Skills swap bringing Lewisham community closer together

Sharing time with TimeBanks. Pic: Olivia Alcock

Sharing time with TimeBanks. Pic: Olivia Alcock

Many of us give money to charity but few of us give time. TimeBank UK aims to turn this inflexible attitude on its head. The voluntary scheme deals in an “alternative currency”, with the hope of bringing neighbourhood communities closer together even in the frantic capital city.

Simone Booth is the community hubs co-ordinator for the Lewisham Local Time Bank project: “Time banking is a skills swap programme. So for every hour a member volunteers to help someone, they can get an hour back. And it’s pretty much anything you can think of.”

As a giver of time, Booth explains that: “Every hour is equal.” The scheme’s mantra is that every person can be useful in some way. For some members this can mean an hour’s help with manual labour, while others choose to offer help with homework or cooking. One of the Lewisham hub’s first transactions involved one neighbour putting together another’s flat-pack wardrobe.

Booth’s first experience of time banking was when she moved house: “I’d left my packing to the last minute of course… through the Time Bank, four older ladies came over to help me. They just did things like wrap up dishes – no heavy lifting or anything strenuous, but it made such a difference to me. I couldn’t have gotten through the move without them and I’m still in contact with all of those people I have been involved with over the years.”

As of this year, members of her group can be found at the Waldron Health Centre in New Cross every Wednesday, serving in the café and offering information to passers-by. Their stall acts not only as a place to promote their causes but a vibrant social hub in a building which patients might not otherwise choose to visit through choice.

In the UK, health and safety laws rule out any voluntary help relating to gas and electricity: for instance only a qualified electrician can fit a boiler. Those who run the Lewisham Bank have chosen not to deal with childcare: “Because it can be quite a complicated issue, but other than that, anything goes!”

One popular skills resource used by members in Lewisham is will writing. Booth says: “There’s a lady who works for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. It’s what she does for her day job, but she likes helping people and being part of the community.”

And it’s not just those with qualifications or DIY skills who can contribute. Students and younger members of the community have offered help with organising sports events for local children, as well as a community barbeque. Even the simple act of visiting an elderly member or helping with ironing can be greatly appreciated.

Booth explains that: “The idea of having a Time Bank membership means that you have more people to rely on who can offer skills and support. Most of it happens through word of mouth, so people come into places like the café here at the clinic- it’s an opportunity to meet, chat and get to know each other.”

Having several time banks in each London borough means that the groups stay small and promote a sense of local community, something Booth has experienced first hand: “It takes out the transport issues. It’s difficult to say exactly how many people are involved because there are varying levels of involvement, but people are bumping into each other in New Cross and bonding over their time spent together.”

For Booth, one of the best things about Time Banking is its flexibility: “I have always worked full time on top of this. In fact, I joined because I felt like work was all I had. I’d go to work, I’d go home, I’d watch Eastenders and I’d go to bed- I didn’t feel like I had anything else. I am from a massive family who are always there, but I wanted something that was just mine Time Bank gave that to me- it was my special thing.”

To find out more or speak to somebody about becoming involved with Time Bank UK, email or visit Simone and her team at the Waldron Health Centre, New Cross.


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