In 2011 the Localism Act made Somersham Parish Council, in rural Cambridgeshire, look at how they could develop community resilience using a more holistic approach. Driven by the Chair, Steve Criswell and Parish Clerk, Penny Bryant the Council set about creating a Community Plan, sending local residents out with cameras and questionnaires to get their view on village life. As a result, a Coordinator was employed and Somersham Time Bank was born that same year.
Timebanking is an exciting way for local people to come together and help each other by exchanging knowledge, help and skills. In a Timebank everyone’s time is equal. Regardless of the skills or expertise being exchanged, one hour equals one hour. The Timebank is fully inclusive, encouraging everyone to get involved! The Coordinator matches people’s skills, arranges time exchanges and keep a record of all the members’ “banked” hours.
An exchange works by a member choosing to spend two hours of their time helping an elderly person to the local shops or hanging a mirror and in return spend those two hours on any services which other Timebank members are offering. By “banking” time individuals can feel confident to ask for help when they really need it.
Mary, 70, joined the Time Bank in its early days and was wonderful at helping other people out, rarely asking for anything for herself other than the odd bit of IT support. She had given over 70 hours to those in her own community. The tables turned, however, when she fell and broke her arm requiring surgery. She could ask other members to take her to hospital appointments, shopping and even to get her hair done enabling her to maintain her independence.
Social activities are a crucial part of timebanking and can dramatically reduce social isolation. Coffee mornings, walking groups, cookery workshops, knitting and crochet groups, social gardening are a few of the ways that members can get together and feel valued.
Albert was forced to give up his job due to his health and has been a member for 2 years; “I enjoy being a member of Timebank because it helps with my own self-esteem. Helping others in the local community with their requests gives me satisfaction in the knowledge that I have done something worthwhile. Also it’s nice to have a get together and meet other members at our social events.”
The Time Bank has grown over the past 5 years to become Somersham and Pidley Time Bank, linking with a neighbouring Parish Council of a smaller village who felt they were unable to sustain their own. There are over 150 individuals and 15 organisational members using the Time Bank as a way to connect.
Over time, the role of the Coordinator has changed and is no longer simply about organising exchanges, but is embedded in real community development, collaborating with other organisations working locally including the voluntary and public sector. The Coordinator, together with the Parish Council are currently looking at building a network to raise awareness and support for local people living with a variety of neurological conditions and depression.
A Time Bank is a positive way of developing communities: driving social change – they bring people together by providing a foundation for everyone to be equally involved in community activity. By encouraging new friendships and connections, Timebanks strengthen community bonds whilst reducing the pressure on overstretched services.