Conference held on Saturday November 23rd 2002
at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1


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The economy of the event

Programme of workshops

Venue details


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This Conference was made possible by pooling individual grants, each of £2,000, given to Dr John Courtneidge and Mary Fee by the Champions for Change Millennium Awards Scheme, which was managed by the Peabody Trust and funded by the Millennium Commission. Further support from South East Region Co-operartive Group supported a wider mailing just in time for the event..

The Conference Programme proposed a time schedule of plenaries followed by parallel workshops (which was immediately adapted by the chair to cope with the ongoing arrival of participants and the need for an introductory "Open Space"). With the exception of complementary therapies, which did not materialise, the other subject strands proved a robust format for the remainder of the day, and accordingly the conference space was divided into five domains: The Open Space, the Computer area, LETS & Money Forum, Co-operation Forum, and Community Building. A short summary of what took place in each of these areas follows:

Open Space:  Chaired by Sabine McNeil, founder of the first LETS in London in 1992 and Organiser of the Forum for Stable Currencies, this session provided an opportunity for people to introduce each other and describe their projects and their involvement in and aspirations for LETS - people moved in and out of this space during the day - it also spilled into the foyer area and bar.

LETS Forum: two sessions of this forum were co-chaired by Malcolm Currie, Co-ordinator of West Midlands LETS Registry, who has recently visited Japan and is thus particularly aware of the recent developments there, together with Peter North of Liverpool University, who has participated in and followed LETS research in the UK during the past ten years or so. From the background information which had been circulated for the day, participants clearly felt they had been given permission to view critically the outcomes in practice of operating the UK LETS model. Reporting from this session, Malcolm said that most noticeable was the remarkable uniformity in the range of issues affecting LETS groups represented at this event: ie Core group "burn out"; frustrations in arranging service delivery; out of date Directories; shortage of craft skills; key members unable to spend significant accumulations of currency; and the mechanics of LETS, such as the difficulty of issuing cheques for lots of small transactions, and attempts to foster a cheque based system in groups not using bank accounts, all added to a view of a movement in urgent need of reform.
Contact Malcolm Currie at www.wmlets.org.uk and malcolm@becomm.co.uk;
Peter North is at Liverpool University: p.j.north@liverpool.ac.uk.

Co-operation: Val Darbyshire from the Co-operative Group hosted the Co-op Domain and made this into a very welcoming space which individuals could visit as an alternative to, or between other sessions. Information was available on the Co-operative Group's aims in respect of the wider Co-op Movement, plus the Community Dividend Scheme, which provides small funding to community groups. LETS schemes in the UK have always been regarded by the co-operative movement as co-ops, but some have viewed themselves as a community associations, emphasising maximum involvement of members in the organisation, rather than efficiency in its running. Differing legal frameworks and ways LETS groups have been run in practice, have resulted in varying degrees of success, and in the light of the views which emerged from the conference, studying these in detail would seem to be a prerequisite in establishing an updated model for LETS in the 21st century. This research will need a substantial amount of central funding, whilst funding from the Co-ops Community Dividend Scheme will help support local organisers. Val may be contacted on 01322-321254 or val.darbyshire@co-op.co.uk

Monetary Reform:
Rev Peter Challen, Chair of the Christian Council for Monetary Justice, and Secretary of the Forum for Stable Currencies, who had recently returned from a conference in Malaysia on the subject of Islamic Finance, led a group giving consideration to global issues and the place occupied by LETS in the broader field of monetary reform. Daily news reports on rogue traders; the collapse of major companies in the USA and of national currencies eg in Argentina; interest rates reaching zero in Japan; and loss of confidence in the UK stock-market causing devaluation of pensions and insurance; lead those who have thought deeply about these problems to see in the current financial system the ultimate basis for world poverty, environmental degradation and war. Monetary reformers are not united in the solutions they propose to these global problems, but as an interest-free currency issued by its users, LETS is understood as an important small-scale experiment illustrating the mechanism for a complementary system which might be capable of "making a difference" in appropriate circumstances. With Rodney Shakespeare, Peter Challen has just co-authored "Seven Steps to Justice", published by New European Publications Ltd, ISBN 1-8724-1027-8.

Community Building
LETS development is usually seen in terms of the technical side, but in reality, often groups fail because people find they can't work through interpersonal difficulties that arise. Participants emerged glowing from a community building taster session (dealing with working groups and consensual decision making) led by Ruth Goffe and Lindy Bailhache, who have been involved in Community Building in Britain for about ten years. Community Building acknowledges the the kinds of dynamics that crop up in all groups and relationships, such as power and control issues, tackling tasks together, exclusivity, and being with people who we find difficult. CBiB is a non-profit network of volunteers who strive to create and support experiential situations in which the vision and principles of community building may be discovered and practised, based on work originally inspired by M Scott Peck, author of "The Different Drum". For further information on two and three-day public workshops call: 07071 880858 (premium rate - probably through to Tean - you will be given a land line number), or write to John Lynch, CBiB, 8 Violet Way, Oxford OX4 7WE cbibuk@ntlworld.com

Due to the grass-roots way in which LETS has developed in the UK, there has never been a single recommended piece of software to cover the complete range of functions required. The early LETSystem offering, based on DOS (and suitable only for nerds) dealt only with the core "transaction" functions. Later a plethora of customised standalone programmes based on proprietary software such as Excel and Access successfully integrated a range of administrative functions. Many were specific to their own LETS scheme, others were networked more widely, whilst some groups avoided the whole thing and to this day still keep their records on manual ledgers. Clearly the programme/s used to run a LETS scheme have a major influence on how the whole scheme is managed, and the fact that groups are using such a variety of software contributes to their widely varying methodologies. It was hoped that Andrew Nicholson, who has been assessing some of these as part of a postgraduate project, would be able to lead this session, but in the event, project deadlines grounded him, and we were delighted that Michael Linton, of the LETSystems Trust, founder of LETS in Canada, was on hand to coordinate this session. Now that the internet is with us, some groups are already using web-based systems, but again, there are a number of different programmes in use. One of these, an online system for running a local scheme in North London "Maida-LETS" was presented by Julie Chauffier much to the fascination of those attending this session. Michael Linton's latest project, "Open Money", also uses web-based software, and goes beyond the scope of current LETS schemes, being more a way of enabling local businesses to support community currencies. Much work remains to be done not only to develop new generation software but also enable LETS organisers to access this as it becomes available.
Contact Michael Linton at: www.openmoney.org, mwl@openmoney.org
Julia Chaffier www.maidalink.org

Local Innovative Projects
Papers were submitted for the conference by:

Enquiries were also received from
Sandi Rance of Southwark Association for Voluntary Organisations (SAVO)
Brigette Hass of The Heart Space, Sue Hayward of the Phoenix Bureau
and others.

1. THE LONDON-WIDE SCHEME: all attendees at the conference are deemed to have joined this scheme and a separate circulation will introduce and discuss this.


Matti Kohonen of Attac (LSE), Godric Bader of ScottBader company (Northampton), Peter Hague based (Sweden), and Woody Bronson (Kilburn), all expressed interest in starting specialised LETS schemes, whose progress we can follow and support.

Enthusiasm was expressed during the event and at the new year meeting of the Conference Group for a repeat event next year (provisionally on 22nd November), but with a much longer lead-in time, including a separate event in the Spring for which we would make more effort to gain support from organisers in London - NB this didn't happen but there will be a follow-up event during the ESF weekend 16th October 2004.