LETS: A community development
LETS: A community development

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LETS: A community development

4 Audio activity

Now listen to the audio clips. As you listen, make notes in your Learning Journal on:

  • what you think are the benefits and disadvantages of LETS schemes for their members;

  • to what extent these schemes fit with a community development approach;

  • what might be some longer-term outcomes for the schemes and their members.

Clip 1: LETS and community development

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Transcript: Clip 1

Helen Robinson
LETS stands for Local Exchange and Trading Schemes. These give people the opportunity to trade skills or goods without cash changing hands. Liz Shepherd, one of the founders of LETS in the UK, explains what attracted her to the idea.
Liz Shepherd
I come from a very large family and I know the value of families in terms of support of all different kinds. And, of course, many, many people don't have access to anything like that. Increasingly we're an atomised society. Life becomes increasingly difficult and expensive. And it's no wonder that we get this sort of polarisation with people ending up on the street, because there isn't that kind of informal safety net.
My initial attraction to LETS, I suppose, was to try to develop something that was independent of the general economic situation. I was looking at things like the debt problem, not just the Third World debt, but the debt problem for people in this country, interest owed to the banks, and how the poverty trap works … and seeing that so many people were caught in this trap, looking for a way, a self help way, a co-operative way, where people could assist one another, without having to go to the banks … and trying to build on the notion of almost … create an extended family.
Jan Hurst
I hadn't quite grasped that LETS had evolved more from grass roots communities, from communities that are interested mostly in green politics and perhaps people who are interested in cashless societies.
Helen Robinson
Jan Hurst is a LETS development officer, in an anti-poverty team in Greenwich. She hopes to broaden the application of the scheme.
Jan Hurst
LETS for me is a very useful tool for community development. The issue for me is around where people are participating. And, where they're doing that, they're actually excluding other people, especially if it's people involved in something with shared interests. Greenwich council has adopted a community development approach to LETS, which is really to raise the profile about the scheme … expose the scheme to the widest community … so people … all people have the opportunity to join if that's what they want to do.
Helen Robinson
For Peter Jones, LETS enables him to trade his skills for things his family needs. He's been taking part in a scheme based on an estate in Greenwich.
Peter Jones
Well I joined LETS because I've got certain skills. I'm a qualified mechanical engineer, as well as a qualified electronics engineer. After I had my accident, I couldn't go back into the mechanical because I've got a bad back now and I can't lift very heavy things. Then I saw this notice in the window in this council office, and it was called the ‘Ferrier Neighbourhood Project’ at that time.
And then, from there, they said, “Well we're thinking about starting up something called LETS”. “Well, what's Lets?” And she said, “Well, it basically … it's like a bartering system that you use your skills to do jobs for other people”. So I said, “Oh well that's interesting, you know. We'll get the kitchen decorated and I can do things for other people, without it actually costing me an arm and a leg to do it”. And it basically went on from there.
Peter Jones (Actuality)
Right, I’ll show you how to run this …
Helen Robinson
Peter has been passing on computer skills to Roger Bunker, a member of another Greenwich LETS group.
Peter Jones (Actuality)
Control, Omega, Omega, isn’t it?
Roger Bunker (Actuality)
Yes.
Roger Bunker
Peter's been very good, because we've both got the interest in Omega computers. And Peter's actually got rid of his Omega and gone onto PC, but he still enjoys playing with the Omega because the Omega is a lot of fun. And he's teaching me at the same time because, even though I've had an Omega for a long time, there's a lot of it I still don't understand. It's not really a trade. It's developed much more than that. It's become a real friendship, I think.
Peter Jones (Actuality)
It now thinks it's a five hundred.
Roger Bunker (Actuality)
Oh I see, yeah.
Peter Jones (Actuality)
So now your ‘Kind Words’ programme will work.
Roger Bunker (Actuality)
Oh magic.
Roger Bunker
Hopefully, sometime I'll be able to help him with something and repay him that way.
Helen Robinson
To pay for his computer classes, Roger hasn't parted with any cash. Instead, scheme members exchange LETS units.
Roger Bunker
Our group uses keys. Peter's group uses squares. And it doesn't really matter, because I give him so many keys, he can use them with our LETS group. And I believe there is a sort of banking system where we can exchange keys for squares and triangles, or whatever else the other groups use.
Peter Jones
It's rather like being in the Euro.
Helen Robinson
Roger is partially sighted. He joined a LETS group with a specific need in mind. He and his fiancée, Rachel, were planning their marriage.
Roger Bunker
We was hoping to find some help for the wedding - like the wedding cars, help with the catering, that kind of thing. And we decided that we would try to earn some keys, and see if we could get people to do our flowers, and pay for our flowers that way. I've got an old lady I go to – Vera - and I do her garden for her. I went to her to earn keys to pay for what I needed because I didn't want to work on a deficit.
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Clip 2: LETS Get Together Groups

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Transcript: Clip 2

Helen Robinson
LETS often suits people who aren't always in the mainstream of society. Liz Shepherd …
Liz Shepherd
LETS is very much designed for people who are outside of the mainstream jobs economy, if you like. It's something that, because it uses people's time, can appeal very readily to people who are either unemployed, or perhaps have young children, or retired or disabled.
There are a lot of people in LETS with disabilities and, because LETS is very much a supportive community, it's not something that's imposing the stringency of the market place on people. It's very good for everyone who's outside of that. People who don't fit into neat categories can find LETS a very, very empowering sort of ladder, if you like. And, because it doesn't impose demands on that individual, it allows that individual to offer what they can and to be self-motivating in terms of what they're offering.
Helen Robinson
Jenny Hurst, Roger Bunker's wife Rachel and Veera Usher Muller, are all part of a Greenwich LETS scheme called ‘LETS Get Together,’ set up by disabled and non-disabled people. They explain how it's been useful to them.
Jenny Hurst
‘LETS Get Together’ is for disabled people, their friends and family. But, apart from that, it's just the same as any other LETS scheme. We do have people with all different impairments, or no impairments at all. It's just the same as anywhere else. It works the same.
There are quite a few things that I wanted - some practical things. As I'm disabled … so it's difficult doing practical things like painting, decorating, gardening, that type of thing. And the person at LETS desk said that she needed someone to do the administration. And I'm good with computers, so I thought, “Yeah, I can do that”. Disabled people, I feel, find it difficult to offer skills and goods on the same level as non-disabled people.
So it is good, because you can offer skills which you might not think you have. There are some people on the LETS Get Together scheme that offer counselling. They are disabled people themselves. So, if a disabled person is looking for counselling, it's often a good role model to be counselled by disabled people.
Rachel Bunker
Obviously … in interested … in like disability issues … and being registered partially sighted myself … same as Roger is as well. Well. we thought we would offer things. Roger wanted like … things like gardening. He was willing to offer that. And he's got things … a few things that he could hire out, like the typewriter and the lawnmower, and things like that.
I wasn't really sure, I just wanted to help … help people. So I'd be willing to do like shopping and companionship, and pet sitting because I like animals … and just mainly to help people out, if they wanted it really. I've come more out of myself, to be honest, because I go out once a week, maybe twice a week, to help with … in the office with the LETS, like … and meet the people. I think it's helped me a great deal.
Veera Usher Muller
It's been very interesting, because I did meet a lot of people that way … in the meetings that we've had … and it's been very nice. This lady … she had a friend who's going to have a baby. And she didn't know how to knit, and so I showed her on the knitting … how to knit it. And then I knitted as much as I could. That was a great help, because she couldn't get … understand the pattern, and I could show her that, and so … At that time, I was going, to visit my daughter, and so she … they came … her … both husband and wife, and helped me with the luggage. You know, when you're alone, there are little things you never realise how much it's … like for the carpet thing … somebody to help you roll a carpet down, or someone to paint the rooms, or the garden and … or to even put up a picture. And LETS comes in very handy. It becomes more of a … you will become more friendlier, and you can … and, you know, people can depend on you for little things that they can come up and talk to someone who's completely a stranger.
Jenny Hurst
Okay, so now we're actually connected to the Internet.
Veera Usher Muller
I'm emailing my son. He's in Australia.
Jenny Hurst
Well, the good thing with email is it doesn't cost a lot of money. Because, if you're trying to phone Australia, it does cost quite a lot.
Veera Usher Muller
Now I write the … type out the letter, yes?
Jenny Hurst
Okay, so you've done email address. Do you want to say what the subject is?
Veera Usher Muller
… anxious to contact me as soon as possible.
Jenny Hurst
Send and receive. Yeah, that's it. And then just double click. Okay, and then you go. It says sent.
Veera Usher Muller
Oh yeah. It's sent already.
Jenny Hurst
Yeah.
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Clip 3: LETS in communities

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Transcript: Clip 3

Helen Robinson
LETS originated without any funding from government.
Liz Shepherd
LETS in … certainly in this country, started very much with the perspective of self help, independence, not needing injections of money … and very many people in LETS have held to that consistently. Now, that side of it, that development of the cooperative people-centred approach has been very important in LETS. But, when people have stood back and looked at what is the overall objective of LETS … if you're looking at something that is independent, then the purpose really is to build independence … to build capacity.
And, as a tool, the potential for helping with impoverished communities is very vast. But I think, as we know, impoverished communities have a history of … certainly disillusionment with the latest schemes that have come in. There is a sense that they, you know … perhaps more people … all that most people want to do is to get off the estate, get out of that community … and a perception that whatever resources the community has are either beaten up or available perhaps for black money. So you're dealing with a lot of problems and barriers to be overcome.
Helen Robinson
Jenny Hurst also thinks that the ease, or otherwise, of setting up a LETS scheme depends, to a large extent, on the community involved.
Jenny Hurst
In an area like Greenwich, there are a lot of estates where people have difficulty trusting neighbours and trusting people around them. So you do need to build up trust. We use markets and social events to bring people together to … so they can see who they’re going to be trading with.
I think, in middle class areas, that people are more inclined to trust each other. They have the same background. They have the same hopes and wishes. In an area like this, there’s a lot of poverty. People like to keep to themselves. They don’t want to trust other people. So, in areas like this, you do need to build more confidence to allow people to trade with each other.
Helen Robinson
Jan Hurst recognises that, when promoting a new idea, it's important to work with local people.
Jan Hurst
If you don't listen and respond to community needs, the initiative will not be supported. This, I think, requires creative problem solving and a willingness to work in messy situations at time. For example, when I first approached a low income area, to see whether the people were interested in setting up a LETS, they thought LETS was a good idea, but there were a whole load of things as why they didn't think it could happen, without addressing issues … for example, around safety. People weren't happy about having their names and telephone numbers in directories, as most other LETS in the UK do. And so we had to stop and think how we might resolve that so that we can help people to save money, and create a community network. And, they came up with the idea of using ID cards. So that's where the council has been really useful … providing the resources necessary.
Helen Robinson
Liz believes that LETS has achieved much since its inception, and her hopes are that it will provide radical solutions for local economies in the future.
Liz Shepherd
What LETS could achieve in the future is, I think, pretty immense. I mean, what I would like to see personally would be for LETS to be something that is woven into life, which really acts as a new sector in, sort of, people's lives. I mean, I've sort of alluded to the market, the work place, and then there's the home and the family. And the home, family and community element is something that there is a great sense of wanting to get back to.
When you look at how many people are involved in voluntary work, for example, in their local community, it's actually … the number of hours that people put in on a voluntary basis is bigger than the number of hours that's put into the market economy. So people's values are certainly with what we're aiming for. And it's a question of … can we co-ordinate that to an even greater extent? Can we see the formation of a community economy where the volunteer effort that's going in is coordinated, so that people are not re-inventing the wheel, people are not working in isolation, and we're building something in a cooperative way that actually amounts to a new form of local economy?
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