Over the years, local alternative currencies have proven to be a way of retaining spending within a community. Often, they are a symptom of financial difficulty: several hundred alternative currencies and voucher systems cropped up during the US Great Depression to keep the local trade turning, and after the financial crisis of 2008, alternative currencies blossomed across France, Germany, Portugal, Italy and Spain.
The latest such venture is the Exeter Pound, launched physically in September and set to go digital next year. Only independent business can sign up to accept the 1:1 alternative to Sterling (113 local traders and charities had registered to accept the currency by the time Geographical went to press, including Exeter Cathedral). This is in the hope of bolstering local stores and their nearby producers. Martyn Goss, a director of the initiative, says ‘evidence indicates that if you spend money in a local store, they too spend money locally. It works as a positive multiplier’.
While it seems to mirror recent environmentally sensitive tendencies to ‘go local’, the Exeter Pound could also be contributing to a sense of the identity too – the notes are covered in nearby landmarks and local heroes. According to Peter North, Reader in Geography and Planning at the University of Liverpool: ‘Members of alternative currency networks are using local currencies as both symbols of the sort of communities they want to live in, and tools for enacting it’.
Further to that, the alternative system could be seen as a token of a larger ‘southwestern’ culture – a region that boasts two other successful currencies in Totnes and Bristol already. ‘The southwest of England has traditionally been a fairly liberal and independent area, partly because of its sparse population’ says Goss. ‘The majority of people in the area do not live in big cities, nor do they live in small villages – they live in small market towns that lend themselves to a sense of loyalty to nearby business.’ He believes that the southwest’s peripheral location, in relation to the economic hub of the southeast, fosters a sense of cultural pride and a need for economic independence to support it.
This article was published in the November 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine.