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27. June 2014


How we grew timebanking in rural Scotland: The Argyll and Bute Timebanks

One day in 2005 a woman called Verity walked into the Volunteer Centre in Argyll and Bute where I was employed as a development worker at the time. She was new to the area, keen to make new friends and join in with community activity. She wanted to know if we had a Timebank. Having never heard of this concept, my colleagues and I looked into it. We learnt that “Timebanking is a means of exchange, where time is the principal currency.” The basic principle is “an hour for an hour.” We also found out about Timebanking UK which provides a lot of resources and support to people who want to set up a Timebank. We decided to give it a go, as it seemed to add something extra to the traditional volunteering opportunities already available in the area and nationally. It gave people a way to join in who may feel excluded from volunteering – an easy way to get involved, whether busy with work, a single parent, or just out of prison. It also has increased flexibility – so organisations can have one-off help at events, or a small group can get professional help such as designing a leaflet. It also has more flexibility for individuals – they are under no pressure to do something if they’re busy with visitors or heading off on holiday.

We did get some start-up funding from Big Lottery and other funders, which was used to pay for development staff across our large geographical area. We also had help from established Timebanks in the country with paperwork, and training from TBUK on how to use the Timebank system. Timebanks also need some finances for covering internet and phone usage and volunteer expenses. In the day-to-day running of the Timebank itself, though, no money changes hands, except to make sure that fellow Timebankers are not out of pocket, for example a member will cover another member’s bus fare if they are travelling to come and help them in the garden. Some Timebanks have insurance to cover exchanges, but not all. The Volunteer Centre is now Argyll Voluntary Action which is part of the Third Sector Interface, but the Timebank continues.

We have worked in a variety of ways – finding that what works best is a team of volunteers in each neighbourhood, rather than a member of staff covering the whole area. Argyll and Bute is a large geographical area, with 80,000 residents located in small towns, remote rural areas and twenty-five inhabited islands. We have set up seven Timebanks across the area, each operating differently, as works best for them, but each linked together in one system. So an exchange can happen locally, or with another Timebank in the area, if need be. Currently in Cowal, we have five volunteers working as time brokers, supported by various members of staff, who all work on different projects, including Reshaping Care for Older People which is a Scottish Government initiative aimed at improving services for older people by shifting care towards anticipatory care and prevention.

In order to gain Timebank members we held large events, but found that word of mouth works best – as soon as someone finds out that they could get their ironing done they will want to join! Our Timebank has grown from its humble start in 2005 to currently 1406 members across Argyll, across seven Timebanks all linked together. We have 235 in our small town. We have a wide range of people – employed, unemployed, various ethnic groups; the youngest member is nine, and many are aged over ninety (we don’t always get people’s actual age!). The highest proportion of people is aged between fifty and sixty, although all age groups are fairly evenly represented.

A Timebank works like a bank – people can spend their hours as fast as they earn them, save them for a rainy day, or donate them. One member recently donated hours to a friend as a birthday gift, and another donates regularly to local groups. It is rare to encounter issues. Some people slip into ‘overdraft’ but most people like to earn their hours before spending them - the bigger ‘problem’ is encouraging people who want to earn and not spend to ask for help so the system doesn’t grind to a halt. We also say to members to think how good they would be making someone else feel if they get to help!

We have many exchanges, including grass-cutting, picking up shopping or doing an internet search. Some activities are more creative – guitar lessons, advice on pruning apple trees or publishing a book. This month we have organised Polish/English translation, shortening trousers, cleaning kitchen cupboards, hoovering and changing bedding, amongst other things. The bedding is a regular exchange that two teenage girls take turns to do for an eighty year old lady who would like to stay independent, but struggles with some housework. She earns hours by making shortbread for local events, and writing certificates for a youth organisation (she has beautiful hand-writing) and for giving cookery advice. The teenagers have received help with school projects and homework. The Timebank also works well for people busy with work, volunteering, caring or parenting – they can earn credits when they can – for example, through their voluntary work, by picking up shopping while out doing their own, or by doing internet searches during leisure hours. In exchange they may get their garden tended to, child-care, or someone to wait at the house for a parcel delivery.

Are you already thinking of how a local Timebank might help you? So, while you imagine getting a huge pile of ironing done, I will answer some typical questions.

Are you already busy and can’t imagine fitting it in? Our Timebrokers will discuss with you what you can contribute to the Timebank and when and how often to do it. You can opt in and out of the system, so it can be arranged that you only get asked for week-end matches, or during your annual leave. You will be one of many people who are offering the same thing, so if a Timebroker calls and you can’t do it, they will just move on to the next person on the list. No pressure.

What about letting someone into my home that I don’t know? We can arrange to send two people, maybe one of them being someone you have already met. We also arrange regular drop-ins and get-togethers so that Timebank members can get to know one another. We get to know time bank members ourselves, and use our judgment about whether people will get on, or arrange for exchanges to happen outside the home if possible.

How do I know if someone is reliable? We collect references that ask about someone’s honesty, team-working, punctuality and their ability to get on with others. It gives us a good starting point. We never turn anyone away, but we won’t match someone to get you to a hospital appointment if they don’t seem too reliable. In some cases, we do require a PVG check, but can only do these in respect of regular matches such as a person offering tutoring to a school child. As with all volunteering opportunities, it is free to get the check done.

Will it cost me anything? If you want your kitchen painted, you will buy all the materials needed, but we can share tools and equipment between us all. If travel is necessary, we arrange a set amount before the exchange happens to cover costs. All members sign an agreement - not to ask for or accept any gifts or money, not to use someone’s phone without agreement, and to treat one another with respect.  

The best part about Timebanks is their equality – everyone can both give and receive help, and everyone’s time is worth the same, whether they plumbing or picking up a prescription. For some people being asked to help, when they have traditionally just been receiving services is transformational. For example, one of our Timebank members has learning disabilities, earns credits by photocopying, and gets help with ordering online, and doing searches about holiday destinations.

A lot of what I have mentioned has been about individuals but our Timebank also includes local voluntary groups, and businesses. As I type we are just heading off to one of our local cafes, which accepts Time Credits for teas and coffees, and then spends them on getting their windows cleaned and help with publicity…

You can find out more in our Co-Production Case Study published by the Joint Improvement Team. If you need further information simply get in touch with Timebanks UK - through them you can also get expert help in setting up a Timebank in your area. Or contact me at or on 01369 700100.  Get Timebanking!

Michaela Goan

Argyll Voluntary Action


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