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Timebanking: Here’s how to get help and help others and it doesn’t cost a penny

Ever heard of timebanking? No neither had I, but the concept is so simple it’s genius.

In joining a timebank, people agree to take part in a system that involves earning and spending “time credits.” When they spend an hour on an activity that helps others, they receive one time credit. When they need help from others, they can use the time credits that they have accumulated.

What’s more, it’s gaining traction as the pandemic has pulled together communities and people feel inspired to both love and help their neighbour. It’s also proven to make people feel happier and healthier and we all need a bit of that.

The national charity and membership organisation supporting time banks and the development of timebanking programmes, Timebanking UK (TBUK), has reported a flurry of activity, with people seeking to get involved either by joining their local timebank or starting a new one.

A member in Woolmer Forest, Hants, earns time banking hours by leading a cycling group

Why timebanking is different

Timebanking is a way of sharing time with people in your community or workplace. It’s an easy way to do what you love, when you can – and get a little help when you need it, too. Timebanking is an asset-based approach, which means it revolves around what people can do, while supporting them with what they can’t do or don’t enjoy. Everyone can be part whatever their employment status, age, or level of mental or physical health – because timebanking works around you. It also connects neighbours who might not otherwise meet.

When you join a timebank, you connect with other members to offer your help, whether it’s with accounts, simple DIY or just a friendly, listening ear. In time banking, every skill, passion or interest is valued equally – one hour of time is always worth the same. That way, a person who needs a little help with household tasks, but doesn’t want to engage professional help or seek a statutory or medical referral, can simply log a request for help via their timebank.

The unique thing about timebanking as distinct from traditional volunteering is that it doesn’t label people as ‘those who help’ and ‘those who need help’ – in a time bank, every member can both give and receive time. That means that people who have been isolated, out of work, or suffering from ill health can rediscover their own skills and talents and develop a renewed sense of self-worth.

Lasting effects?

Picture 1: Fair Shares Gloucester is the UK’s oldest time bank

Research has shown that, although around half of people think the pandemic has had a positive impact on community spirit, 60% believe the pandemic has had a negative effect on their mental health.

TBUK CEO Sarah Bird has been involved in the time banking movement since 2005, when she began running one in Bath. She says: “The pandemic has changed our society in so many ways. Many of these are negative – but we have also seen powerful stories of people connecting with others for the first time; of communities pulling together to make sure no one is left alone. There’s an appetite for continuing that connection – but how do you stay connected when you no longer need someone to go to the chemist or shop for you?

“Timebanking is an ideal way to keep that community spirit going beyond periods of acute need – because it creates friendships and relationships, connecting members all year round, in good times and bad.”

Whether you enjoy cooking, DIY, playing cards, or simply listening, joining a time bank gives you a reason to connect and share time with others. Members realise their knowledge and skills are of value – and they feel more involved in their community, too.

Timebanking in numbers

According to Timebanking UK’s Annual Report, around 18,000 people are currently taking part, with 60% of those being over 60. Earlier this year, Woolmer Forest Time bank in Hampshire recorded the six millionth timebanking hour since records began.

A typical timebank reported the following statistics for people who had been members for six months:

85% said they were meeting more people

80% felt more part of the community

74% had made new friends

74% experienced a lift in mood or reduced depression

69% felt they could ask for or receive more help

66% experienced reduced loneliness

60% said their quality of life, health and wellbeing had improved

Independent research shows that time banking attracts proportionally more people from lower socio-economic groups, people receiving benefits, and retired and disabled people than are represented in the general population – in short, time banking appeals to people who may not want to become involved in ‘traditional’ volunteering.

“Because an hour is equally valuable and everybody has something to give, time banking can help each and every person to feel engaged and valued – and it’s a highly effective tool for alleviating loneliness,” says Sarah Bird. “Timebanking can bridge divides of age, education, income, ethnicity, culture, class, gender — because it defines people by what they enjoy doing for others.”

Main pic: @neonbrandImages and captions

Diane Cooke
Diane Cooke is a three times award-winning journalist who has worked for UK national/regional newspapers, magazines and websites.

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