Neighbours you can bank on


This article was first published in the Wairarapa News in March 2012


Rather than use money, local trading pools simply use their own agreements as their means of exchange. Such agreements avoid the expense of bank-created money: they amount to a free currency.


Any two neighbours can form a local pool. We all need others' expertise at times. When we think of hiring help, however, we often find that cash is in short supply. But once we start to consider that we ourselves have things we're very good at, we’ll quite likely find a neighbour willing to trade his or her skills for ours. It’s much easier to pay for what we need with what we have to spare. 


A neighbourly pool agreement can take the simplest form:


·         We dispense with payment between ourselves by keeping account of the hours we work. 

·         We regard your time and mine as having equal value, no matter what kind of work is done. 

·         We ensure that any imbalance is kept within limits.


Of course, such an agreement need not be limited to two parties. The more neighbours involved, the bigger the toolbox of tradeable skills and services available. Such mutual assistance circles are known as Time Banks, and they are already transforming communities from Kaitaia to Gore.


Sue gives Pete guitar lessons. Pete helps Moana, whose late husband was the gardener, to turn her garden into more lawn. Moana supervises Rachel, who is sewing her first formal dress. Rachel helps Jim become computer-savvy. Jim is ready to repair Sue’s fence.



Not one cent changes hands. With the time credit people gain for the work they do, they can buy someone else’s time to get the service they need. They can even buy someone else’s time without any prior time credit. Nor is there any pressure to return the time immediately.


A Time Bank is a community service, not a charity. It preserves the dignity of its members by providing opportunities to make contributions every bit as needed and valued as those they receive. By starting from the premise that each of us has the missing piece of someone else’s puzzle, Time Banking dissolves the conventional boundaries between service providers and service consumers. In a Time Bank’s Yellow Pages, everybody has a full-page ad.


Time Banks are equitable banks. In marked contrast to commercial bank lending practice, Time Banking is reciprocal: it doesn’t result in profit or loss to any party but creates personal and community wealth – social capital – in a way that cannot be matched by an interest-burdened economy.


Voluntary organisations find Time Banking doubly useful: the volunteers appreciate having their contribution officially acknowledged and the organisations themselves can use the volunteers’ time credit to buy further services.


In communities with a Time Bank, jobs that have been put off for years for lack of cash get done; people feel richer for new learning and contacts; the elderly and those with special needs are supported in their own homes; children who had struggled at school become proficient scholars; newcomers to the district feel at home; anonymous strangers become friendly neighbours; demand for crisis services drops dramatically. What community wouldn’t want one?


The resilience an established Time Bank gives a community was evident after the devastating earthquake in February 2011. In Lyttelton, one in every ten people is a Time Bank member. This strong network was able to broadcast a list of needs five times a day and to source the right people for particular jobs. Time Bankers were used to the system so it kicked in fast. Have you ever seen a household’s entire belongings moved from one house and installed in another within 45 minutes?


We can build resilience in our own community. The cooperation and sharing that characterise traditional New Zealand communities make a perfect foundation for Time Banking. We don’t need to rely solely on professionals or wait for authorities to come up with solutions. We all have areas of expertise, knowledge and wisdom. Now is a good time to bring them forward. As Time Bank originator Edgar Cahn puts it in his book No More Throw-Away People, “We have what we need if we use what we have.” There’s nothing to stop us enjoying the benefits of Time Banking. Contact us if you’d like to help make it happen in your district.