The Time Bank
Sadly not some Doctor Who-related time travelling treat, but happily a system in which communities can offer help and volunteer whatever skills they may have, and receive help in return.
No, this is NOT David Cameron’s Big Society. No volunteer can offer skills which impinge on trade or essential help such as counselling, nursing, plumbing, electrical work (unless it is wiring a plug or general DIY – that is a very popular Time Bank gift people can offer) or installation of white goods – if it requires professional indemnity insurance, it cannot be offered!
What it seems the time bank will do, and has been proven to do in the Rushey Green Time Bank scheme which has been successfully operating as a charity for ten years now (link here to check it out – http://www.rgtb.org.uk), is build communities, create living environments where we know and support one another and help dispel the loneliness, fear and isolation that many people feel living in anonymous big cities or distant rural areas.
All well and good, you might say, but does it actually WORK? In a word, yes. I attended the inaugural time bank event for the Lewisham area at St. Laurence’s Church yesterday (9th April) hoping to offer basic advice on how to set up a Will (not the actual drafting – see above re professional indemnity and impinging on trade). I assumed I would perhaps see a couple of people, so took a book to read in case. I was there 5 hours and my offering proved quite popular; around 15 people helped (plus more given the amount of pre-prepared leaflets I gave out) so I ended up with a 5 minute break for lunch, a fantastic glow of pride in my soul, and a new set of acquaintances I very much hope to meet again at future time bank events.
The other skills that were offered at this event included juggling, sewing (oh how I wish I’d taken that pair of trousers I’ve had lying around for months…), DIY, bicycle repair, digital photography (help with cameras and online sites), hair plaiting, face painting, IT help, and advice regarding baking appliances and cooking. Children offered help to adults, and vice versa. There were musicians who played to entertain and gave lessons to interested folk of all ages. People moved between stalls, both volunteers and visitors. Anything you can offer is gratefully accepted.
The Time Bank is bigger than just site-specific events. It will eventually, one hopes, have a register of people who can offer anything – can you wire a plug? Good, some people will need help with that. Can you put in a light bulb? Great, you can help the old person down the road who finds it hard to balance on ladders, and they in turn can offer proof-reading or teach knitting or read to children, and the person who benefits from that can offer babysitting or teach someone how to cook a meal or help in the garden. You bank the volunteer time you earn by helping, and can spend it anywhere else, or you can donate it to someone who may need it and has been unable to volunteer much themselves.
It’s wonderful, it’s heart-warming, it’s voluntary and it is the ultimate in Pay It Forward. I, for one, am excited.
But no, Mr Cameron, it is not the Big Society. It is community.