UK LETS and Complementary Currencies
Development Agency


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"Outreach" can mean a number of different things, depending what stage you are at with your project. In a mature group it may well be the responsibility of a person called "Outreach Officer", in which case it might mean keeping tabs on things to do with the Local Council, or the local Voluntary Service organisation, making sure the group is listed in the right places, and attending meetings of voluntary organisations. It could include making sure you have a stall at every Green Fair or holistic exhibition that occurs on your patch. Or it might involve getting in touch systematically with individual organisations, such as elderly homes, mother and toddler groups, after school clubs, and nowadays climate change or transition town groups, and making sure that membership of your group is made available to them.

If you are into networking this lists goes on and on. Outreach is essential, because a group that sits in its comfort zone and doesn't make an effort to attract new members becomes a cosy clique where "people who are not like us" get the impression that they are not welcome. The in-group become friendly, people start bartering or just doing favours and in due course the system is not needed by them, the group becomes hard to find, and the process of decline begins.

"Going Round the Houses"

A straightforward way of keeping things moving in any scheme is to "go round the houses" with meetings, so that the work of hosting is shared, and if the geographical spread of these meetings is wide, members in different areaas all have a chance to meet up when the location is near them. It can be the role of someone on the core group to invite ordinary members host such meetings, and a small standard fee in local currency can be offered for the service of hosting them. The full details of such meetings can be published to members, or just the phone number of the contact, if people don't want to give out their addresses to strangers. Such meetings are an ideal way for new members to join the scheme, as they get a feel for how it works by meeting people who are already members.

These meetings work well if some modest ritual is involved, for example, refreshments, followed by an introductory go-round, through which people introduce themselves, talk about what they have gained in the scheme, and mention their current offers, and particular wants. They might also bring along craftwork or second-hand items to sell. Some groups make the process more elaborate by proper catering, or running it as a bring and buy or an auction in a community centre, but it can work just as well in a domestic setting. There can also be an informal "show and tell" presentation, or in public venues, a proper lecture designed to attract members of the general public, on a topic related to the green economic or holistic agenda.

If members are going to be able to enrol at such meetings, either the host will need to know the routine, or someone from the core-group will perform that task - it all depends on the distances involved, and the stage of development of the group. Enrolment will involve receiving information about how the system works, and signing an agreement to the rules. This may be done by means of paper documents, or online, depending on how the system of that group works. It will also involve paying whatever subscription is required, if any. If the local host enrols new members, they will have agreed formally with whoever is responsible on the core group, ie the administrator, membership secretary, or treasurer, how the procedure is to be carried out. A small standard fee for each enrolment may also be agreed.

"Branching Out "

One type of outreach if the group covers a wide geographical area is "branching out". With the typical small town LETS, where the meetings are always held round the same kitchen table, people who live in outlying towns or villages are excluded, except for a few high-fliers who enjoy meetings and will travel from some distance to attend them. However, this travelling may takes up their available energy; the meetings may be supportive for these individuals, but do not enable the group as a whole to achieve geographical spread. The good news is that web-based systems allow much of the administration and communication that had to be done at physical meetings to be done online or by email, so that people can be part of the same network, but work at some distance to each other.

We are particularly keen to support this type of geographical networking. It may be sustainable over a period of time, for example in a county-wide network. Having a major network strengthens the value of the currency because of the richer variety of offers available on the system for those who wish to travel. At the same time local trading is supported when the system enables people to find those local to them, and this is where the majority of trading typically occurs.

In time, this way of running local meetings could evolve into a way of supporting new start-ups, as a sort of "budding off". If numbers are moderate, say, up to a few hundred members, a widely spread network may be sustainable on one level, but if the popularity of the scheme means that numbers go up to a thousand or more, there might come a time eventually when groups need to bud off and form a separate network. In this casse, accounts set up in the original system can be maintained for the occasional distance trade, so individuals may have a local and/or wider account, to support their habitual patterns of trading.

"Mixing Business with Pleasure"

One issue that has come to our attention in contacts with local groups is the need to separate out management of the group from social meetings. In some cases it might work for bits of light-weight business to be conducted at a social meeting, for example the co-signing of cheques, or agreeing the next social meeting, or finding out who will run a stall at the next fair, or for the core group to meet beforehand then other members arise so that it evolves into a social. However, in general we recommend that socials are a different type of meeting from core-group meetings.

One group we know of holds what they call an "open forum" as the only way for members to engage, and this constantly exposes them to discussion on organisational issues. Members can always have an input on how the scheme is run by submitting agenda items by email and/or attending meetings which are designated as core group meetings, but not having a vote. However, where contentious issues are being discussed, core-groups may need a private space for debate to take place between them, or simply for work to be done. In general the model we recommend is that core-groups conduct their business either by physical meetings or email discussion in whatever way suits them from one AGM to another, without an over-emphasis on participation by members. Between AGMs the pre-rogative of ongoing decision-making should be the preserve of those who are doing the essential work of running the scheme.

"Evolving from Where You Are"

In a county where there are existing mature groups, and a new group is needed in an area where there is a gap, we would start that group individually with an independent web-based system. Whilst that is happening neighbouring groups might recognise the value of networking and agree to form an umbrella group to connect up the individual groups, so a two-tier system evolves from the ground up. However, if there are no functioning groups in the area, it makes sense to build in a network of local contacts at a very early stage, so that anyone looking to join in that county can be welcomed in even though there might be only a handful of people near them. Once they have joined, they can outreach amongst people they know near to them and start building up numbers locally without having to develop a separate infrastructure.

The instinct of many individuals wanting to start a group is to join their nearest group in order to learn the ropes, but then they get involved and do know how, or more likely they do not get support, for going to the next stage of branching out, so the group gets stuck with a strong root and very weak outer tendrills. If this has happened a conscious effort needs to be made to support stronger growth at the extremities.

"Supporting the Development of Local Groups"

We want to support groups to grow and develop in a healthy way, so that they can continue to meet the needs of the community at large. Organisers need to be aware of how they are managing their groups, and when it's hard to know what to do because of emotional ties and uncertainty, it may help to seek outside support. We recognise that for many individuals, the mutual support and friendship that arise from membership of a LETS is the ultimate goal, whilst for others the economic value of trading is the primary need, and this factor may become the key issue in a serious economic downturn. A vibrant LETS group has an intricate chemistry between emotional, social and economic factors, which needs to be consciously nourished.

We are looking to make more expertise available locally, so anyone needing support in this area or would like to become involved in supporting local groups, please get in touch with admin@letslinkuk.net.

Draft as at 18/6/2009

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