"Take a Break" National Newsmagazine for Women,
May 21 1998 two full page spread
by Julie Akhurst

DEATH TO MONEY (O is skull and crossbones)

Picture: British notes and West Bowling LETS Check book.

As Shirley discovered, most troubles boiled down to one thing: cash.
You never had enough! Then someone showed her how to return to the
days before it was invented.

Picture Caption: Glen and Shirley at the market
     All around her men were shouting prices, stamping down cardboard
boxes, chucking buckets of water between stalls. It was the usual
bedlam at St. James's wholesale market and it was only 7am.
Shutting her ears to the beep-beep of a reversing lorry, Shirley Quinn
picked her way carefully, using her stick to push a clump of squashed
tomatoes out of her path.
     "All right, Glen, love?" she called over her shoulder.
     "Er, fine, Shirley," said her friend Glen Mills, who was
struggling along behind her with a mountain of boxes and bags. "Are we
nearly finished?"
     "Just Winnie's spring onions to fetch, then we head off home,"
said Shirley.
     The fruit and veg man was ready for them, spring onions in hand.
     "Got your apples yet, Shirley?" he asked. "Only I've saved some
for you. Ten pence each and I'll knock 50p off these carrots..."
     "Bless you," said Shirley, "but that still a bit dear."
     "Oh, 75p then - my final offer."
     "Done," said Shirley.
     Everything bought, she and Glen set off home. They spend the next
two hours at her kitchen table, pot of tea at one elbow, pile of old
carrier bags at the other, bagging and pricing. A stranger might have
thought it was another country. Forget the Euro or the dollar. Shirley
had her own currency, the Park. On one bag of mixed veg she wrote #2 +
1 Park; on some grapes and bananas she wrote #1.49 + 1 Park. It wasn't
a foreign currency but part of a new bartering system.
     Normally people charged money for mending a fence, fixing a leaky
tap, digging the garden or babysitting. But Shirley and Glen and the
65 other members of their group swapped skills instead. They'd
invented their own credit system - Parks. Each Park was worth about 1
     Shirley, 58, had been in and out of hospital for years with
hernia operations. Often she couldn't sweep her own front path or even
bake a batch of buns when her grandchildren were coming for tea. Under
the new system, she could pay her neighbours to help her, using Parks.
Delivering their half-price fruit and veg was her way of balancing the
Picture Caption: Shirley delivers the goods to Winnie
     As Glen loaded the last tray of bagged produce into his car,
Shirley climbed into the passenger seat beside him and they set off on
their deliveries in West Bowling, Bradford, Yorkshire.
     Everybody she visited found it hard to get out for one reason or
another. Everyone had a story to tell.
     First call was Winnie Powell, a widow, whose knees were too bad
to get her to the shops most days.
     "Ooh, those spring onions look lovely, Shirley," she said.
"They're like something out of a magazine. You should see what passes
for a spring onion down at our corner shop! What do I owe you?
     "Two quid for the lot plus one Park for delivery," said Shirley.
"I'll bring round my plants later in the week."
     Winnie was as good as Alan Titchmarsh with a sick plant - that
was her special skill.

Picture Caption: Glen and Shirley stop off at June's
     June Mackay was next, a mum bringing up three children on her
own. She was tied to the house most of the day, with no car.
     "Come in for a quick cup of tea, Shirley," June said as she
hefted her potatoes into the kitchen.
     Shirley shook her head. "Sorry, love, I must get on. How are your
     "Much better," said June. "How's your tummy?"

Picture Caption: Swapping skills, June and Shirley
     They'd met a couple of months earlier when they were both at St.
Luke's Hospital. Shirley had been in for another hernia. June was
getting her varicose veins done and feeling pretty miserable.
     "Join our system," Shirley said, trying to cheer her up. "You
must have some special skill you can swap. Oh go on -- everybody had."
     June, 39, thought about it and remembered how good she'd been
with figures at school. Now she was teaching sums to children as her
     Meanwhile, she was checking out piano teachers who could give
lessons to her girls, Catherine, six, and Marie, four. Being so
strapped for cash, she believed she'd never be able to afford such a
thing. But now she was banking credits.
     "You're flagging, Glen," Shirley said as they climbed back into
the car for their next call to the 25 or so neighbours on their list.
     "Give us a break," muttered Glen. "We haven't all got your
     Last on the list were Christine and Jack Fowley.
     "I'm right glad to see you," Christine greeted them. "I need you
to check this wool I've bought. Cup of tea?"
     "Ok, then," said Shirley. "Seeing as you're the last last of the
     Christine, 54, had bad arthritis and her husband Jack, 67, had a
heart pacemaker. Neither of them could do much lifting or carrying.
What Christine was good at was knitting intricate baby cardigans. Now
she was making one for Shirley to give to a friend.
     Glen dropped Shirley back at her house in Summerlands Grove.
     "Do you know," Shirley said to him, "I think we'll have to
increase our order next time. Can you get here a bit earlier?"
     "Crikey," said Glen. "You mean earlier than 6:30a.? Oh all right.
Shall we say 6am?"
     Shirley smiled. Somehow you didn't say no to Shirley.

     It's known as LETS - local exchange and trading system. And it is
beginning to spread like wildfire. By bartering your skills and
services, you save money - and make friends.
     Mandy Winkworth of the national organization LETS Connect told
Take a Break: "So many people have a bit of a cash shortage - so this
way we make our own."
     Each community has its own name for their currency. It's known as
Bobbins in Manchester, Hearts in Birmingham, Olivers in Bath and
Stones in Folkestone.
     Mandy says: "Everything you can imagine paying for is offered.
The most common skills are babysitting, typing, catering, plumbing,
giving lifts, gardening and lending out tools to each other. They are
friends and neighbours. They don't dare do a bad job or word will get
     For the first time, many people are being paid for things they've
done all their lives for free.
     - Housebound people can stay at home waiting to accept parcels
for those who are out.
     - The older members of the system are on hand to read stories to
childen and to babysit.
     - People at home water plants for those who are away on holiday.
     Founder of the Bradford LETS, Tariq Shabbeer says: "By bartering
this way you can save your cash. And if you are seeking work, you keep
busy and build self-esteem without losing your benefits."
     If you'd like to find out more about LETS in your area - or set
up your own system, then ring Mandy Winkworth at LETS Connect (tel
01952 590687) for advice. Or you can write to her at 12 Leasowe Green,
Lightmore Villagte, Telford, Shropshire, tf4 3qx.

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