Money, money, money: it’s hard to imagine a time before it existed. It rules our times, sways governments, makes or breaks national and international systems. But before money, people traded and bartered over products, possessions, knowledge and even time. In the changing world of today, we are seeing shifts of consciousness about the environment, education, society, and also money itself. There is a move towards bypassing the current financial system and going back to the times of bartering or exchanging, or even trying to live without money altogether. Here in Barcelona, there are a number of important movements taking place, including the blossoming of a sophisticated system of time banks.
Informal timesharing or swapping systems have been in operation for eons, but the first official Barcelona time bank (banc del temps), that’s to say an organised system based on a ‘proper’ banking model—complete with professional accounting, individual current accounts, cheques and currency (in the form of time)—was created in 1998. Elvira Méndez, a doctor and collaborator with what is now one of the most important social support associations in Barcelona, Salut i Família, was inspired by a women’s collective in Italy. She brought back their ideas and slogan ‘Women change city life’. And they did. In 1998, in Guinardó, the first time bank of Barcelona was set up by a group of women and that set the ball rolling. Now, Barcelona has nine time banks organised by Salut i Família (along with a number of informal set-ups), and nine more are on the cards to open in the near future. Sant Cugat, Badalona and Sant Joan Despí are amongst the places outside the city with their own bancs del temps.
So what exactly is a time bank, and how does it work? Josefina Altés, the Spanish Time Bank Network Coordinator and a member of Salut i Família, described them as “A time exchange project where members offer knowledge, skills or services. The shared currency is time, and each hour of a person’s time is worth the same whatever they are offering, so it’s a system based on total equality. Equality is basic to the project: all races, all professions, all ages are welcome and considered equal. The project is aimed at everyone.”
Each time bank is an expression of its members and the services they offer, so it ends up reflecting the cultural identity of the neighbourhood in which it is based. This, of course, is something in constant motion; time banks are flexible, ever changing, a work in progress and very much alive. They also offer varied extra services and events, from debate sessions to group outings and workshops on subjects including Reiki and sewing. As Altés puts it, “It’s about bringing people together. These days, we live fractionalised lives, many people in a building coming and going, not knowing each other. Time banks help us to get to know our neighbours, and create support networks.” It’s important to build familiarity within the system, as the more the members know each other, the more likely they are to use it. Amparo Coscolla, a user of the Banc del Temps de Sant Martí backs up this point: “It depends on the services you want, but, for example, if it’s something like babysitting, you want to know the person.”
Altés says the last few years have seen “incredible” growth in this sector. She puts it down to two main reasons; firstly, because of all the groundwork done in the past 10 years, and secondly, the changing times. “A new philosophy is emerging, a stirring of the consciousness. For example, before, no one wanted to wear second-hand clothes; it was seen as something you had to do if you were really poor. People wanted new things, and if from a well-known brand, even better. Now, mercats d’intercanvi [exchange markets] are all over the place, many of them connected with time bank communities. It’s now accepted and even fashionable to wear second-hand clothes; it’s a lifestyle statement, an expression of an alternative, greener, more conscious movement, and of different economic models. The success of the time bank model is connected to all these types of changes happening in our society, from organic urban vegetable patches, to cooperatives of food or health. It’s a new philosophy of life.”
With this refreshingly positive outlook, it’s hard to think of a reason not to head down to your local banc del temps and open an account. It’s easy—go to your local time bank and fill in a form detailing three or four services you can offer, for example, language classes, babysitting, odd jobs, accompanying older people, or IT skills. You will then have an interview, after which you can start using your account right away with a cheque system. If no one wants what you are offering, you can pay back the bank by helping out with community projects, or giving talks or workshops on something you know about.
So what’s the future of these enterprises? The sky really is the limit. Salut i Família are working on a project that trains public schoolteachers in the philosophy and administration of time banks, so they can operate them within their classes, allowing skilled people to come in and share knowledge with the children in workshops and talks. Another current project is working with the long-term unemployed to boost self esteem, improve CVs and motivate them. With the advent of new technology, time banks are more flexible than ever before, connecting at a national as well as international level, facilitating the growth of sophisticated online exchange systems, be it for time or for commodities like flat swapping or carpooling; Salut i Família already organises projects with Italian and Portuguese groups and there are similar associations in Britain, Germany, France, the US and Chile. “There is just so much to work on,” says Altés. Now all we need to do is find the time.
Further reading and related projects
Site dedicated to all emerging alternatives to money: www.vivirsinempleo.org
The RES, Catalunya’s first official alternative currency. www.res.be/cat
Hitching/carpooling scheme: www.fesedit.cat
Barcelona freecycle—free exchange system created to help recycle goods by passing unwanted items onto people who need them: http://groups.freecycle.org/Barcelona-Freecycle/description
Bookcrossing in Spain—leave books you’ve read around for other bibliophiles to discover and enjoy: www.bookcrossing-spain.com
Couchsurfing—save on hotel bills by sleeping on a friendly stranger’s sofa or just discover new places with the help of a local: www.couchsurfing.org
BARCELONA’S CURRENT TIME BANKS, RUN BY SALUT I FAMILIA (www.bdtonline.org)
- Bon Pastor (Sant Andreu): Centre Cívic Bon Pastor, Passeig Enric Sanchís s/n, http://bonpastor.bdtonline.org
- Gràcia: Plaça del Nord 7-10, http://gracia.bdtonline.org
- Raval: Sant Pau 82, http://raval.bdtonline.org
- Barceloneta: Conreria 1-9, http://barceloneta.bdtonline.org
- Sant Martí: Gran Via 837, www.bancdeltempsdesantmarti.org
- Sarrià-Sant Gervasi: Jaume Piquet 23
- Can Baró (Horta-Guinardó): Josep Serrano 59-71
- Trinitat Vella (Sant Andreu): Centre Cívic Trinitat Vella, Foradada 36-38, http://trinitatvella.bdtonline.org
- Sagrada Familia: Espai 210, Padilla 210 baixos, http://bdtsagradafamilia.blogspot.com
Salut i Família: www.saludyfamilia.es