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October 7, 2015

The People’s Bank of Govanhill

Local currencies, alternative systems of money that run in parallel with the formal currency of the country, are not many in number but where they have become properly established they tend to last. One of the country’s oldest and most successful currencies is the Eko, which serves the Findhorn community in Moray. Of late, Eko notes have even become collectors’ items – in itself a useful source of additional income for the community.  All that must seem a long way off to the People’s Bank of Govanhill as they set about launching their new currency.


AN inner-city Glasgow suburb has launched a direct assault on global trade – by setting up its own currency. The People’s Bank of Govanhill  aims to work with local people to design a new form of currency for Govanhill. The notes are designed on the tiling of the Govanhill baths. 

It can already be used to buy bread, coffee, books and clothes in a number of shops. Issued by The People’s Bank of Govanhill, the concept is the brainchild of Ailie Rutherford, 39, who is the artist in residence at Govanhill Baths community hub. The scheme follows the launch of other alternative currencies such as the Brixton and Bristol pounds, but is more focused on bridging the gap between rich and poor, she said.

Ailie explained: “The project is about working with people in the local area to design a local currency that is right for Govanhill. One of the major criticisms of pound-for-pound schemes is that they really don’t do very much for people who are experiencing poverty. Those schemes often work well for businesses but are not so easily used by people in poverty. What we’re trying to do here is develop a new form of currency that is relevant for everyone in the community.”

The design of the notes is taken from the green, red and white tiling in the Govanhill Baths. And the notes feature writing in English, Urdu, Slovakian and Chinese, which are four of the most prominently used languages in the area.

The currency has a variable exchange rate. The suggested exchangefor a Govanhill note is a hundredth of a person’s weekly income, but people are asked to pay what they can, or pledge time of they can’t afford to pay in cash.

She said they were looking to perfect the model for the benefit of those living in poverty. Her idea is that poor people benefit from the generosity of those who are better off in the area as the more money they put in then the more their note is worth.

Ailie added: “I spent a lot of time talking to people who used the baths and the local community about how they saw the area developing and what changes they would like to take place. It is a really diverse community, one of the most diverse in Scotland, with a huge number of languages spoken and a lot of independent shops. We had a lot of conversations about things like resource consumption, new technologies and community ownership.

I hope to get more and more people involved in designing this currency. It would be nice to get to a point somewhere down the line where different local artists made their own designs for different editions of the note

An exchange booth of 800 screen-printed notes ran earlier this year with only businesses within the Govanhill Baths accepting the notes. Notes will be readily available at an exchange booth in arts centre Tramway between October and January to be spent at local shops. The scheme will run in conjunction with the Turner Prize to encourage visitors to use shops close to the Tramway where the exhibition is being held.

The scheme is now being used by a number of social enterprise businesses, including Bakery 47, Milk Cafe, and Locavore. Jim Monaghan, 52, administrator for the Govanhill community trust, said: “This is a great scheme to be a part of. People have been able to buy a pound for 60 pence. It’s a long-term development which we’re 100 per cent behind. Govanhill is such a uniquely diverse area with 77 different nationalities speaking 52 languages, cramped into a space holding 14,000 people.

A localised currency works a lot better in a close-knit community and I can’t think many more close than Govanhill. It’s a bit of a reaction to an increasingly globalised economy and is a throwback to 50 years ago when each community would have a co-operative association which meant that money earned in the community would stay in the community.”