Three years after its’ launch, the Brixton Pound is showing every sign of becoming a genuine alternative currency. Despite the initiative being written off during its’ infancy, today there are £65,000 worth of notes in circulation. Its’ growing success raises the possibility of a community currency being replicated in other areas.
Perhaps we are even witnessing the acorns of a Black Pound. That phrase is most often used to describe the total spending power of Britain’s black communities, and is usually accompanied by a lament about why so little of it is spent with black businesses. But what if a currency existed that was traded specifically at inner city businesses?
I can think of no better incentive to keep the cash in the community and boost the local economy for the benefit of local people instead of bankers.
So far there are 200 Brixton businesses taking part in the Brixton Pound – B£ for short – which is run in partnership with Lambeth Council, the London Mutual Credit Union and the New Economics Foundation.
A year after its’ launch in 2009 Frederika Whitehead slammed the B£ in The Guardian, but since then it has doubled in popularity and more and more Brixtonians are happy to exchange their sterling for B£’s to support their local area.
As Chancellor George Osborne predicts tough economic times and austerity for the next decade it is natural that communities at the sharp end of economics will seek out alternatives, as we have seen by the increasing popularity of Credit Unions as people turn their backs on High Street banks, or the banks turn their backs on the people.
I recall when Zimbabwe went into a hyper-inflation tailspin much of the population abandoned the only official currency and adopted the US dollar and the South African rand. More interestingly, many Zimbabweans stopped dealing in notes altogether and started bartering; not just for products and goods but also for their services. Salaries and food were at a rate you managed to strike with your fellow citizens, not dictated from above.
Although brought about by desperate economic circumstances, Zimbabwe seemed empowered as the people to begin taking charge of their own value, and best of all there were no fat cat bankers at the top creaming off vast profits.
Given the opportunity, and freed from the shackles of convention and limiting social order, people can organise themselves as the Brixton Pound shows. And while any currency should rightly be available to everyone regardless of background, it is also the case that the currency is of particular benefit to those most excluded, impoverished and denied opportunities. And that is certainly true of large parts of the black community.
I see no reason why the Brixton Pound cannot be extended across London, with particular emphasis on supporting black-owned businesses and connecting them with a customer base who wants to support them. The template for a currency for excluded communities, and independent of the State and big banks, may already exist.