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Introduction to TimeBanking

Updated: Feb 21

If you’re already following our blog, you’ve probably got at least some idea of what TimeBanking is and how it can help build strong, sustainable communities. But where did this concept come from? And how does it actually work on a practical level? If you’re curious and want to know more, we’ve put together this brief introduction to the world of reciprocal exchange. 

Although there are currently more than 200 TimeBanks in the UK, the idea actually started in America during the Industrial Revolution, when the American anarchist Josiah Warren founded the Cincinnati Time Store. A proponent of the so-called labour theory of value, Warren believed that a commodity’s worth is defined by the amount of work that goes into producing or acquiring it. Because of that, he concluded that it was unethical for store owners such as himself to charge a high markup on goods that they only sold, and didn’t produce. As well as selling items at cost price - plus a small mark-up for his own labour - Warren offered his customers the opportunity to make purchases using “labour notes” instead of cash.

A "labor for labor" note from Warren's Cincinnati Time Store

These early labour notes essentially functioned as a form of I.O.U., with customers promising to provide a service in return for their goods. And even though modern TimeBanks no longer deal in physical credits, the ethos remains, in many ways, much the same - even two centuries after Warren first opened his store.

To Warren, time was a far more equitable unit of currency than money. After all, everyone has time - and a skill or a talent that is of value within their community. And even in a society that appeared to be growing increasingly materialistic, it was an idea that took hold. 

A little over 100 years later, as World War II brought hardship to communities across the globe, one Japanese housewife decided to barter her sewing skills in exchange for fresh vegetables. And the idea sparked something in Teruko Mizushima’s mind. After the war, she gained recognition as a social commentator, giving talks on her theories surrounding concepts such as labour and economics - ideas that mirrored those espoused by Warren decades before. And in 1973 she founded the Volunteer Labour Bank, known today as the first time bank in the world.

Mizushima’s concept was simple: a centralised database of time credits which could be “earned” by providing a service and “cashed” in exchange for acquiring one. And within just five years, membership of the labour bank had swelled to more than 2,500 individuals across the whole of Japan. Meanwhile, the women of Grace Hill in St. Louis had been using reciprocal exchange in the form of ‘Service Credits’ as a method of fighting poverty and connecting communities since the early 1900s. But when law professor Edgar S. Cahn coined the term “time banking” in the 1980s, they switched their Service Credits for Time Dollars, becoming America’s first time bank in the process. Before long, many others had followed suit.

From left: Anneliese Hall from Littleton TimeBank, New Zealand; Delonte Wilkins from LinkUp, Washington D.C.; Stephanie Rearick, Kate Macdonald from TimeBank Hull and East Riding; Edgar Cahn and partner Chris

Having directly observed Cahn’s work in the United States, Martin Simon opened the UK’s first TimeBank, known as Fair Shares, in Gloucester in 1998. And the project continues to thrive today, with more than 1,500 members of different ages and backgrounds. Since then, the TimeBank concept has grown in popularity, with organisations up and down the country - click here to find your nearest one. 

Speaking recently on the Moneyless Society podcast, Stephanie Rearwick from Humans United in Mutual Aid Networks summed up the appeal of TimeBanking in one simple sentence: “We have what we need if we share what we have.”

With TimeBanking, she explained, everyone’s time is valued equally, all work is considered important, and everyone receives the respect that they deserve. 

Practically speaking, it couldn’t be easier to get started with TimeBanking. Would-be members wanting to sign up to our Hull and East Riding branch, for example, simply need to access the simple application form here and fill in their details. After that, a local TimeBroker will be in touch to explain what happens next.

Once signed up, newbies can browse a wide array of “offers” and “requests” made by other members. This is a great starting point if you’re unsure what kind of help you can offer, or you want to get a feel for how TimeBanking works. Once you find a request that matches your skills, you simply message that member to arrange. Afterwards, simply log your hours on the system to receive credits that can be exchanged for any service offered on the network.

What’s great about TimeBanking is that there’s no “like for like” element to the exchange - and no requirement to exchange directly with the people that you help. You give an hour, and you get an hour - that’s it!

TimeBankers from Dane County, St. Louis, and Hull

Our TimeBank was established back in 2012 and boasts almost 900 members offering everything from music, acting, and writing lessons to practical help with DIY - and just about everything in between. It’s up to each member how much time they invest in the organisation, with schools, community groups and businesses encouraged to sign up as well as individuals.

We believe that the TimeBanking model can help to redefine the nature of work and consumption, bonding people together and forging a new path that hinges on the principles of mutual aid. But you don’t need to be an activist or a political reformer to benefit from what we have to offer. In many ways, it’s simply about recreating what many have lost - resilient, self-sufficient communities where everyone helps each other without money changing hands. 

To find out more about our TimeBank and how to get involved, email or pop into Marfleet Community Centre for a chat.

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