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LETS: A community development


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Local Exchange and Trading Schemes (LETS) expanded rapidly in the UK after the first scheme was set up in Norfolk in 1985. By 1996 LETSLINK UK, the coordinating body, reckoned that there were about 450 LETS in the UK, with 40,000 members. LETS exist in most western European countries – in Australia and New Zealand, the US, Canada and Japan. Their origins lie in Canadian attempts to revive local traditions of skills exchange and barter outside commercial and international labour markets and currency systems.

LETS are associations of people who make offers of goods and services to and from each other. What is on offer, and the requests people make, are listed in local directories. Currencies have local names. You'll hear people mentioning ‘Squares’ and ‘Keys’ on the audio clips. Each member has a cheque book of currency vouchers, with which they pay for work or goods. Cheques are then sent to a central accounting office where one individual account is credited and one is debited. A typical system values units of currency at one hour's work. Sometimes cash is involved, if materials are needed or a phone bill mounts up.

LETS vary around the world, with some systems maintaining parity with the national currency and being organised by one person as administrator. In the UK, the model is more flexible and democratic, with participation and collective control more in evidence.

The audio clips were recorded in 2000.

Participants in the audio clips:

  • Liz Shepherd is the national co-ordinator of LETSLINK UK;

  • Jan Hurst is Development Officer for the London Borough of Greenwich Social Exclusion and Justice Division's Anti-Poverty Team;

  • Peter Jones, Roger Bunker, Rachel Bunker, Jenny Hurst and Veera Usher Muller are all members of two LETS in the Greenwich area.

This material is from our archive and is an adapted extract from Care, welfare and community (K202) which is no longer taught by The Open University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in this subject area [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .