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Looking at Bristol Pound’s past, present and future as we say…. Happy 3rd Birthday Bristol Pound!

The Bristol Pound is approaching its third birthday on the 19th September, with a special night market celebrating the Birthday on the evening of Friday 18th September. The local currency has rapidly become a Bristol institution with over £B700,000 in circulation. The currency is growing in usage by the day with companies such as First Bus and @t Bristol and even the Mayor getting involved in the scheme.

Bristol Green Capital Partnership Intern, Jozef Pres, talked to Bristol Pound director, Ciaran Mundy, to discuss the Bristol Pound’s past, present and future.

Would a Bristol Pound Work?

“Post banking-collapse I started questioning what the fundamentals of the financial system were, why it was so prone to collapse, this need for growth and its subsequent collapse, and it choking the environment and making poorer people poorer”.

As a result, Ciaran founded the Money and Economic Forum in 2009 where he posed a series of questions about the economy and the direction it should take. This is where Ciaran first met Chris Sunderland, who had been a Vicar but was drawn to more direct activist community projects than the post allowed and suggested a local pound for Bristol. A  decision to stage a series of talks around the idea of a Bristol Pound was made to gauge interest of business people and the general public in Bristol.

BCGP launching Bristol Pound in 2011

A workshop evening in 2011 hosted by Bristol Green Capital Partnership, to support of the Bristol £ project.

After the talks inspired overwhelming support to the idea of a Bristol Pound, the team then went to Bristol Green Capital Partnership for a £5,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study. Would a Bristol Pound work? The Feasibility Study looked at other local currencies like the Totnes Pound that were already in operation albeit on a smaller scale, and concluded that a city wide currency was viable and tapped in to strong sense of identity of many Bristol residents–  this gave the Bristol Pound even more momentum!

Why Bristol?

Bristol is a unique place, well known for an independent culture and a positive community spirit. People help and support ideas that may usually get blown away by the “commercial wind” of big business, and as Ciaran describes, “Ideas thought up in the pub can actually happen”.

The Bristol Pound is a fine example of a city-wide community coming together. The way of life in Bristol signifies a coming together of the independent sector and the people to promote Bristol and keep the wealth of the local area within the local area through an economic theory called the Local Multiplier Effect.

Bristol Pound 2nd Birthday. Credit: Mark Simmons

Bristol Pound 2nd Birthday. Credit: Mark Simmons

The Local Multiplier Effect (LME) is an additional economic benefit accrued to an area from money being spent in the local economy. Typically, when using sterling, around 80% of the money leaves the local area for good, leaving 20% to circulate the local economy. When you use a local currency like the Bristol Pound, the percentages are reversed with 80% staying within Bristol. As Ciaran summarises, “locally owned businesses spread the money out more than chain stores... and they are a big part of what makes Bristol feel special”.

The atmosphere of Bristol makes a local currency ideal for the city, encourages a community atmosphere and local production. LME shortens supply chains and can lower the carbon footprint across a region, as less transport is needed to bring goods to market. The low-carbon aspect of the Bristol Pound currency is a first rate example of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership’s vision for a ‘low carbon city with a high quality of life for all’ being addressed through the innovation and leadership of its members. The LME “completely changes the wealth that people have in any given area” and from that we can tell that local currencies work for the area.

Paper Pound

In early 2012, after a contest for local people to design the banknotes, the first paper Bristol Pound reached Ciaran in a defining moment in the history of the Bristol Pound. Ciaran told us that “thanks to Bristol for being a supportive place, we didn’t think it was possible at first but when printed cash came back from the printers. It looked so beautiful!” At that moment, the Bristol Pound felt real, and the “what if” moments had come true. Bristol was now on a path to a fairer, low carbon economy.

Working in Partnership as a ‘Step Change’

Bristol Pound Celebrates its 1st Birthday in 2013

Bristol Pound Celebrates its 1st Birthday in 2013

Ciaran described how Bristol Green Capital Partnership has provided a platform to voice and refine ideas to other individuals and companies, through its wide membership, monthly green mingles and a range of other events. “These individuals and companies understand about what your company is doing and know why you are doing it. It is this supportive network that works within the partnership that develops ideas such as the Bristol Pound into bigger things. The support of BCGP was a step change to help go from an idea that people where talking about into something that was really going to happen”.

Bristol Pound: ‘The Leading Light’

The Bristol Pound has gone from strength to strength since its launch three years ago. Some of the Key moments that cemented the Pound’s place in Bristol were: being able to pay to travel on First Bus, to pay council tax to Bristol City Council and energy bills to Good Energy with the Bristol Pound.  Alec French a major Architecture firm have recently agreed to be paid its current and future fees from the City Council in Bristol Pounds,.The sums involved in businesses transactions like these are significantly more than individuals buying lunch and represent a step change in the amount of Bristol Pounds circulating.

Bristol Pound 2nd Birthday. Credit: Mark Simmons

Bristol Pound 2nd Birthday. Credit: Mark Simmons

“Businesses start to realise that you don’t have to wait to receive Bristol Pounds to spend them, businesses can put sterling into a Bristol Pound account which create Bristol Pounds and this is what is happening with the Council”. The first elected mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson has become the only mayor in the world to collect their salary in a local currency - the man with the red trousers has been a great figurehead for the pound since his election, raising the profile of the local currency.

Despite its short existence, the Bristol Pound has received a warm reception not just in Bristol but across the world, making Bristol a “leading light” in this sector. The NY Times, Russia Today and the Wall Street Journal are just a few of the international media outlets that have produced reports on the Bristol Pound. This has led to some politicians in different countries including the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, whom in her election campaign stated that she intended to introduce a local currency  - we think encouraged by the success of the Bristol Pound.

Bristol Sweet Mart with £B

Txt2pay at Bristol Sweet Mart

Technologically, what separates Bristol from other local currencies in Britain is the introduction of a digital accounts and a Txt2pay system that facilitates the usage of Bristol Pounds by everyone used to electronic and online payments especially to allow businesses to spend it on easily. This brings the idea of the local currency to the modern day, where electronic payment is now the norm and paper based currency is falling in market share.

Steering the Economy

It is events and endorsements like these, which are gradually changing the way Bristol thinks about money and its economy. Ciaran describes this through the analogy of a tanker, where each event and success that the Bristol Pound achieves steers the tanker slightly away from the typical boom and bust economy. But each little steer has momentum that will turn the tanker to a new destination – a fairer low-carbon economy.  With the whole project and the setting of Bristol, Ciaran believes that the team behind the Bristol Pound have “got it technologically and culturally right”.

The success of the Bristol Pound has laid a solid foundation for a bright future. Ciaran and the team are assisting other cities such as Exeter and Totnes to launch or improve their own local currencies in order to support their areas. Part of the assistance includes access to the digital system that the Bristol Pound uses in order to modernise existing local currencies and strengthen them.

The Future of the Pound

Looking towards the future, the Bristol Pound team would like to see their currency increase its market share in the local economy and become the obvious choice for Bristolians when out and about in the city. Potential members that Ciaran would like to see join the Bristol Pound fold are the leisure centres dotted around Bristol and also the established sports clubs that operate in Bristol including Bristol Sport, Bristol Rovers and Gloucestershire CCC.

Redesigned notes in 2015

Redesigned notes in 2015

If these clubs joined the Bristol Pound, the currency would be delivered to a new audience that would increase the development of the Pound and deliver it to bigger and brighter things.

If he could have anyone dead or alive promote the currency, Ciaran would call upon Annie Kenney (whom appears on the new £B10 note) as the person he would like most to promote the currency as she was an inspirational woman who fought for democracy as a suffragette one hundred years ago – “if she was alive today she would still be campaigning for democracy and equality especially the right to have control of your own monetary systems”.

We’d like to thank Ciaran for his time and wish the Bristol Pound every success in the future!

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