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”.
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.