Financial tools supporting the local economy: the world’s first crowd-funded fee free payment app

“There seems be a real appetite among consumers to buy from independent retailers and support community shopping”

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Those who have been expressing interest in Localise West Midlands’s involvement with a future Birmingham Pound will also read the Birmingham Press account of Birmingham’s Droplet a mobile app born in Birmingham promising a ‘customer loyalty revolution’.

droplet snapshot 1a brum

The Press reports: “Droplet, the brainchild of tech entrepreneurs Steffan Aquarone and Will Grant, has used £575,000 of Crowdfunding to take the world’s first fee free payment app into eight cities across the UK. More than 300 independent retailers across Cambridge, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Norwich are now accepting transactions by using the simple mobile app . . . The first eight cities have been chosen due to their vibrant independent scenes and their willingness to embrace new idea. Local ambassadors, who are well known in the community, have been appointed in each location to work with merchants to introduce the technology and grow the Droplet brand organically. With user numbers now over 23,000, there are plans already in place to build on the initial rollout by targeting another ten cities in 2016.

Will Grant says: “Birmingham is still a critically important city for us. This is where the Droplet story all began and we have just strengthened our team here to include new ambassador Laura Patricia Jones. She will be charged with building on our existing merchant base of 35 retailers and growing our user numbers in the city.”

droplet snapshot 3 brum

Using Droplet is simple for the consumer, just tap ‘pay here’ when entering a registered outlet for the first time and the payment is taken directly from your chosen card – you’ll get a notification on your phone to show how much you’ve been charged and the reward stamps you’ve earned.


For further information, please visit www.dropletpay.com follow @dropletpay on twitter or watch the launch video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzG1cO1-jXA

The latest neighbourhood initiative: ShirleyTOPS

shirley tops header

ShirleyTOPS is a community focused web site designed to encourage Shirley residents to support local businesses. It promotes around 500 businesses that trade across the Shirley area, listing shops by category – with clubs, nurseries, doctors, schools and a range of organisations promoted as well as over 500 places to shop or relax and enjoy a drink or meal. There is also a useful section on units to let.

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Developed at no cost to Shirley businesses, or the council tax payer, the ShirleyTOPS web site is sponsored by The Solihull Green Party. The content has been made possible thanks to hundreds of hours of input by volunteers.

Councillor Howard Allen sends the link: http://www.shirleytops.co.uk/. He writes:

Shirley high street in particular has suffered recently as Parkgate, instead of bringing the promised high street ‘names’, competes with the high street by adding to the number of bargain and charity shops. The situation is not desperate but some quick action is needed to halt and reverse the decline. Hopefully, the ShirleyTOPS web site will help by encouraging residents to support the local economy and shop locally rather than travelling further afield.

If anyone wants a club or society advertised and it’s not already on ShirleyTOPS then please just let me know. There is a contact form on the website for all to use.

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Shirley Greens will be regularly advertising the ShirleyTOPS website to the over 16,000 homes in Shirley asking residents to use local businesses wherever possible. The Shirley Greens will also be direct mailing everyone who moves to Shirley to both advise them of all the things on offer in the area and again asking them to support their local businesses.

We are very happy to advertise any promotional activity being undertaken by any Shirley business or community group. All they need to do is let us have the details and we will add them to the ShirleyTOPS web site.

Please spread the word and also let me know of any businesses or organisations you think I have missed.

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Cllr Howard Allen – Shirley West ward, Solihull MBC

Local development as a strategic alternative in Fife

Once again many will question the dependence on a global market economy as headlines shout, “China’s ‘Black Monday’ sends markets reeling”. For months, in a range of publications, Mohamed El-Erian, who chairs President Obama’s Global Development Council, has been forecasting the risk of a ‘perfect storm’, adding that considering ‘its destructive potential, it warrants serious attention by policymakers’, though China does not loom large in his list of contributing factors.

fifediet small family2

Mike Small (with family, above) is said to be ‘behind’ the Fife Diet local eating experiment, which aims to relocalise food production and distribution on a regional basis, as a response to globalisation and climate change. See a 2008 Telegraph article and more in depth on the Transition Culture website.

Remarkably, it is funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund and has also received funding from Celebrating Fife, the Co-op Community Fund and Awards for All.

Over an eight year period the Fife Diet has developed from a simple idea framed around ‘local eating’ to a complex one about sustainable food, environmental justice, globalisation and culture. They set out to build a sustainable food movement that popularised eating healthy, local produce in Fife, starting from the understanding that there is something fundamentally wrong with the food system but also from the thought that they could, by acting collectively, do something about it.

They now believe that food has become central to the precarious economy. Real progress won’t be made until control is regained over the retail experience, and profiteers that benefit from products that fuel obesity are confronted.

In the Food Manifesto they are developing, they call for opportunities for the ‘right to grow’ and an expectation of quality healthy food in our public institutions, aiming eventually to become – as the Scottish government puts it, a ‘Good Food Nation’.

FAQ: “But what fruit do you eat?” Fife’s Pittormie fruit farm produce:

fife's pittormirefruitboxjuly091

Remarkable achievements listed on their site:

CELEBRATING OUR OWN FOOD CULTURE

When we started we were met by a mixture of incredulity and poorly-disguised scepticism. People really didn’t think that you could eat food from Fife, and survive at all. It was just unthinkable, unimaginable.

CARBON SAVINGS

In 2011-2012 we saved 1019 tonnes of C02e. Then, in a three year period (April 2012- March 2015) we saved a further 6976.37 tonnes of C02e. These are immediate savings, by diverting food waste from landfill thereby avoiding creating methane, for example, or by sequestering carbon and enriching soil with compost, but also by eating locally, growing our own food, eating organic, changing the meat we ate (and eating less of it).

OUTREACH

We held or attended over 500 outreach events over the three years, engaging with 15,520 people.

GROWING SPACES

We established a community food growing garden, a wildlife and forest garden and a vibrant volunteer and community group who are maintaining them. We hosted 57 events at the garden, including the children’s gardening club, large community lunches and volunteer sessions.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

We ran 79 weekly children’s gardening clubs (79 clubs over three years) and hosted 7 large-scale community events.

LEADING THE WAY

We were part of building a new food movement in Scotland that encompasses the right to food, championing small producers, insisting on sustainability as a measurement of quality in food production and celebrating food sovereignty.

NEW ORCHARDS

We planted 7 orchards around Scotland from Galloway to Sutherland with our Silver Bough tour (‘ a cultural conversation about apples’).

SCHOOL LUNCHES PILOT

We collaborated with Fife Council and the Soil Association in a pilot project exploring regionally sourced, healthy, sustainable and organic school lunches. See here.

INSPIRATIONAL PRINTED MATERIAL

We published a series of inspiring posters, postcards, booklets and other materials including recipe books, calendars, guides on native apple varieties and a booklet on gardening with kids. We also produced a free Ebook for our members of Collected Recipes from the life of the project.

BIRTHING THE ORCHARD COLLECTIVE

We curated and hosted the National Orchard gathering and helping the Orchard Collective into existence.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

We are proud to have been part of a wider movement and welcomed the collaborative work over the past eight years with such groups as Nourish, the Soil Association, Slow Food, Permaculture Scotland and Transition Towns.

Much more here: http://fifediet.co.uk/fife-diet-chronology/

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End note: protect and rediversify local economies

pp hines logoAs LWM’s co-founder, Colin Hines, has written, there is growing opposition to a system which regards as inevitable the driving down of tax rates for higher income earners, worsens social and environmental conditions and kills local jobs and small business opportunities:

“Whistling in the dark to keep up the nation’s economic spirits by promising export-led growth in an era of rising Asian dominance is a ridiculous policy. The alternative to these dangerous and damaging dark alleys is to propose a set of practical measures for protecting and rediversifyng local economies. This is the only way to tackle the economic and environmental crises, return local control of the economy to citizens and provide a sense of hope for their future . . .”

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Will beneficial alternatives emerge from the Greek crisis?

nefAndrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation thinks so, commenting: “While disaster reveals a society’s economic and social weaknesses, it also reveals where true resilience and real value can be found – in the ability of people to cooperate at the local level to meet a community’s needs”.

Localise West Midlands’ Localising Prosperity programme suggests that approaches to economic development that concentrate more on ‘locally grown’ enterprise, supply chains and investment are more successful in creating successful places, well-being and social justice.

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In a diverse, localised economy, more people have a stake, which redistributes economic power, reducing disconnection, inequality and vulnerability to ‘too big to fail’ institutions.

Greek survey questions could include some of those LWM listed for the West Midlands:

  1. What sectors and types of economic activity could be localised?
  2. By how much could economic activity be localised?
  3. What quantifiable benefits might it bring?
  4. Decentralising capitalism and capital outflows from the region.
  5. Localising money supply and markets.

Two relevant developments

Peer to peer technology [P2P]

The Guardian has reported the story of Volos, a Greek city where locals have adopted an alternative currency, known as the Tem. As the country struggles with its worst crisis in modern times, with Greeks losing up to 40% of their disposable income as a result of austerity imposed in exchange for international aid, the system has been a huge success. Although locals insist the Tem, which is also available in voucher form, will never replace banknotes they say it is a viable alternative. The mayor of Volos says that the alternative currency has proved to be an excellent way of supplementing the euro: “We are all for supporting alternatives that help alleviate the crisis’s economic and social consequences. It won’t ever replace the euro but it is really helping weaker members of our society. In all the social and cultural activities of the municipality, we are encouraging the Tem to be used.”

Parallel economies

Elsewhere, Andrew Simms reminds us, in the wastelands created by recession in Detroit in the United States, unemployed people have turned to urban gardening to grow their own food and reclaim abandoned plots of land. People have done the same in poor parts of New York.

After the financial crisis that wrecked Argentina’s economy at the turn of the millennium, community gardens sprang up alongside community kitchens. Things went much further in Argentina as whole arms of government ceased to function properly. El Movimiento de Trabajadores Desocupados, the movement of unemployed workers, brought groups together to do everything from making food, to building shelters, creating markets for people to sell their products, schooling and, also, demonstrating. They created, in effect, a parallel economy. Panaderia, bloquera and ropero – bakeries, block making, and clothes making and selling were a particular focus which is perhaps unsurprising being the basics of a livelihood: food, shelter and clothing.

Decentralising capitalism and controlling capital outflows from the region

Greece shut down its banking system, ordering lenders to stay closed for six days starting on Monday, and its central bank moved to impose controls to prevent money from flooding out of the country. This might lead to a process of domestic investment, reversing the process of the Thatcher government’s legislation which starved British industry of investment funds.

Whatever the causes of the crisis: over-spending on German military equipment, high public expenditure, failure to collect taxes, lack of ‘due diligence’ on the part of lenders or the single currency, many hope to see the emergence of creative ways of developing a stable Greek economy.

Described as a “small quasi-closed economy” by the director of the Centre for European Policy Studies – with 12.4% of the country’s labour force employed in producing food and cotton, one of the world’s leading fishing industries and the substantial revenue from tourism and shipping – Greece seems to have a ‘head-start’.

Is a quiet political revolution getting under way?

As the old order with its class and gender hierarchies gave way, George Monbiot points out that the void filled with junk could have been occupied by a better society, built on mutual support and connectedness, without the stifling stratification of the old order.

The feast to which we were invited is only for the few’

foe logoInstead, as the developed world – saturated with advertising, the handmaiden of market fundamentalism – became reliant on rising consumption to avert economic collapse, he notes that Friends of the Earth has begun to explore how we might reconnect with each other and with the natural world. New models for urban living are based on sharing rather than competitive consumption:

  • the sharing of cars and appliances and tools,
  • of money (through credit unions and micro-finance) and power.
  • community-led decision-making, over transport, planning and, perhaps, rent levels, minimum and maximum wages,
  • municipal budgets and taxation.

Such initiatives, facilitated by the state can bring people together with a sense of shared purpose, ownership and mutual support that centralised decision-making can never provide. But in some areas, non-party political movements are achieving this without that elusive government facilitation

Independents

Peter Macfadyen, Kate Bielby and Mel Usher of Independents for Frome
Peter Macfadyen, Kate Bielby and Mel Usher of Independents for Frome

Today, a neighbour gave the writer a cutting about Frome’s declaration of independence.

This Somerset market town has developed “flatpack democracy”, taking political power at a local level and enabling people to have a greater say in the decisions that affect their lives.”

Independents for Frome took all 17 seats on Frome’s town council, with vote-shares as high as 70%, and support from people who cast their other votes for the main political parties.  

Localism in action

Though local Conservatives were convinced that austerity had to apply even at the most local level, the council has borrowed around £750,000 to invest in buildings and land:

  • green spaces have been spruced up
  • game-changing help has been given to the local credit union
  • he council is involved in a new renewable energy cooperative,
  • and has put money into the setting up of a new “share shop”

In Devon the Buckfastleigh Independents group have followed a similar path. the town’s new deputy mayor, Pam Barrett says the town is ”a working-class town that’s been suffering from a real loss of services.” After fighting – successfully – to keep open a library and swimming pool, she and other residents stood for town council seats that had not been contested for “20 or more years”. One of the catalysts, she says, was a box of 10 copies of the Flatpack Democracy booklet, which was brought in by one of her colleagues. On 7 May, they also took nine of 12 seats, and started running the show.

Flatpack Democracy ideas are being shared with other groups in Devon and Somerset and though people in Alderley Edge, Cheshire were not aware of developments in the West Country, their thinking is much the same: as one newly elected councillor, Mike Dudley-Jones, said: “our basic mantra is that there is no place for mainstream party politics at this level”.

On election day, Conservatives lost all nine of the parish council’s seats to this group – Alderley Edge First – which also took the village’s one seat on Cheshire East council.

America: six big shifts towards an economy that distributes economic benefits widely and minimizes damage to the environment

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sarah van gelderSarah van Gelder (right) is co-founder and executive editor of YES! Magazine which feature powerful ideas and practical actions towards a more just and sustainable world. She has co-founded a cohousing community, organized tenants and built a produce cooperative, providing local, sustainably grown whole foods, at affordable prices, to residents who want local, sustainable food sourced within walking distance of their homes.

Sarah points out that, in America as in Britain, corporations and the wealthy are recovering well after the collapse of the global economy in 2008. This is confirmed by Nomi Prins, (left, a senior fellow at America’s Demos) who has worked as a managing director at Goldman-Sachs, a Senior Managing Director at Bear Stearns and senior strategist at Lehman Brothers.

nomi prinsShe records that corporate profits have jumped back to near-historical highs, and banks are hoarding an extra $1 trillion in reserve at the Fed. However, Ms Prins points out that over 90% of the population have “an overhang of debt, stagnant wages and inferior jobs, all exacerbating income inequality”.

Sarah asserts that many people are losing patience with the corporate economy—and turning to initiatives that build a new economy. Grassroots groups, local entrepreneurs and broad-based coalitions are building the foundations of an economy that distributes economic benefits widely and minimizes damage to the environment. She lists six big shifts (the links are very well worth following):

  1. Local food, once a tiny niche market, has gone mainstream. The growing, processing, and marketing of local foods is booming in many areas, including the eastern U.S., abandoned neighborhoods in Detroit, Michigan and towns and cities throughout the country. Via farmers markets and direct purchases from growers, the food travels quickly from farm to table, keeping it fresh and nutritious. Local food isn’t always greener, but a local diet does reduce emissions from food transportation, support local jobs, and connect people to their neighbors and local environment.
  1. More workers own their jobs. Worker-owned co-ops have been spreading, particularly since the recession. While they, like all businesses, can struggle, they also can help keep good jobs stable and keep money in the community. In the Bronx in New York City, the 2,300 employees who work at Cooperative Home Health Care Associates get better pay, more job security, and more training for career advancement than their counterparts at competing firms. In Chicago, workers at a manufacturing plant who were laid off when the plant was shut down bought out the factory and now operate it as New Era Window and Doors. The most famous example of worker ownership, however, is in the Basque region of Spain, which has more than 70,000 worker-owners in more than 200 enterprises. Labor unions and community activists in the United States are beginning to emulate the success of Spain’s Mondragon Cooperatives, especially in hard-hit rust belt regions.

karma kitchen

  1. The economy goes DIY. Making, DIY, and sharing culture: ethic of reuse and no waste, a bias for local and small-scale, and a preference for generosity is blossoming. Young people especially are building tiny houses and writing open source software. Online platforms like Couchsurfing let people share their homes with travelers. Others have started “pay-it-forward” restaurants where you pay not for your own meal, but for the person behind you in the line.
  1. Money grows more responsible. Campaigners in 22 states aim to open government-owned banks at the state, county or municipal level to finance local economies and keep profits nearby. The latest trend, in light of the threat of climate disruption, is to divest from holdings in coal, oil, and gas companies. To date, more than 800 global investors have pledged to divest over $50 billion. Redirecting assets from big corporations and Wall Street to sustainable local enterprises is providing investment capital needed to fuel the new economy.
  1. clt berkshiresSome homes stay affordable. A small percentage of people are living in community land trust homes – affordable by design – and foreclosure rates were one-tenth of the national level. This success is causing cities and advocates for the poor elsewhere to look at this as a model of permanently affordable housing. Keeping basic necessities, like our homes, out of the speculative market helps stabilize the economy and averts the disruption and impoverishment that results from predatory real estate and lending practices.
  1. Innovation emerges to protect our resources. The new economy draws on the wealth of common assets, including fresh water, the Internet, green spaces in our cities, and the storehouse of knowledge we inherit from previous generations.

It does so in a way that neither depletes them nor excludes others. That means protecting water quality, keeping the Internet open, protecting the stability of the climate, and ensuring access to a good education—for ourselves and for those not yet born.

The new economy is being built on grassroots-led, pragmatic actions that people around the U.S. and around the world are taking to create widely shared, sustainable prosperity.

Read Sarah’s article here: http://www.yesmagazine.org/new-economy/six-ways-the-us-is-building-a-people-powered-economy

 

A new citywide currency keeping money earned in city in the local economy

karen andy reeve pound

Above: Karen Leach from Localise West Midlands and Andy Reeve from Impact Hub Birmingham who have produced a currency note exclusive to Birmingham – see http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/birmingham-could-next-city-launch-8810436.

They are planning to follow the model of the existing Bristol Pound, which is currently used by 782 firms and generates £1 million of business each year.

Karen Leach, coordinator at Localise West Midlands, said: “What normally happens is money leaves the area all the time because you spend money in an organisation that isn’t locally based and locally owned. Money is constantly sucked out like water down a big plughole from the local economy. That’s what we’re trying to stop.”

Since its creation more than two years ago, the Bristol Pound has become the UK’s largest rival to Sterling and the first city-wide currency. Brixton, Stroud, Totnes and Exeter have also introduced the scheme – and it is hoped the Birmingham Pound will repeat their success with independent businesses.

bristol poundThe Bristol Pound, a non-profit organisation, is regulated by the Bristol Credit Union and has received backing from Bristol City Council which has discussed plans to pay staff in the currency. Around a quarter of current Bristol Pound transactions are made using paper notes in £1, £5, £10 and £20 denominations while the rest are made electronically by mobile phone text messages or online. Read more here: Bristol Mayor chooses to be paid in Bristol Pounds.

Consultations on developing the idea will be made by a campaign group of local credit unions, trade organisations and businesses following an initial meeting last week.

Future Governance for the West Midlands – a workshop: 24th March 2015

At the UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM

Please email to book a place.

 This workshop is organised by the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies at Birmingham University in conjunction with the Futures Network West Midlands and Localise West Midlands.

The workshop contributes to the debate about future patterns of governance in the UK and the pattern that best suits the West Midlands. Its focus is on how to shift power, strategic planning and decision making from central government and strengthen the role of local actors in decisions that affect social justice and the prosperity of people and places within the West Midlands.

Discussions about future patterns of governance in England have moved to the centre stage in recent months. But proposals have tended to be driven by developments in Scotland, London and Greater Manchester. In the West Midlands there is a stalled debate about combined authorities and one impression is that people and places within the region are not shaping the agenda. Is the West Midlands losing out and sleepwalking to new arrangements with insufficient thought and debate about what it needs rather than what others are doing?

This workshop opens up debate on these issues and considers:

  • What governance arrangements are needed by the region and different parts of it?
  • What arrangements engage with different sectors – public private and third sector?
  • What happens to the rest of the region if a combined authority emerges in the conurbation?
  • How will alternative arrangements work to strengthen local control and develop strategies that deliver social justice and benefits to different parts of the region?
  • What policies and strategies can benefit from different forms of cross boundary working?
  • How will resource allocation decisions be made and how can resources be raised in the regions for use in the regions?

Please email to book a place.

FUTURE GOVERNANCE FOR THE WEST MIDLANDS

A WORKSHOP MARCH 24 2015:

LECTURE ROOM 120 IN THE HILLS BUILDING

UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM

Programme

1.00 pm Registration

1.30     Introduction by the Chair (Prof Alan Murie, University of Birmingham)

1.40     The Devolution debate: an overview Chris Game, Institute of Local Government Studies, University of Birmingham

2.10       A Local perspective: issues, principles and objectives. Jon Morris (LWM)

2.35       Strategic Opportunities: issues, principles and objectives (FNWM Speaker).

3.00       Questions

3.20       Options for the West Midlands: Group Discussion (Tea and coffee available)

4.15      Next Steps: An agenda for action

Report back from discussion groups

Concluding remarks

5.00      Workshop ends

Please note – The Hills Building is R3 on the University campus map. This can be found at this map link.

Transition town focus

A transition town is a grassroots community project that seeks to build resilience in the face of peak oil, climate destruction and economic instability. Local projects are usually based on the model’s 12 ‘ingredients’. The first initiative to use the name was Transition Town Totnes, founded in 2006.

totnes

Between late 2006 and early 2007 the Transition Network was founded as a UK charity by permaculture educator Rob Hopkins. It trains and supports people involved with Transition initiatives, disseminates the concepts of the transition model and assists the grassroots initiatives to network with one another.

local money coverSome Transition Towns engage with ‘fiscal localism’ – see Dr Peter North’s book, ’Local Money’, which ends by setting out how money that stays in the community can be created – building loyalty between consumers and local traders rather than losing wealth to the corporate chain stores. It charts the development of the first Transition currencies, the Totnes, Lewes, Stroud and Brixton Pounds. Note a sister post about the more recent Bristol pound. It also describes how alternative currencies could work with local banks and credit unions to strengthen the local economy, supporting the local production of necessities such as food and energy while helping to reduce the community’s carbon emissions.

The book draws on the long history of local currencies, from Local Exchange Trading Schemes and ‘time banks’ to paper currencies such as BerkShares, Ithaca ‘Hours’ and German regional currencies, which circulate between local businesses as an alternative to their losing trade to the ‘big box’ retailers.

In 2012 on this site we read about Herefordshire Transition Network’s intention is to develop ‘a thriving, resilient Herefordshire economy’ capable of meeting ‘the challenges of climate change, energy security and economic uncertainty’. The network includes a range of people and organisations across the country, many of whom were represented at a meeting attended by LWM’s Jon Stevens.

State of play now?

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Nearer, see news from Stourbridge: http://transitionstourbridge.co.uk/about/  

For news of transition projects around the country, go to http://www.transitionnetwork.org/ and for a list of transition initiatives worldwide, go to https://www.transitionnetwork.org/initiatives