Time credits harness the ‘renewable energy’ of people

It’s not only banks or governments that have the power to create money. The rise of currencies such as the Brixton and Bristol Pounds, or Bitcoin, show us this. The aim is always to connect different kinds of supply – products or services – with unmet needs.

Our currency, called Spice Time Credits, is based on time. For every hour a person gives to a service or organisation they earn one printed time credit. They can then spend that on an equivalent hour’s activity in that organisation or at participating voluntary sector partners, private businesses or leisure centres. We count local theatres and large venues such as Blackpool Tower and the Millennium Centre in Cardiff among our spend network of over 700 venues.

We have printed almost half a million time credits across our 33 projects in England and Wales. Spice Time Credits have been used by over 25,000 people and over 1,500 organisations – and the currency is growing fast.

Our research has shown how this alternative currency, used by councils, the NHS and the voluntary sector, is having a significant impact on improving the quality of people’s lives, increasing social connections and helping to tackle inequality. It’s also helping organisations build capacity and be more efficient and sustainable.

In our latest piece of research, called Positive Change in Challenging Times: How Spice Time Credits are creating system change, we show how time credits are changing the face of public services and communities, putting communities in control and re-orientating how services are planned and delivered.

Working with independent evaluators Apteligen, surveying over 1,000 volunteers and organisations, we’ve learned that:

  • 77% said that time credits have had a positive impact on their lives
  • 66% said they know more about local support and services available to them
  • 60% feel healthier since earning time credits
  • 30% report needing to see the doctor less
  • 58% have said their level of social contact has increased as a result of time credits
  • 43% are new to regularly giving time

Time credits help us to value everyone’s contribution and rekindle people’s confidence in their agency and power. This is at the heart of our approach. We seek to tackle inequality, promote empowered communities and renewed citizenship based on public services and people working hand in hand.

In our report Geoff Mulgan, chief executive of Nesta, talks about how many of society’s social ills have their roots in a ‘kind of unnecessary uselessness, because people come to internalise the idea that the system’s implicit message is that they have nothing valuable to offer’.

Geoff’s words also echo those of Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, in its Five Year Forward View, which talks about harnessing the ‘renewable energy’ of patients and communities. We cannot continue to treat people as passive, but rather need to work alongside people and explore their assets and potential, not only to support themselves but also to become confident enablers within their wider networks and communities.

Every hour earned and spent with time credits becomes an expression of people’s desire to improve their community and make a better life for themselves and those they care about. The model gives individuals agency and in our experience they grab it with gusto.

As one lady in Cambridgeshire told us: ‘It’s for my self-belief. And it’s a role model for my kids. I don’t want my kids to think that “oh mommy just sits at home all day”. I don’t feel that’s a good role model for them.’

This is true renewable energy.


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