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#20yearsoftimebanking

Having lived in London many years ago (before I discovered the joys of Pembrokeshire), it is always nice to go back and experience the hustle and bustle I associate with London town. This time however, there is no time for that as I am back for the Time Banking UK Conference – Celebrating 20 Years of Time Banking in the UK.

In case you are new to the term, time banking is a system of exchange that uses time as currency. It is a way of people being credited for their time – every hour given is rewarded with a time credit. In turn, time credits can be spent buying hours of time from other people within the time bank, or by accessing a service provided by a project sponsor – these can include leisure centres, bowling alleys or theatres. The time banking philosophy is that everyone has something to give – and it is true. Sometimes, what people have to give has been overlooked and time banking helps to redress that by seeking out, using and rewarding people for their contributions to community life.

If you know me professionally, you know that I am into time banking – really, very into time banking so the chance to meet with and hear from some of the architects of the methodology in the UK was too good to miss! The conference features include talks by Professor Edgar Cahn and Martin Simon. Edgar Cahn is the father of modern time banking, starting in America with the advent of ‘time dollars’. Martin Simon went to the USA to see the way that Professor Cahn had developed this idea and returned to the UK inspired to develop it here. Time dollars became time credits and the UK movement was born.

It is a pretty long drive from Pembrokeshire to Uxbridge, West London but, one that I’m more than happy to do. We’ve had time banking in Pembrokeshire for a little over a year now and the Pembrokeshire Time Bank Network has a stand at the conference to showcase some of the work we have done so far. In time bank terms, we are young but we have made great strides with three time banks up and running already, as well as training being completed for the fourth.

As I headed over to the conference centre on the first morning, I was excited to meet some of the people I had only previously spoken to over the phone – and before I’d even had coffee, I met with Jo Rhodes from Settle Time Bank in Yorkshire. Jo had been a great help when we were scoping the Pembrokeshire project and so it was great to finally meet her – and, true to form, she helped me out again, showing me an article about blending technology with time banking which was something I had been looking at recently.

After an opening by Lord Dow of Dalston, we moved straight into the first session led by Martyn Simon. It was great to hear him speak and to hear his take on time banking. He also introduced David Boyle, another architect of UK time banking. David, alongside Sarah Bird (Chief Exec of Time Banking UK) have written a book about time banking in health services and it was one of the first time banking books that I read so it was great to be able to hear him speak too!

One of my favourite quotes of the weekend came from David who spoke about the various approaches to time banking. He said, “remain friends with those who think about time banking differently, no matter how irritating they become!”

As part of Martins presentation he invited well established time banks to share their stories and we heard from Paxton Green Time Bank as one of the first social prescribing time banks, Clapham Time Bank that had a focus on mental wellbeing and ran events like “Anything can happen Thursdays!”

After lunch we headed into workshops and I went along to SROI for beginners. SROI (Social Return on Investment), is delivered using the HACT toolkit. HACT uses research from focus groups and questionnaires to populate a spreadsheet with the values that citizens place on certain outcomes. Therefore, if through the time banks work, you have evidence that you have helped someone into employment, increased their confidence or eased their anxiety, this can be fed into the system and it will produce a value in pounds that is (minus the budget for your project), the social return on the investment made. This tool is widely recognised and is in use across the country. It will be an extremely valuable tool for the Pembrokeshire project as it grows.

After a short break we headed into a World Café session. If you’ve never seen or heard one of these, it’s a great way to cover loads of topics in a short time – there were 5 topics to choose from on 5 facilitated tables – involving refugees and asylum seekers, working with young people, income generation, managing difficult situations and working with businesses and organisations. You get 10 mins then a horn sounds and everyone apart from the facilitators moves tables. You get to visit any 3 of the 5 you want to. I was persuaded to facilitate the involving businesses and organisations table and had great conversations with so many people as part of that. As Pembrokeshire has had some success with this element it was good to share our experience and also to hear from others about their engagement with corporations and social enterprises who provide sponsorship to their time banks.

An evening meal and entertainment from ‘Pimp My Jazz’ followed until it was time for bed!

Day 2 opened with a welcome from Grant Jessop and Edgar Cahn. Grant is the chairman of the board for TBUK and shared a powerful, personal testimony about how he got involved in time banking. There followed the first of a couple of talks from Edgar Cahn. As the man who created modern day time banking it is always a pleasure and inspiration to hear him speak – he is a cultured speaker, even at 83 years old! It was also in this address that Edgar gave us a new slogan “Life is not a spectator sport!”

From here, we moved into a workshop session and I attended a session on managing risk and keeping people safe. Led by Gary Harrison from Morton Michel, it was useful to hear from an insurer some of the risks people have faced and how both money and reputations can be saved through appropriate risk assessment and situation management.

Following this, we heard from our international colleagues as brokers from Spain, Italy and Portugal shared their experiences. It is encouraging to hear that the principles are the same all across the world and the issues (such as getting people to spend their credits) resonate across the globe. An interesting note from this session is that there are 450 time banks in Italy but only 150 registered with their national association – time banks are often created with no support from anyone apart from the communities they are based in.

As part of Martins presentation he invited well established time banks to share their stories and we heard from Paxton Green Time Bank as one of the first social prescribing time banks, Clapham Time Bank that had a focus on mental wellbeing and ran events like “Anything can happen Thursdays!”

After lunch we headed into workshops and I went along to SROI for beginners. SROI (Social Return on Investment), is delivered using the HACT toolkit. HACT uses research from focus groups and questionnaires to populate a spreadsheet with the values that citizens place on certain outcomes. Therefore, if through the time banks work, you have evidence that you have helped someone into employment, increased their confidence or eased their anxiety, this can be fed into the system and it will produce a value in pounds that is (minus the budget for your project), the social return on the investment made. This tool is widely recognised and is in use across the country. It will be an extremely valuable tool for the Pembrokeshire project as it grows.

After a short break we headed into a World Café session. If you’ve never seen or heard one of these, it’s a great way to cover loads of topics in a short time – there were 5 topics to choose from on 5 facilitated tables – involving refugees and asylum seekers, working with young people, income generation, managing difficult situations and working with businesses and organisations. You get 10 mins then a horn sounds and everyone apart from the facilitators moves tables. You get to visit any 3 of the 5 you want to. I was persuaded to facilitate the involving businesses and organisations table and had great conversations with so many people as part of that. As Pembrokeshire has had some success with this element it was good to share our experience and also to hear from others about their engagement with corporations and social enterprises who provide sponsorship to their time banks.

An evening meal and entertainment from ‘Pimp My Jazz’ followed until it was time for bed!

Day 2 opened with a welcome from Grant Jessop and Edgar Cahn. Grant is the chairman of the board for TBUK and shared a powerful, personal testimony about how he got involved in time banking. There followed the first of a couple of talks from Edgar Cahn. As the man who created modern day time banking it is always a pleasure and inspiration to hear him speak – he is a cultured speaker, even at 83 years old! It was also in this address that Edgar gave us a new slogan “Life is not a spectator sport!”

From here, we moved into a workshop session and I attended a session on managing risk and keeping people safe. Led by Gary Harrison from Morton Michel, it was useful to hear from an insurer some of the risks people have faced and how both money and reputations can be saved through appropriate risk assessment and situation management.

Following this, we heard from our international colleagues as brokers from Spain, Italy and Portugal shared their experiences. It is encouraging to hear that the principles are the same all across the world and the issues (such as getting people to spend their credits) resonate across the globe. An interesting note from this session is that there are 450 time banks in Italy but only 150 registered with their national association – time banks are often created with no support from anyone apart from the communities they are based in.

A further session from Edgar Cahn and his wife Chris Gray followed as they guided us through time banking and systems change. Chris, who works with Time Banks USA, gave us a great set of resources via her website https://www.gatheringwithapurpose.net/. Part of this session saw us look at co-production and be reminded by Edgar that there are two types of co-production – that where we co-produce a time bank and its activities with the members and separately, where we engage the process of co-production to bring about service change. We also had the chance to take home a co-production self-assessment tool to use with organisations to map where they are on the co-production journey.

The final session followed a gift giving where contributors and stalwarts of the time banking movement were presented with a gift marking 20 years of time banking in the UK. This session was a live debate facilitated by Grant Jessop. The topic was, “Time Banks need to lighten up on safeguarding”. It was so good to hear a range of views on this topic – and to hear that people don’t want to suddenly stop keeping people safe. There was a view that in the absence of DBS checks, time banks need to be better at advertising how they keep people safe – the references, the group exchanges, the talking process – all wrapped up in the term ‘social safeguarding’.

Following this session we had a group photo with those that were left and it was time for the 4.5 hour drive home.

As part of my work over the last 20 years, I have been to many conferences – those led by professional groups like pharmacists, those led by the 3rd Sector and any number of conferences led by the Government. I have never been to a conference like #TBUK2018. The people, the atmosphere, the learning was as I had never experienced before. Simply put, the best conference I have ever been to. A massive thanks to all at TBUK who worked like Trojans to make sure that this happened.

During the conference I caught up with Nicki Baker, Head of Finance and Administration at Time Banking UK and one of the key organisers of the conference.

 

Hi Nicki, tell us how the conference has gone so far from your perspective.

“It’s been fabulous! There is such a diverse range of time banks here and it’s been great to hear how they all operate and to catch up with the brokers. It is so valuable to be able to come together and share experiences between us”.

When you thought about doing this conference, what was the thought behind it?

“We wanted to get as many people in the room who share our vision for time banking, particularly those who might not usually get to come to these conferences. Also, we felt it was a good opportunity to bring an international flavour to the UK and to hear about developments in Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Conferences like this really highlight the necessity of more and regular contact with the membership. These events are so valuable and TBUK needs to improve the way that information is disseminated and its members are connected”.

What’s one thing that you will personally take from this event?

“That I feel really grateful to be able to organise these events and work with such amazing people”.

 

On Day 2, I also caught up with Professor Edgar Cahn and his wife, Chris Gray and they both kindly gave me some time to ask them some questions. To introduce Professor Cahn, it is important that people know a brief history. The idea for time banking came to him when he lay in a hospital bed following a heart attack, which destroyed 60% of his heart. At 44, he was given just 2 years to live – and told that in those two years he could only be active for 2 hours a day. As he lay recovering, being waited on and seen to by nurses and staff, he realised that he did not enjoy constantly receiving help and never giving back – here, the seed for the reciprocal nature of time banking was born and the model that we know as modern day time banking developed over the coming months. Now at 83, he’s come over to the conference that celebrates 20 years of his idea.

 

Hi Edgar, how do you feel the conference has gone?

It’s wonderful to see the way that time banking has captured the imagination and spread around the world. Time banking is a tool that people can bring and it’s great to see that the core values have remained uniform wherever time banking is used. Time banking has been applied to various contexts and problems – health, raising children, working with inmates. Globally, there are thousands of people involved who have given tens of thousands of hours – and all those hours are equal, providing a powerful antidote to our fixation on money. Time banking brings out people’s desire to help and contribute. What is really amazing is that time banking has spread without any real marketing around it. Now we are moving forward, using time banking for co-production – remember there are two types of co-production, where we co-produce the time bank itself, but also, where we use time banking to bring co-production to education and other philanthropic and publicly funded initiatives to affect change.

When you created time banking, what was your vision for it?

Time banking was born out of the civil rights movement and the fight against racism. I wanted it to be part of the war on poverty, in the face of an increased disparity in wealth and wellbeing. I wanted to create something that would combat this growing disparity.

There are 2 kinds of energy in time banking; the first is all of the dreamers wanting to create something better – this is the vision. The second is the fighters who are angry about needless suffering. Those who look at the world of abundance we live in and say why is there such suffering? Why are people going hungry? Why are children not being educated? Why are families not getting the support they need? There is systemic injustice that the system itself perpetuates – and time banking is a tool to combat this. This is a fair medium of exchange that recognises all for their contribution; a realisation of assets in every field that rewards the contributions that the market fails to reward.

We have created a system where we have allowed money to define value by price – if it’s scarce it’s valuable, if it’s abundant it’s cheap, if it’s really abundant, it’s dirt cheap or worthless. We have devalued the human contribution – caring, listening, helping, coming to each others rescue because that is what human beings do and that is not scarce. We are abundant. Time banking re-values what we do and what it means to be human.

Do you have a message for those reading this that might be thinking of getting involved?

Time banking transforms lives and builds trust. This trust grows as we give one hour at a time. Building relationships and networks is important and time banking can help us do that. Everyone is needed because everyone can make a difference to the lives of others.

Earlier on in the conference you gave us a new slogan “Life is not a spectator sport” – can you expand on that a little?

We have been drawn in by the media (I mean all media, TV news bulletins, social media etc) to live our lives in a soap opera where we have no control over the plot or characters. Our role is as a fixated audience, feeling nothing we do matters. We need to regain our ability to feel that we can make a difference and not tolerate that which we should not.

Are you proud of what time banking has become?

Pride is a difficult one – I feel like I have answered the question that we all have – why am I here? Although what I hope I have actually done is set in motion a process that is seriously out of control!

 

By Lee Hind 

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