Time Banking Briefing
A timebank is a co-operative arrangement between people which enables them to exchange skills and experience. It’s like a local market, but instead of trading goods, members can use it to trade time. The currency used is in a timebank is hours and, in a timebank, everyone’s time is valued at the same rate. When you spend an hour helping another member out, you get a one hour time credit. You can spend time credits when you need, on support from other people. The system is flexible and safe and you can chip in when you want and be valued for the contribution you make.
The structure of a timebank is quite simple. There is a list of members which shows the kind of things they can offer. It could be babysitting, or gardening, dog-walking or doing accounts. The list can be kept on a piece of paper or it could be made available to members’ online. When you need help, you look at the list to see who might have the skills you’re after.
This briefing describes how to set up a timebank, a bit about how they work in practice and some examples of how they can be used flexibly according to local needs and opportunities.
Setting Up a Timebank
A timebank is based on a community. Usually that is people who live in the same neighbourhood. There are no rules about how few or how many people you can have as members. Time Banks UK – which is the national alliance of timebanks – advises that you can run a timebank of up to 30 people without having any formal rules. That is how some timebanks kept it. Others, as they grow, adopt a constitution and have a committee. Some employ a timebroker – a person who helps facilitate time exchanges, keeps the records and provides members with statements showing how many time credits they have, or owe.
The nearest timebank to Birmingham is based in West Bromwich and it is called Time2Trade. The timebroker at Time2Trade, Dan Grainger, is willing to help with advice if you need it and Chamberlain Forum can help you sort out things like constitutions, stationery, a website and a database. Time Banks UK provides a lot of help too. Time Banks UK suggests a set of six questions to help you work out if timebanking is right for you. Do you agree with the following:
- If people pooled their knowledge, skills and energy we would have an unstoppable force with which to solve most of our social problems.
- Asking for a favour from others is easier when you know you will have a chance to pay them back.
- It is OK to reward people when they co-operate and do thing sfor each other.
- Knowing there are people around you can trust makes you feel safer and more secure.
- It is who you know in life that really matters. The wider your circle of friends and acquaintances the more opportunities you have to improve your quality of life.
- Money places a high value on things that are in short supply but not on the things that really matter, like keepin the planet in a good enough state to be of use tro future generations.
If you answered ‘Yes’ to most of these questions, then Time Banks UK suggests timebanking is for you.
How Timebanks Work in Practice
One of the important principles in a timebank is that everyone’s time is worth the same. Partly this reflects their co-operative nature. Partly it’s a way of saying we all matter equally. But there is a practical issue too. Timebanks, because they are based on time are treated for the purposes of tax and benefits as a group of friends doing each other favours. The benefits you get from belonging to a timebank don’t have to be declared on your tax return and being an active member of a timebank does not affect your benefits or the Job Centre’s view of whether you are actively seeking work.
For people who have been out of the labour market for a while for whatever reason, or who are trying to develop a new job, taking part in a timebank can be a way of getting back into employment. But for most members, it’s just about getting things done you need done, being valued yourself and not feeling dependent on charity. Dan Grainger, at Time2Trade, quotes Hilary Clinton: ‘Charity hurts’. Timebanking is mutual and reciprocal: everyone contributes. Dan calls it ‘volunteering plus’.
Timebanks make people feel good. Many people under estimate the skills and experience they have to offer and think they won’t be of much use to other people. Part of the benefit of a timebank is that people realise they do have valuable things to offer regardless of age, disability or qualifications. Time Banks UK provides a skills and needs quaetinnaire that can be used to get members to identify what they have to offer. At Time2Trade, Dan Grainger sees it as an important part of his role as timebroker to sit down with new members and chat through what they can offer.
Another issue that can develop in timebanks is that some people build up big time surpluses: they are always in credit. The point of a timebank is to keep benefits circulating. So it can be a problem if some people are always putting time in, but never taking benefits out. There are a number of ways around this:
- re-assuring people that it’s ok not to always be in credit
- enabling people who are in credit to donate their credits to good causes – they could, for example donate time credits to a local school or community project
- setting up a pool of donated time credits that members who are sick or unable for whatever reason to earn credits can use.
Time banks work in a range of settings. They can be based around community centres or churches, social clubs or community projects. A neighbourhood forum or residents’ association could be a good base for running a neighbourhood timebank.
Timebanks Work Flexiblity
Timebanks are flexible: you can use and develop them in all sorts of ways to suit local needs and opportunities. So, for example, timebanks can be used for any and all of:
Person-to-Person (the simplest model) – which is what we’ve described sThere can be a ‘broker’ – someone who keeps the tally of hours people have spent and the database of jobs that need doing. The broker might also be a bit of a ‘promoter’ – going out and getting new people to join the timebank and suggesting trades to existing members.
Involving Groups and Individuals – the timebank could be set up by a neighbourhood group or a community centre and the organisation acts as broker. The group could be set up just to manage the timebank, but usually it will have other aims – like managing a community hall or providing a forum for local people to get informed. The organisation might have its own account at the timebank – accepting ‘donations’ in the form of time credits and withdrawing from its account by adding tasks to the list it wants done – like help redecorating the centre or taking part in a litter pick. Or running a local service. In fact, other organisations in the community could also open timebank accounts. The local church or mosque, the British Legion Club or a youth group: all of them could get members to put time in and use the time credits they gain to put jobs they want done onto the database. Imagine members of the local church doing shopping and odd jobs for local people and, in return, having members of a youth group clean and paint the church hall.
Between Groups – you could have a timebank for sharing between groups. This is the type that Chamberlain Forum and a number of other voluntary groups in the city have said they would like to set up in Birmingham. The aim would be to enable community groups to trade expertise and know-how across the city.
Including Public Services and Businesses - an agency that delivers a public service could help set up or support a timebank. For example, in West Bromwich, the local PCT helped to set up a timebank and it provides additional benefits (in the form of access to cheap fresh fruit and vegetables) to people who use the timebank to take exercise. The PCT gains because the timebank is helping it to reduce rates of heart disease. A public agency like a local council might see a timebank as a way of improving ‘community cohesion’ (local people from different backgrounds getting along well). Business can be involved in timebanks too. Local traders who have, for example, set up a Business Improvement District might offer to benefits to timebank members who spend time making the shopping area a pleasant place for people to use.
Timebanks don’t have to be just about trading purely in time. Sometimes people use them to trade things like cakes or knitting or making things. Usually the person who wants the cake or other item will provide the ingredients or pay for the cost of the ingredients in money and the time taken is paid for in time credits.