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Notes from Mary Fee at Letslink UK for meeting of Southwest LETS to be held at the offices of Upstart at Flax Drayton near South Peterton on Sat October 11th 2003

Aalex Lawrie wrote: This is a day long event for co-ops and community enterprises. The SW LETS meeting is included as part of that, and there might be benefit to be had from people having more than one reason to come, and sharing the advertising. It would also be free...Devon and Cornish LETS members would have further to come; but then it is easier for LETS members in Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire to get to.

Mary Fee: I am going to go through the notes of the previous meeting- quoting them in full - and add any thoughts which occur -my own notes are in italics.


1. Transition
As this was the first meeting for a year, we reviewed past history and assessed where we were. The loss of a key activist had caused a suspension of activity, and the regional level needs to be rebuilt.

Letslink UK has had a similar experience, actually much worse, because it was handled badly, a long recovery period, but we are now getting to grips with a recovery programme, pursuing several avenues in parallel:

1. 1 - LETSLINKUK WEBSITE - Tidying this up - basically links have been repaired and it is now looking more decent but with lots more detailed work to be done, including adding useful stuff to the archive from copious material which has passed through by email.

1.2 - SOFTWARE FOR LETS: Collating and putting on record information about LETS software for the sake of all LETS organisers who are looking to improve their systems - a start has been made - see technical information - and results will be added as they come in to the members area of the Letslink UK website.

1.3 - CONTACTS FOR LETS: Whilst answering enquiries about local LETS, aiming to get email addresses of all LETS organisers so that we can get them in the loop. It is much appreciated meanwhile that Ben Barker has kept a southwest list up to date for three annual additions, and that Rob Follett bas now transferred this to the Southwest site:
letsforum, in such a way that only members of the southwest LETS network can access it, enabling them to contact each other any time they wish, directly, as well as using the Southwest email list. I feel it is healthy for data to be kept locally, and the central records to be updated from the local information as a back-up. As Letslink UK is able to view southwest information, this can be done periodically without organisers having to send the information to two different locations.


2. Health of LETS

Contrasting reports; some schemes like South Somerset are flourishing, while others like Kingsbridge are thriving. We shared some good ideas for reviving LETS schemes, looked at some fundraisers and popular services, and identified needs for outside support.

Ideas: - Accept disagreement in the core group as healthy - Respond to local needs - Recruit businesses/organisations - Regular social events - When setting a rate, cover cash costs of providing services - Day long events - Build up a full core group - don't rely on one or two people - Consult your members regularly - Have a reliable point of contact - Meet basic needs - Identify 'intermediate labour markets' - Be mainstream-friendly - Resolve conflicts and controversies - Internal email group - 'Buddy' with non-email folk - Phone rounds - Separate lists for work parties /rapid response - Welcome new members personally.

Fundraisers: Workers Beer Co, Local Authority, Co-op community Dividend, Therapies Dday

Popular services : Therapies, pet minding, food, electrician, work parties, fast food delivery, plants, cafes/shops trading partly in LETS, phone calls, plumbing, optician, printer, hiring tools, car pool, car sales, music lessons, tuition

Support needs: Involving people with disabilities - Working in deprived communities - Regional contact /office - Support conflict resolution - Setting up IT systems - Regional trading website - Liability insurance.

An excellent list: I would prioritise the IT systems and regional trading website, and am working on that myself in relation to the much-mooted but yet to be funcitonal London-wide LETS. I would take issue with the Liability Insurance, where, as I state on the Legal page of this website that I believe LETSlink UK has always recommended the LETS Group's Constitution to be written to define the trading contract as being between individual members rather than with the LETS organisation.


3. CELTS

We reiterated our support for the CELT, while recognising the need to improve supply, support and admin. Thanks to Rob for the great website - I would reiterate this, and will keep you informed regarding the LINK

 

4. Timebanks and Co-ops
We discussed the relationship between the established LETS movement and the fast growing and well funded Timebanks. Some concerns were expressed about the top down organisation of some timebanks and their limitations as alternative trading systems. We noted the close similarities in values and the clarity they have achieved on the worth of a time dollar. We agreed the following consensus statement:

"We are keen to work with Timebanks and Timebanks UK for mutual benefit. Where LETS schemes already have the key features of a timebank (in particular, the value of the currency linked to hours) we hope that they will be able to share the various benefits available to timebanks. While working with national organisations and funding programmes, it is important to us that individual LETS schemes retain local autonomy and self reliance. We are interested in looking at whether a regional structure can be established that represents and supports both LETS and Timebanks.

This is a very important and crucial area to give further consideration to. The way in which Timebanks was set up really put them into opposition with LETS, which I have been fairly upfront about in the LEGAL page on this website, due to the fact that New Economics Foundation which were represented amongst the Trustees of Letslink UK actually left it seriously under-resourced as an organisation so that it could not provide the services to Local LETS groups that it should have done, ie there was only one funded worker (and currently there is none), and that trustee took the opportunity of a policy disagreement amongst members of the board to resign. Timebanks were set up shortly after this, and the word LETS completely disappeared from the lexicon of New Economics Foundation.

Although I do feel LETS organisations should not be discriminated against legally with regard to the Benefits Disregard, I do think it's important to understand the difference between a LETS and a Timebank, rather than be concerned about the structure of Timebanks. Yes, they are top-down because they need to be. They are there to serve deprived areas, where there are insufficient resources and initiatives to run LETS, and a higher proportion of vulnerable individuals who require the support of professionally trained staff. The strength of LETS is that it does not need to be funded because it is self-reliant, and whereas removal of funding will destroy a Timebank, it will not destroy a LETS scheme. In due course if Timebanks do not deliver adequately on their promises, the self-reliance of LETS may well come to be better valued than it is at present, so in my opinion we should have friendly relationships with Timebanks and work in co-operation with them where possible, but make sure that we do not build in over-reliance on them. We should strive to make our operations efficient and cost-effective and think abouthow we can reach out more into deprived communities, giving individuals the opportunity to participate in LETS if they have the initiative to do so.

As far as co-operative structures are concerned (in the heading, but not apparently discussed) LETS are much more likely to be able to adopt this structure as a social enterprise than are Timebanks, which gives more opportunity for innovation and independence.


TOP


5. Image and publicity
We brainstormed a number of ideas for developing publicity both ideas for local groups and possible regional and national initiatives.

- Leaflet templates help local groups generate high quality publicity
- see Scottish LETS.
- Free info packs (LETSlink UK have had to charge for them previously)
- Press releases and photo opportunities
- Publicity via other organisations, eg NEF
- Listings in phone books
- Phone Co-op 0845 numbers can get free entries
- Community websites can be linked to your group's website
- Green Events South Devon
- Free What's On listings
- BGG news, radio, and www
- Use local shop fronts, eg community services, wholefood shops, Credit Union collection points, Colleges and Schools, Libraries
- Get the right Œtags‚ on your website so as to be visible to search engines (NB seven out of 10 new members in one SW LETS group joined via the net)
- Social Economy lists
- Community Councils
- Local Agenda 21

Another excellent list. LETSlink UK is very constrained in what it can provide at present but I would certainly prioritise the Phone Co-op based on a LETSlink UK account, and will be pursuing this in the near future. As mentioned before, we have already made progress on the national website and the framework is in place to link to local schemes when we can find them and get them also to communicate back to and link with us. As indicated here most publicity opportunities are local. I think LETSlink UK could provide templates for paper documents and web-pages and can also offer production services and web-addresses but would keep this kind of thing optional so as not to encroach on local talent and creativity. This should be a two-way and a networking process ie local LETS can also do a great deal to support neighbouring schemes. I think the more we can do to mainstream LETS so nobody can say they have not heard of it, the better. This means not just publicising the scheme itself, but people who have businesses which advertise in local media can mention that they are members of the scheme. A neat way of doing this is instead of putting "concs" to put £/talents/celts, ie mentioning the currencies you are prepared to trade in.

6. Fundraising
What would we fundraise for? We agreed that this was not so much of an issue for local groups though they might have specific projects or relaunches that could get one-off funding eg from Co-op Community Dividend. We looked more at the possibility of fundraising at a regional level for a new SW LETS federation a democratic body accountable to local groups.

Things that were suggested included: Shared publishing resources - Posters, displays, leaflets - CELT production - ŒBroker‚ for labour - Training IT for LETS, ideas for development - Regional contact point - Shared transport - Travel expenses for meetings -SW LETS gathering - Mobile development worker - County meetings - Reports, publications, research - Courses in skills shortage areas - Feasibility studies for LETS businesses - Networking with agencies, NGOs - NVQ3 Enterprise for Everyone (a new qualification that could be gained while being a member of a core group) - Many of these are one off, project funding which wouldn't make us - dependent. However, we should be aware that ongoing expenses can leave us - vulnerable to cuts in core funding. Maybe these should be seen as - transitional, helping us to get to a position where self reliance is - possible; or possibly they will enable us to continually move up to - increasingly reliable sources of funding.

In any event, there was general agreement that some kind of legal structure for SW LETS was necessary, and that it should have a democratic / co-operative structure open to both individuals and groups. A company limited by guarantee is cheap, tried and tested; another possibility is the new limited liability partnership, or the proposed community interest company. We agreed that we should consult widely, explain why this step is desirable and look at possible rules and structures. In order for a large number of SW LETS groups and members to sign up, we need to show it will deliver tangible benefits.

The approach to be taken to fundraising was left open for the time being. It might involve a volunteer fundraiser, a paid fundraiser, a fundraiser on commission, or a bid in partnership with other organisation where they do most of the work. Some kind of partnership will almost certainly add to the effectiveness of the bid (partners might include the Co-op Group, SW Co-op and Mutual Council, Co-op Support Organisations, Local Authorities and others). We considered gaining charitable status in order to benfit from gift aid, and it was felt that it probably was not appropriate at this stage. Wealthy benefactors were also suggested as a possible source, but no one knew any.

We at LETSlink UK have been giving a great deal of thought to funding in recent monthsl. Overall, my feeling there is currently a lack of energy for formal structures and if an informal network can deliver the goods then people should not seek to formalise things as it can often dry up the crativity of willing individuals. I am also concerned at this point in time when energy is relatively low about putting energy into hardening up the structure of regional networks when LETSlink UK is very under-resourced and lacks proper representation from the regions. There is a danger in regional organisations competing for members with LETSink UK. The fact that individuals are well-served by informal local networks does not prevent them from taking out membership of LETSlink UK which can provide other services more efficiently centrally.

LETSlink UK began as a small enterprise and when it did become a Company Limited by Guarantee with Charitable Aims in order to get funding from the (then) Lottery Fund, now Community Fund, which it did between 1979 and 1999 it chose trustees who were well-connected, eg from Local Authorities, the Co-operative Party, the Academic Research community, and as previously mentioned, the New Economics Foundation. In practice the trustees appeared not committed to LETSlink as an organisation, or indeed to LETS as a model, and they failed to resource it adequately to meet the requirements of its growing membership. What was also missing was regional representation to ensure that LETSlink remained in touch with the local groups - I thought I was appointed member appointed as representating a region but perhaps I was the token woman. The reasons why regional representation did not happen are quite complex - I believe amongst them was a fear that individual consultants who were somehow in competition with LETSlink UK and who were not felt to represent the grass-roots movement would somehow get themselves elected - and also that the company structure which meant that the founder became an employee of the organisation exacerbated this feeling of vulnerability. But whatever the reasons then, I believe that there is now an opportunity for us to consider making the national organisation representative of the regions, rather than those regions themselves becoming competitive with it.

We have thought hard about making LETSlink UK itself into a co-operative possibly with an LLP structure, and it may be that the working "core-group" could become a co-operative consultancy with that kind of structure enabling a team of experienced and talented individuals to work at it part-time. Meanwhile LETSlink UK as an organisation - ie the national network - does have a fundable structure and this should in my opinion be kept intact. We have discussed funding most successfully so far with Co-operative Action. The feedback they gave us was that we must (a) appoint a strong set of trustees including individuals who have good relevant track-records, and (b) we must show we are who we say we are, ie demonstrate that we are acknowledged as the national organisation by recruiting paid-up members amongs the LETS groups. Having a representative structure will inspire confidence amongst local groups that their needs can be met nationally as well as regionally, and strong local networks can each decide on their own mechanism for producing a representative.

As a national organisation we do, I believe fulfil the criteria for a charitable organisation as we are educating the public and working for the relief of poverty, but we have not so far had the resources to apply for charitable status. At the same time we could, if supported by new input from able trustees, produce a coherent strategy for development and funding nationally and regionally. With this in mind I have taken care to set up the regional links on the website demonstrating the local government regions. Southwest already conforms to the official region, and other groups can be encourage to do so in some cases using larger regional groupings as a wider network as shown on the website. I would like this meeting to give consideration to these points.

7. Future events

Our next meeting will be on Saturday 20th September, also at the Palace Gate Centre in Exeter (NB the final cost for the room was £26 slightly higher than expected). Alex Lawrie to book premises. We need to network to ensure a good attendance: please ensure that this appears in LETS newsletters everywhere!
AMENDED to Southwest LETS to be held at the offices of Upstart at Flax Drayton near South Peterton on Sat October 11th 2003
Bristol are offering to host a SW gathering in spring / summer 2004. This was broadly supported by the meeting, though it was noted that we were a far from representative group. There may also be a national camp next year in the SW; LETSlink UK are looking into options.

ORIGINAL MINUTES written by Alex Laurie and circulated on the Southwest email list on Wednesday 2nd July 2003. NOTES added 10th October 2003 and a reference to this web-page circulated via the southwest email list on that date.

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