The launch party for the new higher denominations of the Lewes Pound was a blast - with hundreds of people from all walks of Lewes life, at the stunning Harveys Depot. A woman in the pub afterwards actually kissed me when she heard I was one of the team behind the Lewes currency. I feel deep delight to have been part of this initiative, and though I've only been cheering from the sidelines for the last few months, I've held it in my heart (like so many others) and keep on buying and spending Lewes Pounds at every opportunity.
A few months ago the group asked Lewes traders for feedback about improvements - in fact we have asked for frequent feedback wherever we can spare the time, as volunteers (none of us are paid a dime). Three consistent messages were - higher denominations, more issuing points and more incentives for locals to use it instead of spending sterling in town (some people already realise that 80% of money spent locally stays local whereas 80% of money spent in chains leaks out of Lewes, according to the new economics foundation). After some consultation we devised a plan whereby 5% of Lewes Pounds go into a Live Lewes fund - the first fund specifically to support eco-projects in Lewes. This money goes into the fund when traders trade LPs back to sterling. So for every LP21 traded for sterling £1 goes to the Live Lewes fund.
Some traders will now be deterred financially from simply going to their nearest issuing point and turning the LPs spent in their shop back into sterling - which some of them have been, We wish to discourage this since if the LP continues to circulate locally it builds wealth locally. Traders can still keep LPs circulating by paying for local goods (perhaps finding new local suppliers) or paying their staff or themselves or by giving it back to the customer as change - a popular move among high-volume LP traders such as Laportes. And they can, after all, simply opt out.
We really do have it in our power to build the world anew. But together. This transition is not going to happen if we sit back and wait for someone else to tell us how it's done, or complain if it doesn't work straight-off. That's the old paradigm. What's new about the Lewes Pound and the whole Transition Town concept is that - like it or not - the new world is going to be built, brick by brick from the foundations. I won't go through the reasons for this imperative, though Colin Firth put it well in a recent column: 'We are not in a position to choose whether or not we have a relationship with our own society or with the world's poorest people. We can choose the nature of those relationships, but either way they're there'. Last week it was announced tht a billion people are living in chronic starvation, but I digress...
Yes, we can do it different and better but we're not sure how it's going to happen. We'll get there, not through fear, opposition and polarisation, but through creativity and courage, by developing a conversation about how we can do this together. The Lewes Pound is an experiment. It might not work. But I say it deserves the chance to be tailored, cherished and nurtured into being by us all.