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Community currency keeps the dollars local

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Community

Baroon Dollar

The newly created Baroon dollar, a form of community currency for Queensland's Sunshine Coast Hinterland.

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At a time when domestic and global economies are suffering a downturn, it might feel like the man on the street has little or no control over the situation. But what if we started to think outside of the conventional money box?

A growing number of social entrepreneurs are doing just that by introducing community currencies into their neighbourhoods. Essentially a form of voucher system, they offer a complementary alternative to established legal tender, but one with a deep-rooted sense of community spirit.

By championing regional business and production, they strive to keep money flowing in the local economy, which also reaps environmental benefits by keeping food miles to a minimum.

With such schemes already enjoying success in parts of the UK, Germany and North America, Australia is about to try out its own socio-economic experiment with the launch of the Baroon Dollar ($B) across the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.

"It's a playful response to the recession," said Darren Mitchell, a local educator in the town of Maleny (pop. 3000) and 'Currency Architect' of the initiative. "We're creating a new story about money and how we can take ownership of it."

Working in partnership with Sustainable Maleny, a 400-strong community action group, Mitchell and his team have set up the Australian Institute for Community Currencies (AICC), which has already attracted around 100 members from across the country. They hope their efforts will encourage other Australian communities to follow suit; however their own influences came from much farther afield.

"Our core inspiration was the Lewes Pound in England," said Mitchell. "It had a vitality and freshness about it and there was genuine excitement in the community."

The Lewes Pound has proved itself to be a worthy model since its launch in September 2008 in the small town of Lewes near Brighton. Around 130 local retailers accept the currency, with some £31,000 ($A61,500) now in circulation. In July comes phase two, with well over 100,000 Lewes Pounds ($A199,000) entering the local economy.

"It's certainly very cheering in these gloomy times," said local shopkeeper Sue May, who runs May's General Store. "It creates a greater sense of customer loyalty and it keeps the wealth within Lewes. I use it in shops myself, a couple of my suppliers accept them and some of my staff take them as part of their salary."

In the UK, it's not just rural communities embracing the concept. In September 2009, Brixton in central London will become the first urban area in the UK to launch its own currency, the Brixton Pound.

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