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March 25, 2009

Value what’s in your community

Dr Edgar Cahn, founder of the international time banking movement, said "Market economics values what is scarce – not the real work of society which is caring, loving, being a citizen, a neighbour and a human being.’ Time banks are designed to capitalize on the skills of local people and their willingness to help each other. A fast growing network of time banks is beginning to emerge across Scotland – some are in the most unlikely of places

What is Time Banking?

A time bank is a new and exciting way for people to come together to help others and help themselves at the same time. Participants ‘deposit’ their time in the bank by giving practical help and support to others and are able to ‘withdraw’ their time when they need something done themselves.

Giving and Receiving Time

Time banks measure and value all the different kinds of help and skills we can offer each other. In a time bank, everyone becomes both a giver and a receiver.

Everyone’s time is valued equally : One hour = 1 time credit

Participants can spend their time credits on the skills and support of other participants when they need a helping hand.

People help each other out with everything from making phone calls to sharing meals and giving lifts to the shops – anything that brings them together:

help when you need it ~ DIY ~ help with the kids ~ trips out ~ exercise ~ making friends ~ shopping ~ new grandparents ~ talking on the phone ~ having a break ~ gaining new skills ~ crafts ~ going to the park ~ cooking ~ getting to know your neighbours

Why have a time bank?

“Market economics values what is scarce – not the real work of society which is caring, loving, being a citizen, a neighbour and a human being.’”
Dr Edgar Cahn, founder of international time banking movement

There is a market economy in which money drives transactions. Then there is a non-market economy that it not considered as an economic system at all: our network of support in the form of family, friends, neighbours and community. A time bank is a way to strengthen a non market economy.

The market economy depends on the healthy functioning of the non-market economy – we all need support from family and friends. We take it for granted that the non-market economy will always be there. As such, we can undervalue what it provides.

We notice when things go wrong with the non-market economy. Social isolation, run-down estates, crime, poor health, no feeling of community: these are just a few of the symptoms of an area in malaise, with poor social connections and few support networks.

You can look at an area in decline like a body with a weakened immune system. The protection holding that body together – family, friends, neighbours, community – are falling apart. It is losing its connections. The body needs to be fit and healthy to function and to grow.

What we need to do is to strengthen the area’s immune system, by drawing people together and by developing mutual friendships and support.

A time bank is a way to achieve that, to strengthen communities.

A time bank can help to:

• Bring people together in a spirit of equality

• Value and record contributions to community life

• Build an individual’s confidence and skills

• Build organisational capacity

• Build community networks and knowledge

• Get things done that wouldn’t get done otherwise (by funding in time credits)

• Encourage community participation

Who gets involved in a time bank?

Anyone and everyone!

A time bank is open to people of all ages, abilities, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. In fact, a time bank benefits from great diversity in its participants so that there is a wide variety of skills exchanged.

For a list of TimeBanks in Scotland see

Doing time – Banking time

The time banking model has now been adapted and effectively used in prisons. The first project of this kind was launched between Castlemilk Time Bank and HMP Shotts and brings together a group of prisoners who are trained by the Samaritans and work on a voluntary basis by providing a listeners’ scheme for fellow inmates. This is a scheme which is available in many of Scotland’s prisons and offers a peer counselling service for prisoners who need support.

The introduction of time banking has enabled prisoners to earn time credits for every hour they volunteer within the prison. The time credits are then donated by the prisoner to the time bank and these can then be spent by members of the time bank in the outside world, who need help but cannot earn a lot of time credits themselves due to personal circumstances.

In Castlemilk Time Bank members have used the time credits donated by the prisoners to receive help with activities which include ironing, DIY and errand-running. Although entirely optional, some members have also visited the prison to meet the prisoners who had donated time credits.

The scheme’s success speaks for itself, as three further prisons have now started to develop similar initiatives and are being connected with Time Banks in Angus and Argyll and Bute Volunteer Centres. Prisoner volunteering activities include assisting others with CVs, literacy help or working on a prison magazine.

One of the more progressive opportunities from this initiative has been the ability of prisoners’ family members to access a service from their local Time Bank paid for by time credits that their relative has earned from volunteering within the prison.

For example, the wife of a prisoner could have her hedge trimmed or a prisoner’s elderly mother could have her weekly shopping done. This can help to establish and maintain the family links which we know are associated with reducing the risk of reoffending – such as a prisoner having a stable home and family relationships to return to after leaving prison.

This is particularly important given that 45% of offenders lose contact with relatives while in prison and 22% of married prisoners divorce or separate as a result of their imprisonment, according to the UK Government’s Social Exclusion Unit.

For the prisons involved the scheme provides a useful way to recognise the time which prisoners spend volunteering. This in turn can be used as a platform on which prisoners can begin to think of themselves as capable of making a valuable contribution to society.

Evidence suggests that if a prisoner’s positive contributions are highlighted to them it can help to improve their own self image. This is supported by research which shows that convicted criminals who are recognised and valued for their positive attributes and behaviours have a greater chance of being diverted from crime when they are released from custody.

Criminologists have discussed making use of this within a prison setting by holding redemption rituals in which prisoners are able to overcome negative labels they have of themselves and develop new positive ones. Time banking is an ideal tool to formalise this practice, by measuring and rewarding the prisoners’ volunteering through the use of the time credit currency.

Prisons are a community in their own right, and if someone who lives in that community – in this case a convicted criminal – is giving up their time to help that system work then we should recognise and encourage this in the hope that this pattern will continue when they are released back into our communities. Time banking facilitates this in a unique way.

As time banking flourishes and expands across Scotland, our aim over the next few years is to give every prisoner in Scotland the chance to make a contribution to a community.