LETS (Local Exchange Trading Schemes) are about local trading (without the need for money or credit), using human capital. LETS are open to all, and all kinds of skills are both valued and needed. They are grassroots schemes and need no specialist skills to operate.
A group of local people get together, and compile a directory of skills & goods that they have to offer and need. This directory is then distributed amongst members and they exchange skills & goods using a local currency, often named after a local feature – “Palms” in Falmouth, “Carts” in Redruth, “Starlets” in St.Austell, “Shells” in St.Ives, “Creds” in Crediton, “Bobbins” in Manchester etc..
The currency is information rather than a commodity in its own right. No interest is charged or credited, and there is no stigma about going into debit, as debit represents a future commitment to offer skills to another member, rather than a financial penalty imposed by a third party.
Unlike barter you do not have to trade 1 to 1 (e.g – one may do computer work for several members, and get lifts, food, haircuts etc. from others). If you enjoy what you do, whether it is your job or a hobby, someone else on the group will probably benefit from it.
Accounts are kept of transactions and are freely available to all in the group. When trading, the “buyer” makes out a LETS “cheque” to the “seller” for the amount of local currency agreed between them for the job. It is then the responsibility of the seller to send this cheque to the LETS group Accountant. Transactions can include a sterling component to cover any cash costs incurred (e.g. petrol, materials etc.) but only the local currency part is recorded on the LETS accounts. The scheme itself is non profit making – most groups charge a few pounds annually to cover external sterling costs (postage, photocopying etc.) and a few units of local currency to cover Admin time and labour.
The Falmouth scheme includes several households and other community organisations. We hold regular socials where people can meet and trade. The group covers a ten mile radius and there are several other groups in Cornwall. Most of us see the community building side of LETS as being a major benefit – it is a great way of meeting new friends and restoring a sense of self worth and belonging, particularly for unemployed people and those who are retired or new to the area. LETS also offers people the chance to use skills that they have not tested in the conventional economy, thus building confidence as well as a network of able, versatile people. Whenever you have a job done you are offering a member “work”, so the “Wants” in any LETS are as important as the Offers.
“LETS Work – Rebuilding the Local Economy” by Peter Lang (Grover Books) ISBN 1-899233-00-8, provides a very readable overview of LETS in the UK – it was published in 1994 and has somewhat underestimated the rapid growth of LETS since.