Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper


Another cashless Give and Take system

RACHEL LEVER writes: I first joined a LETS scheme in Hackney. I cooked a dish for a meeting, and a few days later hired a drill from a member using the credits. The connection of the risotto and the drill quite tickled me.

Local Exchange Trading Schemes exist all over the country to enable people to barter their skills and time without using cash. And you don’t have to find an exact match: using their local currency, A can do a job for B and use the credits to pay C.

In Hastings the group and currency are called GEMS (for Green Economy Marketing System). People post into a directory what they offer and what they want, and members can make contact with each other direct. I have earned Gems from driving, cooking freezer dishes, and selling art. This enabled me to part-fund some decorating, and most important to pay for regular computer tuition over a period of over two years, sadly exchanging a mouse for pen, pencil or paint brush.

Back in Hackney the currency was called a Favour (not a fiver!), and that seems quite apt: it makes it easier to ask for help without embarassment, and easier to give it, without going into the full-blown territory of offering or asking for payment. There are things you can’t get for love or money, but you might try Gems which falls somewhere in between.

Because no money changes hands, it enables people to benefit from offering their skills, talents or equipment without setting up a business or over-specialising. For better or worse, it falls below the radar of regulations and rules, so you probably need to be extra careful. But if you want to get away from an increasingly zealous system, it’s a haven of sanity. (There is still the safeguard that a really bad deal will get you suspended or banned. And you do have to stay within the law.)

Being a parallel financial universe, there’s no exact equivalent of a Gem to a £1 sterling, nor any system of charging by the hour or the job, but somehow members muddle through and negotiate: rates for an hour vary from around 10-30 Gems.

The range of wants and offers is quite wide, including tuition in languages and music, a big choice of dog-walking, cat-feeding and plant-watering services, lots of massage and therapies, transport and computer help. Most sought-after are gardening and handyman offers, but they’re not a lot easier to get for cash. And you can be creative with Gems, for instance donating a service or present to a friend.

LETS schemes really need a wide pool of members to create healthy trading, so Hastings Gems, currently numbering 80 or so, really welcomes new members, who get a start-up grant of 25 gems.


Posted 08:10 Saturday, Dec 12, 2009 In: Grassroots