Large international trade deals, such as CETA, TTIP or that proposed by Donald Trump, are said to do little for the average person. Instead we should be localising our economy for the benefit of ordinary people, argue activists. The Brixton Pound, a few minutes walk from Brixton station, has done just this. Run by a group of volunteers, the organisation has created a local currency to be used by businesses around Brixton to retain wealth within the community. It has also set up a cafe, where customers decide the price they will pay for their purchase.
Lucy Cava is project manager at the organisation. She is so busy that I have to interview her as she prepares her lunch. She spoons dollops of lentil soup onto a plate as she explains, “You can spend your money in Sainsburys or you can spend your money in any other local business. But if you spend your money in Sainsburys it’s going off to investors who may keep their money in somewhere like the British Virgin Islands.” She pauses after putting her plate of food in the microwave, then elaborates. “In quite an anonymous place like London it’s easy for businesses to suck out of the local economy rather than actually recognise that what they do impacts on the local community.”
Large businesses are already seeping into Brixton, replacing independent stores and eateries. As well as Sainsburys the high street features a Marks and Spencers and a local Brixton department store, Morleys. This isn’t surprising seeing as rent prices have risen from £5,000 to nearly £20,000 in a decade.
The Brixton Pound combats the encroachment on local businesses by encouraging local spending. The volunteers have a passion for the idea behind the Brixton Pound. Leaning over the counter of the organisation’s cafe, one volunteer, Louise Johnson, explains what led her to join the enterprise. “I think the concept in itself is a good one, where you have a local currency, printed with members from the local community, which can only be used in businesses around here. It’s encouraging local businesses to trade with each other, which I think it’s really important to keep the community running.”
To emphasise the importance of community at the Brixton Pound, famous locals are featured on the pound notes. The one pound note features Len Garrison, who owns the black cultural archives, which are near to the cafe. The basketball player, Luol Deng, is pictured on the Brixton fiver. Finally, David Bowie is on the 20 pound note, and, for a reason nobody knows, the other notes feature a second world war spy. When I ask another volunteer, Frank Taylor, why he thinks this is, he laughs and says, “I think we ran out of people.”
Frank has been working for eight months for the organisation. He explains the philosophy behind the organisation. “It’s a reaction against all forms of modern currency because money and currency has to have social value. How do we create that? How do we make money a positive thing rather than something which everybody chases after and people have issues around? We want it to be something which is for and by the community.” In an epoch of neoliberal economics, ruled over by major banks and large-scale corporations, the Brixton Pound is fighting a very large battle from a microcosm of capitalism.