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Four years on is the Lewes Pound still noteworthy..?
Launch of the Lewes Pound with Patrick Crawford, Chris Smedley, Keith Rapley, Susan Murray, Oliver Dudok van Heel, Beth Ambrose and Adrienne Campbell
“It is a way of supporting the local economy by creating a bond between the shopkeepers and shoppers.”
So said Oliver Dudok van Heel, a member of Transition Town Lewes, which was behind the Lewes Pound in July 2008.
With a picture of the free-thinking radical and former Lewes resident Thomas Paine on every note, it captured the spirit of Lewes – bold, independent and very different.
Since the high-profile launch, which attracted the gaze of the national media, the local currency, which has gone through two print runs, has been exchanged dozens of times.
But to what effect?
Has it helped local traders or has it simply been a publicity stunt with no stamina?
Those behind it certainly remain committed to the idea.
Susan Murray, treasurer of the Lewes Pound group, said: “It’s an ongoing project. We’re working hard to ensure it is a success. It’s about taking pride in our local community.
“Of those who started out, there have been some who have moved away or had other commitments take over.
“But there are others who have come in.
“We are starting to look at other ways in which it can benefit people.”
The scheme launched in September 2009 with lots of interest.
All of the notes were snapped up with a one pound note flogged on eBay for about £30.
After a month, 10,000 more notes were printed as demand outstripped supply.
As well as featuring in The Argus and national media, television crews from Japan, Korea, Norway, Germany, France and Italy flocked to Sussex to feature the idea.
A further batch of £1, £5, £10 and £21 notes were printed in 2009 and spread among traders.
Mrs Murray, who is also a member of Transition Town Lewes and town councillor, said: “Has it been a success? A lot depends on what you mean by that.
“It was certainly internationally received when it launched.
“I think people got the message from it that it’s about supporting local independent businesses too.
“But others say they do not need the Lewes Pound to do that.”
Julia Dean, of Lewes Town Council, said: “It has definitely brought more people to the town.
“When it first launched I was involved in all sorts of television shots for Finnish and Japanese film crews.
“I do think the novelty has worn off but other towns are starting to follow |us now.”
More than 130 firms and businesses have signed up to the scheme.
Among them are yoga clubs, child-minders, cafes, bonfire societies, schools and an ecologist.
One of the strongest advocates of the scheme was perhaps Lewes’s most famous export, Harveys.
The brewery issued a special edition beer called Quids In, which is sold in a half-pint returnable bottle for £1, plus 5p deposit. However, it only cost £1 if paid for with a Lewes Pound.
But three years on, bosses are far from enthusiastic about the idea.
Hamish Elder, managing director of Harveys, said: “I would like to be really positive about it but it has all but vanished from sight.
“I could not tell you how many we take in the shop we have on site.
“It’s one of those things that appeared in a blaze of publicity but somehow lost its way.
“It is certainly not a major part of Lewes, as perhaps it should be.
“I certainly have not heard anyone talking about it apart from in an historic sense of ‘where has it gone?’”
Mr Elder said there was a lack of “visible benefit” for those using the currency.
He added there were too few traders who made efforts to “set the pound apart”, such as offering shoppers special deals if they use the local notes.
But others have different views.
Tanya Laporte, of Laporte’s, in Lansdown Place, said: “We always offer change to customers in Lewes Pounds. It means that they will come back.
“Quite often there are people who find them tucked away in their purses who may have forgotten about them but then remember about them when they are short changed.
“I’m a really firm advocate. I think it has died down since the first couple of years. I think that part of that is due to the traders not embracing it.
“If they do not 100% believe in it then they will not push it. We need traders to push it with a big heart so Joe Public is interested in using it, and then it will work.”
Susan Dobell, of Lansdown Health Foods in Cliffe High Street, Lewes, said: “It’s certainly a bit different.
“We did a big promotion over the summer and it helped business then, but since then it has died down a little bit.
“We have people coming in wanting to spend, others who just want to see it, and then there are some tourists who want a nice crisp one they can take home as a souvenir.
“Quite a few of our suppliers take them too, which means we do not have to keep on changing the currency.”
As well as helping local traders, there is also the side-effect of it helping good causes.
Five pence of every Lewes pound bought goes to the Live Lewes Fund to help good causes in the area.
In the case of a £20 transaction this adds up to £1 – hence the £21 note.
Since it launched, about £5,000 has been donated to charity through the Sussex Community Foundation.
Among the benefactors are the Lewes weekly market and Common Cause co-operative, which created a book on climate change.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The Lewes Pound is a voucher or token that can be traded as a complementary currency. It can be used alongside Pounds Sterling.
They can be bought from seven “issuing” points and used at more than 130 businesses.
Organisers say the best way to support it is to keep the currency circulating.
Five pence (5p) of every Lewes Pound issued is pledged to the Live Lewes Fund which will be used to support community projects.
Among the benefits are:
- Economics – money spent locally stays within the community and is re-used many times, multiplying wealth and building resilience in the local economy.
- Environmental – supporting local businesses reduces the need for transport and minimises our carbon footprint.
- Social – strengthens the relationships between local shopkeepers and the community.
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