Blog: An Opportunity for Local Currencies

Our blog series regularly invites guests to share their thoughts on different aspects of life in Dundee, their own practice and anything in between. In this edition, Darryl Gaffney du Plooy, from the social enterprise Uppertunity, shares his thoughts on local currencies and their possible place in Dundee. He will continue to explore this topic at May’s Pecha Kucha Night Dundee!

How will Dundee be in the future? Will it be transformed?  Will being a UNESCO City of Design be an honour that means something to everyone? Will the future differ only slightly from the present?

In the Dundee of the now we have our showpiece open to the public. V&A Dundee is a beautiful building, labelled living room of the city by Kengo Kuma. I have fully embraced that analogy, but I am mindful that it could end up the Sun House. Nice views, great for entertaining visitors but a bit out of the way from day to day needs and only used by residents occasionally. I am sure up-bringing, political persuasion or attitudinal disposition will affect individual opinions towards The Waterfront redevelopment. My opinion is that regardless of any internal bias it is an opportunity. A page-turner to write a fresh history of how the people influenced the town and its direction.

Conditions are right in Dundee to explore more open ways of connecting as a society, so I thought this would be a good chance to explore one of the many ways we could take advantage of this opportunity.

Local Currencies

Money is a tool to serve us, not our master. And as it is a manmade construct it can be re-thought, re-imagined and redesigned. 

                                                                                       Bernard Lietair

 I first heard about local currencies a couple of years ago and for one reason or another, it has stuck in my mind. Perhaps because of the juxtaposition of the Dundee we want to portray and the Dundee which has struggled with social inequality since long before Mary Lily Walker wore long skirts.

Like when a song is stuck in the ear I felt the best remedy would be to play the tune to the end. In February I organised an event featuring guest speakers with expert insight in local currencies. Duncan McCann who is a researcher for the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and Alex Harper at the eco-village in Findhorn, Morayshire who use the Eko.

Listening to Duncan and Alex what struck me is that there are many in circulation and all operating differently to achieve a specific social purpose. Bristol, Brixton, Findhorn, Nantes, Amsterdam, Limburg to name but a few. They can take different physical forms; electronic or token scheme. In practice currencies have been used to incentivise environmentally sustainable communities; supporting business transactions between local SME; providing interest-free liquidity for SME; building community, engaging and empowering citizens; funding much needed local services; even paying down crippling local pay-day debt.

Thinking about oor place, the city is anticipating between 300,000 to 350,000 extra visitors to the waterfront annually. Let’s just say speculate that each person spends £10.  If 1.5% of that was captured a Dundee currency system that would £45,000 per year. To put that into some kind context, the recent 6% decrease in Grant Funding to Cultural Organisations in Dundee is £60,471.

As someone involved in communities and social enterprise I sense the potential in a local currency that can subsidise growth in circular economies and social enterprise that improves lives by intervening before crises. You may remember the stooshie caused by recycling bins in 2017, but very few will argue against the need for us to waste less and be more resourceful.

So how will incentive positive behavioural change to re-use and repair?  We continually hear of the inadequacy of public funds to meet the demands of mental health, social care, isolation or social housing. Social enterprises are people-centred enterprises that can prevent the needs of services at a crises point. Often they are excluded from supportive funding because the public resources are guarded by bureaucratic systems. Systems that dampen innovation in environments heavily tempered with restriction and risk-aversion. Not exactly the ideal ecosystem for growth nor the soil in which Dundee’s reputation for design can grow.

As a city recognised internationally for innovation and design are we not obliged to consider how to re-balance financial with social capital? I am sure reframing how we view, use and distribute money will lead to the solution.

Will these conversations be had in our living rooms?

Well, that is up to you.