The Chiemgauer: Could a local currency save the euro?

Written by Chris Parsons

That’s a reality that Christian Gelleri believes could happen. In 2003, Gelleri was teaching in Prien am Chiemsee, a picturebox Bavarian home to 10,000, just 20 Alpine kilometres from the Austrian border. Gelleri inspired his 16 year old economics students with a unique lesson in finance, offering them the chance to make their own “banknotes”. Ten years on and that school project is now the world’s most successful complementary currency. If ever the Waldorf School at Prien has had an “O Captain! My Captain!” moment, this must have been it.

Called the “Chiemgauer”, the students designed voucher-style paper money and ran the scheme from their desks, offering a 1:1 exchange rate with the euro and initially relying on the goodwill of a handful of parents, school staff and local businesses to help generate a not insignificant turnover of €75,000 in their first year. Most school projects would have ended here, congratulating everyone on a job well done. But not the Chiemgauer.

A decade of success

“We’ve had about a €30 million turnover in these 10 years, €6.5 million of that last year alone,” says Gelleri. “The success of the Chiemgauer has been bigger than I ever imagined.”

Over 600 businesses now accept the Chiemgauer. As well as cakes, coffees and clothes, users can buy computers, book hotel rooms or take taxis. Whilst there may not be a Chiemgauer TXT2PAY system to rival Bristol Pounds, there is a “debit card” for purchases and even cashpoint withdrawals.

The Chiemgauer also generates funds for local charities, so far racking up over €250,000 in donations to these good causes. The main mechanism for these donations is one that Gelleri thinks could be the secret to more sustainable national finances.

An alternative to “monoculture” money?

This key difference is that the currency is only valid for three months. If a user wants to extend the life of their notes further then they can, by purchasing a validity stamp for an additional three months at a cost of 2% of the note’s value. It’s what Gelleri calls “Express Money”; speeding up the circulation of money by encouraging people to spend it. The money’s regionality and a charge for any conversion back into euros means the local economy reaps the benefits.

“98.5% of international money flows are speculative, only 1.5% are ‘real’. [Chiemgauer] attaches the national currency to the real economy and that’s very important. Complementary currencies could play a positive role in helping weak economies like Greece to recover,” says Gelleri who, along with Thomas Mayer, has set out his proposal for a southern European parallel currency at save-the-euro.org.

Whilst there are well-laid plans for a grand event in May marking the official 10th anniversary of the Chiemgauer, Gelleri is not living in the past and clearly feels he has not yet cemented his true legacy. “Similar concepts have been implemented in many regions all over the world and that makes me a little proud but I also see we have much more to do,” he says. “We need more lighthouses like the Bristol Pound to act as models for other regions.”

What would Gelleri like to be telling us in another ten years? “That our complementary currency is a matter of course in our region and many others too. We need more ideas like this to bring increased stability and equality to the economy. We need to develop a real monetary ‘ecosystem’.”

 

Money that does buy happiness

Written by Francesca Wakefield – founder of The Ideas Arcade

Not long before Christmas some hard working folk from the Bristol Pound were manning a stall at The Tobacco Factory’s bustling Sunday food and craft market. In between extolling the virtues of TXT2PAY, the B£ team couldn’t help but overhear a loud and laughter filled conversation between a couple of nearby traders about using Bristol Pounds.

“It’s like ‘happy money’” one of them said to the other with a grin, “you always get a smile when someone uses it”.

Happy money

Ever since overhearing that exchange, the idea that Bristol’s local currency was a form of ‘happy money’ has been insistently knocking around the Bristol Pound office. We know, we know, money can’t buy happiness… but what if it could? Better yet, what if it didn’t even matter what you brought so long as were using a happy currency?

Sophie, who works at Gloucester Road grocers Scoopaway, agrees that Bristol Pound based exchanges are ‘happier’ ones than those conducted in sterling. “There’s definitely more of a connection and more of a community feel when people pay with Bristol Pounds” she says, “there’s more conversation and people are just generally happy – and more willing to pay!”

Local clothing retailer Beast has two outlets in Bristol, one on Cheltenham Road and one in St Nicholas’ Market, and has also found a similar thing. “I think there’s still some novelty around the idea of paying with Bristol Pounds” says Abbey, who works at Beast, “and they’re definitely a lot more fun to use”.

Empowerment = Well being

As well as the argument that using a local currency can give us a sense of community and fellowship, there’s also an argument about it giving us a sense of empowerment.

Money forms such a big part of our lives that almost all of us would struggle to go a day without using it. It defines most of our exchanges and facilitates many of our activities. When the Bristol Pound was launched, it was done so very much on an ‘empowering’ philosophy. The Bristol Pound was to be ‘our money’, imagined and created by local people for the benefit of the local economy. Empowerment is a social good; something which gives us agency and control over our lives.

It follows that using Bristol Pounds might help both traders and customers feel more in control of their money and the exchanges it facilitates. This increased sense of control might not make us walk around with a grin our faces (thought for some, it might) but it almost undoubtedly leads to a greater sense of well being.

Where everybody knows your name…

Empowerment, a connection to your local community, and shopping trips which are more fun and which give you the feeling that you’re doing your bit to support local businesses – the happy money argument isn’t stacking up badly so far. But using Bristol Pounds, or arguably any local currency, can also do something much more personal; it can give us a sense of belonging.

Using Bristol Pounds is like an automatic membership to a not-so-secret but exclusively Bristolian community club. Chris Parsons, a regular (and we may say very happy) B£ writer and spender, jokes that traders have thanked him by name for his payment – since with TXT2PAY the trader receives a personalised confirmation that you’ve paid.

“The last time I was at the Folk House I ordered the most rock ‘n’ roll thing on the menu – camomile and vanilla tea – and after paying with TXT2PAY the guy behind the counter called out ‘thanks very much Chris Parsons!’” he recalls. “Cue idiotically happy grin at ‘Nice Thing Caused By TXT2PAY That Wouldn’t Have Happened Otherwise’. So yeah, paying with Bristol Pounds actually made my day a little happier.”

Nuff said, frankly.

What Makes Bristol Great: Bugged out Bedminster

Written by Megan Liversey, Photography by Mike White.

From today (16th of March) Bedminster’s streets will be full of creepy crawlies, but worry not, these Beautiful Bugs of Bedminster are part of an art trail organised by Bristol Pound members UpFest.

A giant butterfly and an army of caterpillars will be amongst the 90 over sized, colourful, exciting bugs on display in and around the local shopping area. The bugs have been painted and brought to life by local artists and local school children.

The Beautiful Bugs of Bedminster are part Mary Portas Pilot to reinvigorate local shopping areas. ‘Portas Pilots’ was set up by the government to encourage local partnerships and consortiums to come up with innovative ideas about how to transform their local high street into a social place, bustling with people, services and jobs. Bedminster was selected from 371 applications nationwide to be one of the first 12 Portas Pilot Towns and awarded £100,000.

Steve Hayles, curator of the bugs says “The bugs are a fun way to revitalise the area and represent the diversity of the people of Bedminster”.

Mary Portas is fan of the Bristol Pound, she described it as “a clever and fun way to get people shopping locally” and with many Independent shops around Southville and Bedminster now accepting the Bristol Pound (click here for more details) the bugs are another great initiative to make the local shopping experience as fun as possible. Support your local independents, explore the local area and look out for them bugs!

(George Ferguson & Mary Portas with some £B’s on North Street)

Independent Businesses are Wonderful: WORKSHOP 22

‘Independent Businesses are Wonderful’ will form a series of blogs that take a closer look at Bristol Pound businesses around the city.                                                                      Written by Michaela Parker. Photography by Emily Coles.

My Bristol Pounds are burning a hole in my pocket as I wander around Workshop 22, an utter treasure trove of delights. From the tiny stuffed owls and foxes from Mirjami Design to Stoke’s Croft China creations, the shop is full to the brim with jewellery, trinkets and other gifts to make any girl want to set up a birthday wish list immediately- something perfectly possible, owner Sarah McCallum tells me with a wink as she hands me a beautifully designed card on which to record such gift ideas.

As well as a shop filled with locally sourced products from all over the west country, Workshop 22 is a jewellery studio and workshop too, holding classes in everything from beginners’ jewellery making to tailor made progression courses and bespoke sessions including their sought after ‘Make Your Own Wedding Rings’ days, something they’re keen to do more of in 2013.

Sarah, Lucy Lyon and the third owner Jackie Beavington are all jewellers and work on their own commissions as well as teaching in the shop cum workshop on Upper Maudlin Street. “It’s really nice to be able to work out here and then as soon as you’ve made something, you can put it out on the shelf and see how it’s received,” explains Lucy.

The trio source products for the shop mainly from Bristol and the south-west but admit it’s sometimes nice to find jewellery for the store from further afield too. “It actually works really well because they’re not often stocked anywhere else in Bristol. We have a leaning for Bristol and the west country but we’re always trying to find things that complement it.”

As supporters of Bristol Pound from the very beginning, Workshop 22 have taken Bristol Pounds from customers since September and are now finding their feet with TXT2PAY too after completing their first transaction just a few weeks ago. “It’s just so easy,” says Sarah with surprise. “From a business point of view, it was unbelievably straighforward.” Lucy adds, “I think it’s great because you need something to keep up with the fact that people don’t always carry cash around anymore.”

The girls admit that at the moment, most people are using paper pounds in their shop and are keen to let unknowing people know about the currency. “We like to raise awareness by giving a little bit back as change and we always keep examples of the notes in the till so that we can show them to people too,” says Sarah. “A large chunk of our customers would definitely use TXT2PAY once they get the hang of it though.”

Some of the artists stocked by Workshop 22 have offered to be paid in Bristol Pounds too, something the girls are excited about and starting to introduce. Currently, Lucy, as a Gloucester Road regular, enjoys using the currency taken in the store as part of her earnings for her shopping needs on the famously independent stretch of shops. “It’s fun and we’re really happy to be part of it,” she smiles. “It was a bit of a no- brainer that we’d get involved. It’s raising awareness. It’s a force for good. I can’t see any negatives and I think it will become a sustainable currency.”

Tel: 0117 329 0393
Website: http://www.workshop22.co.uk/
Visit Workshop 22 on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/workshop22Bristol Twitter: @workshop_22

Meet the Artists: Mark Simmons

Written by Laura Marquez Perez

Mark Simmons is the Bristol-based photographer whose work decorates the purple side of £B5 printed pounds. I met with him at the wonderful Small St. Espresso to discuss his design and work, the Bristol Pound and the digitalisation of photography. Originally from London, Mark came to Bristol in 1982 to study chemistry at the University of Bristol, and, like many other students before him, he has been here ever since. Mark is currently based in Montpelier, and is a full-time photographer. Mark is a txt2pay user himself, both as an  individual and in his business, and he believes that it’s an opportunity for users and traders both to be a part of something bigger. Although starting such a project is difficult, the Bristol Pound seems to be doing well, and he really hopes it succeeds.

Mark is primarily a social documentary photographer whose work focuses on people and communities. In 2008 he released a book called Bristol Black & White, in which he captures the people of Bristol over 25 years. It was a photograph from this book that he submitted to the Bristol Pound competition, after being encouraged to enter by one of the Bristol Pound directors. The photograph itself was taken at the St. Paul’s carnival (with a Canon Digital SLR) in 2005. It features two schoolgirls getting ready to perform the parade in Portland Square. Showcasing one of Bristol’s best-known community events, it really gives a flavour of what makes Bristol special: it’s community spirit and it’s ever-present artistic culture.

More recently, Mark has been focused on commission work. He photographs many weddings, which he shoots mostly in the style of social documentary, as well as documenting arts and community projects and PR work. It took Mark longer than most to move into the digital age of photography, as he skipped the generation of semi-automatic film cameras with autofocus.Today he shoots mostly with a digital camera, a Canon 5DII DSLR, but he still thinks that digitalisation has changed photography to the point where one could even say it’s an entirely new medium. The photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called the moment when you press the shutter “The Decisive Moment”. The scene you capture and consequently the photograph you end up taking, depends greatly on the moment your finger presses. That, says Mark, has been lost to some extent with the shift to digital photography because the focus screens don’t allow for quick manual focusing. In the “old days” of film, it was much simpler. There was much less between you and the subject, just the lens, and you couldn’t just take consecutive frames. Each shot was more valuable, and you thought it out more. Even though digital photography is more convenient in many ways, for example the fact that it’s cheaper, multiple frames and autofocus have taken away from the spontaneity, mystique and even the discipline of the art.

Mark’s future plans include a re-issue of his now sold out book, where he will try and trace some of the people who feature in his photographs–including the girls on the £B5 note– are now. His experience with the Bristol Pound has given him new motivation to go back to shooting film and documenting the diverse, arty and laid back city that is Bristol. That is the sort of work that he enjoys doing most.

Mark Simmons website: http://www.marksimmonsphotography.com/

What Makes Bristol Great: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival

Written by Megan Liversey

Bristol is a vibrant city that is rich with culture. This is reflected in the many festivals and events that take place in around the city. I’m going to be highlighting some of these festivals and events, and look how they contribute to making Bristol great!

 This month I’m going to focus on Bristol’s International Jazz and Blues Festival.

The very first Bristol International Jazz and Blues festival will explode into Colston Hall on today (Friday 1st March) through to Sunday 3rd March. Featuring some of the worlds most renowned Jazz musicians in its first year, this exciting, new festival is set to be one of the UK’s leading Jazz events. Bristol is a massive melting pot of different cultures and, with it’s dynamic rebellious past (and present) and lively music scene, the city serves as a natural host to its first International Jazz and Blues Festival.

Headlining the festival are US guitarist John Scofield’s Organic Trio, Cuban Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and drummer Ginger Baker. Alongside these are a host of Bristol based musicians leading the way including Get The Blessing, Andy 

Shepherd’s Trio Libero along with the gypsy-jazz, swing-stomping, Zen Hussies. I was lucky enough to get the inside scoop of the Bristol based ‘one’s to watch’ during this years festival. You can catch these bands for free in the foyer of Colston Hall.

On Friday at 8.00pm, start your weekend stimulating your senses and watch Moscow Drug Club for an intoxicating musical experience. Moonlight Saving Time are perfect for the Saturday early evening 5.00pm slot, where you can be prepared to be mesmerized by their original sound including hip hop, Latin and Afro Cuban grooves. End your explosive weekend and catch James Morton’s Pork Chop who is a real mover and shaker on the Bristol Jazz scene

Polly Eldridge, the media co-ordinator of the festival explains how the festival is creating a real buzz around Bristol.

“Bristol is an exciting city to hold a Jazz and Blues Festival, one of the many reasons is the influence of Trip Hop that gives the Jazz and Blues scene in Bristol an interesting dimension. There are going to be International acts jamming with local acts that will give the festival a come-together community feel”.

The festival wants to continue to grow and attract visitors from all over the world. It’s now looking at ways to incorporate the Bristol Pound into the next festival.

The three day festival is presented in association with Bristol’s Music Trust which now runs the city’s main music venue, Colston Hall.