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15 June 2008

LETS Trade

Lunch in Forest Hill for three Anchors? The alternative economy of LETS is alive and well in Forest Hill writes local resident, Maggie Smith.

A group of people meet in my home on the first Saturday in the month to trade plants, home-made bread, outgrown children’s clothes, books – anything, really - and lunch on home-made soup (three varieties, seconds welcome). Cost? Three Anchors. What kind of money is that?

LETS - Local Exchange Trading Systems - are local community-based mutual aid networks in which people exchange all kinds of goods and services without the need for money. Introduced originally in Canada, LETS for several decades revitalised communities. Most popular in the eighties, when there were some 450 LETS schemes, there are now fewer - perhaps 30,000 members in the UK - but this has been accompanied by an increase in related initiatives, such as Timebanks, Freecycle and other Community Networks.

A group of people within a local community pool resources and compile a directory of skills, services and goods, plus requests for anything they need. Each member is given a personal account with a currency usually reflecting the locality, which they use to pay for goods or services they offer and use. Lewisham LETS, active for the last 14 years, began in Greenwich and still uses Anchors as its currency, with 1 Anchor equivalent to £1. Members earn Anchors by providing a service, and can spend the credits on whatever is offered by other members - transport, gardening, decorating, the hire of tools etc. It is not necessary to make direct exchanges. New members receive a ‘starter credit’ of 20 Anchors.

As a founder member of LETS in Harrogate (Nidderdale LETS, currency in Nidds); when I moved back to London a year or so ago I naturally joined Lewisham LETS. As I live alone, how else would boxes have been unpacked and curtains hung within a couple of days of the move? In Harrogate, I organised plant and book sales and attended a monthly soup lunch, but found that no similar events existed in Lewisham LETS. The soup lunch took off and there will be a plant sale later this year. It’s a good place for new members to meet and find out what skills are on offer or needed. For people on a restricted income or living alone it is useful to have one shelf put up (hard to find a professional joiner who will accept such a small job); help with computer glitches, babysitters who don’t add to the cost of an evening out. I’ve recently been providing home-made, mainly organic frozen meals for an ultra-busy executive and two tired new parents.

How does Lewisham LETS work? Its website posts ‘Offers and needs’ with profiles of many of the members. Non-members cannot access personal details. For those without Internet access, a Newsletter and lists of offers/needs is sent by ‘snail mail.’

Find out more at http://letslewisham.org or ring the Lewisham LETS Administrator: 020 8692 8417

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