BY: SWIKAR OLI
By now, most of us know we can use our money as protest—or rather, not use it. But many residents and businesses in Brixton are not only being particular about where they spend their money, but what they’re actually spending. Faces of local favorites like Brixton-born David Bowie, NBA star Luol Deng, writer CLR James and even Vincent van Gogh decorate bills called Brixton Pounds, or B£s, which are spent and traded within the city to strengthen the local economy and send a message to London.
The motivation, as Brixton Pound’s project manager Annalisa Dorigo told the Toronto Star, is that “with every transaction that occurs locally, more wealth is generated for the local area.” She goes on to say that a majority of what people spend on a national chain actually leaves the city itself. Brixton Pound’s founder Josh Ryan-Collins told the Mirror that “for every pound spent in a multinational chain, only 10 to 15% stays in the local economy.”
With endorsement from some local businesses, the B£ is spent in Brixton by consumers who will trade in their more widely circulated pounds. The idea is to encourage residents to spend their money locally and, in doing so, strengthen the local economy. Even the businesses receiving the currency must spend it on suppliers within the local marketplace. The businesses signing on are independent, so buyers are compelled to support smaller sellers.
Since selling out during its introduction in 2009, the B£ has evolved. No longer tied to its paper form, B£s can be sent and received electronically.
But six years in, some businesses are losing their initial enthusiasm for the colourful cash (one shop owner “grimaced slightly” as a reporter handed one over), while some never did take to the colourful cash. Brixton Whole Foods manager Tony Benest was unconvinced in 2009. “I don’t see the point of it, except perhaps as a bit of a marketing gimmick,” he told the Guardian. “And I really don’t like the way the organizers are telling retailers it’ll be good for business, and customers they’ll be getting a nice discount. How’s that going to work, exactly?” After a couple of years however, he seems to have come around just slightly. Benest will “indulge” his customers by accepting, “at most,” B£40 a week.
The city, however, seems to be on board. A follow-up story done by the Guardian in 2013 reveals that “in Britain, local businesses in Brixton and Bristol can pay their rates in local pounds. The local authority uses this income to pay its employees, who then spend it with local businesses. The mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, takes 100% of his salary in Bristol Pounds (₤B) and the chief executive accepts ₤5,000 of her salary in ‘local’. The city also earns local currency from market traders who use their ₤B earnings to pay their pitch fees.”
Major challenges for the currency involve banks not accepting the money, and the cost involved to exchange it. However, the idea of a local currency seems to be a captivating one.
Towns like Kinsdale, Langenegg and Totnes have their own currency, and recently, some citizens of Quebec have been cutting their Canadian money in half so that it’s not usable anywhere except for the local businesses that have signed up to receive it.
As for Brixton, their English government doesn’t need to be phased just yet. They are not exactly getting a raw deal because their Revenue and Customs receives taxes from B£ trading—and they receive it as British Pounds.