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November 7, 2012

No more throwaway people

Some ideas make so much sense that it’s hard to understand why they don’t immediately catch on. Timebanking is an example of this. Conceived by the brilliant Dr Edgar Cahn and explained in his book No More Throwaway People, timebanking is the sort of initiative that every community could do with but for some reason it hasn’t worked out that way. In Edinburgh it seems to be an idea whose time has finally arrived. Supported by Edinburgh Volunteer Centre, they’re springing up all over the place.


There are now eight Time Banks in Edinburgh.

Facilitated by the Volunteer Centre Edinburgh, the Citywide Edinburgh Time Bank Network provides support to Time Banks across the city. 

The Network meets quarterly giving members an opportunity to: –

Share information and good practice

Build links with other Time Banks

Highlight common issues impacting on Timebanking

Identify themes for joint training

Explore ways to maximise involvement in and the impact of Timebanking in the city

Ensure a consistent approach to monitoring and evaluation and measuring social impact

Explore ways of linking up with other citywide initiatives, e.g. Edible Estates

Facilitated by the Volunteer Centre Edinburgh, the Citywide Network provides support to Time Banks across the city. 

What is Timebanking?

Timebanking is a highly effective tool for developing social networks and building social capital, built on the principle that everyone has something to give.

Timebanking is based on the simple principle that for every hour of time a person contributes to help someone else; they receive the equivalent in time credits. These time credits are stored and then exchanged for services when needed from others. For example – if you help someone for an hour decorating their home, you can ‘buy’ an hour of someone helping you – let’s say – cutting your grass. We know that everyone has skills, knowledge and experience to offer – Timebanking is a way of putting these assets together and creating a better community.

Helping is a two-way street – Timebanking can turn strangers into friends and as in all friendships, you must be ready to receive as well as to give.  Timebanking is not volunteering or charity. It is about every Time Bank member offering their skills, abilities and knowledge to help others to a level that you can reasonably expect from a friend or neighbour.

Timebanking is not a substitute for services that you would normally pay for, such as installing a kitchen, or for getting services on the cheap. Time Bank members give and receive all sorts of services, such as listening and visiting, gardening and form filling, or sharing skills in music, knitting and using computers, to simple repairs, ironing and running errands. There are some services not provided such as childcare, babysitting and personal care.

Not so long ago we all knew our neighbours and knew which of them would do us a favour if we asked them for one – and our neighbours knew if we would be happy to do them a favour in return. Life has changed and our friends and family do not always live nearby and it is not so easy to ask neighbours for help these days, particularly if we do not know if we can ever pay them back.

The more people share their time and skills, the healthier and happier your neighbourhood will become. With Timebanking, everyday acts of kindness are recognised as the important contribution they are to everyone’s wellbeing.


One hour equals one time credit – all work is valued equally – the currency is time

Reciprocity – giving and receiving builds trust and mutual respect

Valuing people as assets – not seeing them as problems – people are the real wealth of a community, and valuing their skills, talents, knowledge and experience build their sense of themselves as worthwhile members of society

Building Social Networks – a growing body of research cites loneliness and isolation as impacting negatively on both physical and mental health. “Having friends and being involved in community life makes people happier and healthier.  It can make as much difference as to how long you live as smoking.”  Professor Richard Wilkinson, co author of “The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better For Everyone”.


The idea was developed by Dr. Edgar S.Cahn a civil rights lawyer and speech writer for Robert Kennedy who dedicated his life to the fight for social justice.

In his 40’s Edgar Cahn suffered a massive heart attack, losing 65% of the capacity of his heart.  He was told he could no longer work and lay in hospital bed feeling useless – not a feeling he relished.  However it prompted his thinking about others whom society considered “useless” – older people, the unemployed, people with mental health issues, lone parents on benefit. He concluded that the one thing everyone has in common is time – we all start the day with 24 hours at our disposal – it’s what we do with that time that makes the difference.  Those who do paid work gain financial remuneration for their time which helps to define them as people and also gives status and value to their lives.

But what about the unpaid work of caring for and raising children, caring for elderly or disabled relatives, volunteering or being a community activist?  This Edgar reasoned was the work which underpinned society; in essence the operating system for everything else.  He called this work “The Core Economy” – the real work of caring, of loving, of being a citizen, a neighbour and a human being.  This work is not valued by the market economy so Edgar Cahn developed Time dollars as a mechanism by which it could be rewarded. Timebanking is now widely accepted as an ideal way.

To value the contributions that people make to rebuilding and sustaining their communities;

To remind people of the skills they already have and the contributions they are – and are capable of – making;

To encourage people to take responsibility for their lives and  families;

To ‘co-produce’ our public services efficiently and effectively.

Timebanking and Co-production are explained in detail in Edgar’s book – ‘No More Throw Away People’.