How to dodge the next wave of ghost towns

Bernie Ward is a friend mine, but she is also something of a heroine. For six thrilling years, she led the local economic tools team at the New Economics Foundation. During that time she developed, not just money flows analysis but also Bizfizz (enterprise coaching) and local alchemy (a mixture of participatory tools to develop local economies).

Money flows is now known as LM3 and the underlying idea is used by places as far apart as Preston and Birmingham to build their economies. Bizfizz and Local Alchemy are no longer run as formal programmes, but the components of their approaches continue to be delivered globally – tailored business mentoring, community boards to support local businesses, participatory analysis to identify market gaps for local businesses.  So when Bernie comes up with an idea, it is likely to be practical.

She has been abroad for some time but has been living near me in Sussex recently, and she has emerged to write a post on the Radix site about the looming problem we have with the imminent closure of so many institutions which give young people places to go, or work experience, or give young entrepreneurs a leg up.

Her formula to avoid the prospect of ghost towns is a collaboration between across local stakeholders working towards the same end, rather than competing to benefit only their individual initiative.  It will need a package from central government to give more power to communities exercising their rights to buy (the Localism Act 2011), and something to support these institutions – after the ink on the contract has dried and the community share issue has worked out. 

Local authorities will need to get together with local stakeholders to make this work – those local assets (leisure centres, pubs, pools, music venues) will need to agree to a time-banking approach to benefit from the rates or tax changes. Those then underpin how staff get paid or volunteers rewarded and also the release of spare capacity of the assets for this.

It will need to be a co-ordinated approach, facilitated neutrally rather than dominated by the council. But connecting them innovatively with wasted local assets, or downtime or surplus stock as pioneered here by Tempo time credits or time banks.

She is definitely right, and this may also be, as she suggests, a moment when local currencies make a comeback, not in their experimental forms as in the Lewes or Totnes pounds, but providing real loans to people for productive purposes.

An idea that is worth getting behind, so remember – you read it here first…

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