is no advantage in hoarding time credits, and indeed members are often encouraged to donate excess credits.
The value of such a system during periods of high unemployment is clear. During the Depression, a group of unemployed men living in unlaid sewer pipes in California set up a barter exchange that grew to have 100,000 members.
For many people, however, time banking is simply a way to get to know others in their community. At the West Edinburgh Time Bank, one member gets a time credit for attending a knitting group and uses it to have someone dig her garden for her. Another member got some help tuning her Freeview box and decorating in return for helping others with cooking, craft work and crocheting.
Another member, a wheelchair user, received help decorating but was concerned that she had nothing to offer. After a discussion with the time broker, she now contacts older time bank members to check that they have taken their medication.
“We have a lady who joined to get out of the house a bit,” says Lee. “She was quite isolated and has a condition where her body jerks involuntarily so she finds it difficult to prepare fresh vegetables. We provided her with someone who could help her shop and prepare fresh food as well as freezing portions so she could have healthy meals through the week. They built up a friendship and it’s really helped her to connect. Now she comes along to a cooking group and has helped out with some admin tasks.”
At a time of high unemployment and a shaky market, time banks give the very people who’re affected by the changing economic climate the chance to help themselves and exchange skills and time independently of fickle market forces. They strengthen communities, promote a sense of worth in their members and value all contribution equally. Perhaps that’s priceless.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 18 June 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 9 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West