The Lewes Pound CIC (Community Interest Company) held its first AGM last night during which director Patrick Crawford talked us through the story of the Lewes Pound, right from the first small article in the Argus, through the spectacular launch, during the strange week in Septemebr 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed and the rest of the financial world seemed on the brink of collapse, and CNN had regular updates going out all over the world: Lewes launches its own currency.
A week later, and all 10,000 of the Lewes Pounds printed had been bought and swiftly put up on people's fridges and scattered around as souvenirs. Totally the opposite of the group's plan: to create a workable currency and to keep money circulating locally. The following week, the sold-out Lewes Pounds were selling on ebay for £30 a pop, amid rumours that the whole exercise was just to make money.
After the first year, about 150 traders were interviewed by a university researcher and about half said that it had made no difference to their business and the other half said that more people had come into their shops. The traders encouraged the Lewes Pound group to print higher denominations, which entailed another fabulous launch at Harvey's Depot, complete with pig roast, loads of stalls and even a specially written song.
Now, nearly 2 1/2 years on, circulation of the Lewes Pound has significantly slowed. Recently-polled traders agree, but are mostly still very supportive of the idea and keen to see it adapted or at least for other ideas to be developed to support the local economy.
The annual accounts were presented by the accountants Knill James, who'd done a lot of pro bono work and said they'd been quite chuffed to create the first annual accounts of a British local currency in well over a century. £5,000 this year of the £12,000 leaked funds had been set aside for a local project to reduce carbon and increase resilience but the CIC's call out for proposals had a meagre response.So the five grand will be put in the care of the Sussex Community Foundation until a suitable cause is identified.
The second part of the evening was a World Cafe session with three questions in which people were encouraged to discuss some of the issues around the Lewes Pound. Basically: What are our values? What's our vision? Where can we take the Lewes Pound next? Some really juicy ideas came out of the session, including the idea of a Lewes lottery; that it be used as a token; that it await a crash and be put into real use; that it transform into electronic form; that the council accept it for taxes; that it help promote development of new social enterprises; that it work with a credit union or issue microcredit. One thing was clear: it was so good to disuss these issues openly, though many more people should have been at the meeting to discuss the future of OUR money.