14 Sep 2009

Launch of the Stroud Pound

The launch on Saturday of the Stroud Pound was a fun occasion with various Transition Stroud folk dressed as bankers - it all took place on Threadneedle Street, outside the offices of the Stroud Valleys Project and opposite Stroud’s very own Old Lady (Teashop) - I was given the task of yelling 'free money, Stroud Pound launch in 5 minutes' around the Farmers Market to bring in a few more people.

Photos: first- Molly Scott Cato, Charlie Bircher, Bernard Jarman and Peter North then more of the launch with Laurie Lee's wife unveiling the £10, Clare Madiyhone from SVP with the £2 and Charles from the bookshop with the £5

This is the third local currency launch in the UK - Stroud follows similar currency experiments in Lewes, in Sussex and Totnes, in Devon. In Stroud four denominations have been published and they look amazing - they were all available to exchange for sterling on a 1-to-1 basis. Molly Scott Cato one of the key drivers behind this project writes:
“The notes, designed by local artist Ronan Schoemaker and produced by local currency collector Steve Charlwood, are like miniature histories of the economic and cultural life of the Five Valleys. The most prominent local celebrity to feature is Laurie Lee, author of Cider with Rosie, who was born in Stroud and is buried in the Slad Valley. Local wildlife is represented by the rare Adonis Blue butterfly found on Minchinhampton Common. Stroud’s economic heritage is commemorated by the teazle itself, while the lawnmower, invented in Stroud, the green felt cloth that is still made in the town and Thomas the Tank Engine also feature”.
At 10am we had a short presentation by Dr Peter North of Liverpool University, an international expert on local currencies who described briefly some of the history regarding other currencies and the context. Then Molly Scott Cato who helped set the currency up gave a brief presentation - this was followed by Bernard Jarman, another of the Pound organisers introducing each note which had a ceremonial unveiling.

There must have been close to a 100 people there and cross-party support in the shape of Martin Whiteside, the Green party's Parliamentary candidate, David Drew MP and the Tory candidate.

The Stroud Pound is basically an initiative of Stroud Pound Co-op Ltd, which grew out of Transition Stroud. The Stroud Pound has it's own website with details at: http://stroudpound.org.uk/

Rob Hopkins in his excellent Transition Culture blog also notes the launch and some of the coverage we have gained. He writes:

"The launch has generated a fair bit of coverage. The Telegraph focused on the fact that Laurie Lee (author of ‘Cider with Rosie’) features on one of the notes, and here is a piece from the local paper. Local councillor, Philip Booth, on his excellent site Ruscombe Green, discusses Why We Need the Stroud Pound. The Stroud Pound is the work of the Stroud Pound Co-op Ltd which in turn, grew out of Transition Stroud. You can read their take on it here. They state that the reasons for the currency are;

  • Retain more locally created economic values within the locality and prevent leakage into the global economy, as happens with sterling exchanges;
  • Increase and sustain local economic activity and help insulate Stroud’s economy from the worst effects of Recession;
  • Increase trade and support the creation of more jobs
  • Help consumers identify which businesses support the local economy.
  • (Reduce the length of supply chains for local consumers;)
  • Stimulate greater local production

The BBC have a short film about the Stroud Pound (second film clip down) which is quite good. Stroud is home to Molly Scott Cato, author, economist, and publisher of the excellent Gaian economics blog. She dressed up as a banker for the launch, and you can read her take on the whole thing here, and her earlier musings on the note designs here. Finally, here is the official Stroud Pound website. The Stroud Pound takes a slightly different model to Totnes and Lewes which allows a whole new body of understanding to be gathered, being based on a co-operative model with a membership. Very best wishes to all concerned, may it flourish and thrive."

Molly, who is also the Green party's Economics spokesperson, hasn't yet done a write up of the launch - I am sure that will come soon - however she is quoted in The Citizen saying:
“The aim of the currency is to keep economic value within the the local economy, but the link to the local identity is also important. What makes Stroud better is that we have a lot of local producers here. We have a big farmer’s market here and we hope there will be a synergy between consumers and producers. Green economists hope to achieve this kind of closed loop.”
Laurie Lee, who was born in Stroud in 1914, and later lived in nearby Slad, was chosen for the £10 note for his “socialist principles” and because of his commitment to the region. Laurie Lee’s widow Cathy approved the use of his image and was on hand top unveil the note.

The group was partly inspired by the success of the Chiemgauer currency unit in Germany. Individuals, businesses and charities wanting to use the Stroud Pound must join a co-operative. Members can then buy the currency at a rate of one pound per unit in denominations of £1, £5, £10 and £20 at a later date. I already have a handful of notes that have delighted folk who see them. One key bonus of the currency is that three percent of the money exchanged for the vouchers will go to local good causes. Go to their website to read more!

The name Stroud Pound drew with “Teasel” in a public poll, but was deemed to have more credibility. Teasel will remain the informal name because of the plant’s traditional use in the local cloth industry. The teasel is also logo displayed in the windows of participating stores and on every note. Around 15 businesses, including butchers, bakers, the local bookshop and brewery are participating. But already many more are hoping to join.

My hope is that the District Council will also lend it's support. After all the scheme will hopefully be part of the shift of spending towards local shops, and will eventually create a pressure for more local production. But even if it is not successful in these aims it will certainly bring attention to Stroud and evidence from Lewes suggests that more people go there to shop because there is a local currency!

In the 1930s recession similar bodies in the US saved their local economies through producing money. Stroud District Council could lead the way in taking similar action now. It could also be creating local bond issues to fund the development of community wind turbines and so on.

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