Parity is developing a network that will allow small businesses to access zero interest finance and conduct more trade. The approach we are taking applies innovative financial technology within the West Midlands. We have been getting a huge amount of interest from national and international groups that recognise the potential for transacting in this way. This we had a call with Mike Riddell from Hometown Plus in Manchester, UK to discuss the project they are developing within their local business networks. I thought I would outline the project and offer my thoughts on their development.
Hometown Plus is a social enterprise that have been very effective at reviving a failing local shopping centre in Newcastle under Lyme. They have applied an innovative approach where they have combined community development with asset regeneration to improve the local retail experience. They are aiming to improve the retail environment whilst addressing wider social and community issues. They worked to find a new anchor tenant; the YMCA, that provided greater footfall within the centre. They ran an active campaign to find new tenants, which allowed them to reduce void units by 80%. It increased the amount of revenue being generated by the centre, whilst also improving the town centre experience for local communities. The approach has caught national attention and will be featured in in a upcoming edition of The Alternatives by Aditya Chakrabortty in the Guardian.
Mike was especially interested in the system of business-to-business credit being developed by Parity. They too have developed a project termed; Countercoin, that has a similar approach to Parity. It hopes to issue credit through encouraging individuals to volunteer within the local community. If a local person gives some time up in a local charity, they will be issued with a couple pounds worth of credit, in the form of physical tokens. This could then be used to access discounts on goods and services within the local shops. Mike gave the example of a bowling alley that usually would charge £4 for a game, offering it for £2 with £2’s worth of credit. This would only be available in the day when the bowling alley is quiet. The approach has some similarities to Parity, as it is aiming to mobilise underutilised capacity. Individuals who may be underemployed are encouraged to commit some of their spare capacity to local community groups to receive the credit. This can then be used to access goods and services that can also be considered spare capacity; services when they are quiet or perishable goods thats are about to go out of date. Parity hopes that its platform will allow companies to sell their underutilised capacity for credit created by other companies in the network.
I have been been considering how alternative currencies and credit can be used on an individual or peer-to-peer basis. A group of us worked on the Birmingham Pound, prior to the development of Parity. One of the ideas to come out of that was a Brumcoin - which would allow individuals to earn and buy tokens for services offer on a peer-to-peer level. Although we did not take the project forward, I do think that this an exciting space that has some potential for development over the coming years. I would encourage anyone thinking of this to consider the potential for peer-to-peer transactions, alongside peer-to-business transactions. There is a huge amount of underutilised potential within our communities that could be supported through these types of systems. The Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) movement demonstrated this effectively, which I think new technology could encourage further development and greater participation. Parity wishes Mike and Hometown Plus all the best in their projects and development. We have agreed to stay in touch and share notes as we both innovate within this interesting space.
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