Viv Chamberlin-Kidd, member of steering committee of Fair Shares for Westfield, York Time Bank was interviewed by Margaret Meredith from the Erasmus Mundus social economy project in August 2013.
MM: How long have you been a member of the Time bank?
VC-K: About a year. It’s only been going for a year and a bit. I saw an advert in the Local Link (magazine). I knew it was something I wanted to do
MM: What led you to join the Time Bank?
VC-K: What I liked about Time Bank was that an hour of my time is worth an hour of someone else’s and it doesn’t exclude people who don’t think they have any skills. Being someone who’s into IT and tutoring maths and tutoring and stuff, it’s really difficult to put a value on your skills. When you manage web pages you can do nothing for months and charge £25 a month for doing nothing. I’m really shocked that people still pay that, to be honest. That’s not even particularly expensive. But actually someone coming in and feeding my chickens when I’m away is just as important to me as maybe me doing a maths lesson for someone else, so I loved the idea that it’s making everybody equal, because I don’t understand why, say, somebody doing my floor is valued less than me writing a website. And what price would you put on being somebody’s running buddy? Time bank says if you go running for an hour you get an hour of somebody else’s time. It’s valuing people for being able to do anything.
MM: What is your role in the Time Bank?
VC-K: Well I’m on the steering group, so we have meetings occasionally about where it should be going, especially now that Tash (the time broker) isn’t going to have funding. I’ve also made the website. I help with the Facebook and Twitter accounts. Because, you see, my skills are very admin based. I can write down I can make websites, but how many people out there actually want a website? Being able to help with the running of the group - that’s sort of what I would do. I can get hours in the Time Bank for doing admin in the background because I‘ve got more time to do that than going out. I can do maths lessons. I’m doing some guitar lessons and stuff. But admin is the main thing I do, which could be really important if we become a self-running group without funding for a time broker. We could have some people run it for time credits.
So people could come and feed my chickens because I’m doing admin for the group or I could get somebody into paint the kitchen.
MM: How many members does York Time Bank have?
VC-K: About 60 people
MM: How is it different from traditional volunteering?
VC-K: Definitely with Time Bank more than volunteering you’ve got the social aspect that you do try and have the social gatherings every couple of months.
MM: Would you say that’s an explicit part?
VC-K: Yes because it’s very community based – hopefully you’re just walking distance from everyone else. You get to know local people, find out what’s going on.
MM: What kind of community problems does the time bank address?
VC-K: The big thing is the community - social isolation. This is about ‘let’s get everybody involved, let’s get everybody empowered’.
MM: So, its aim is not purely economic and exchange of services?
VC-K: Its explicit aim is very much about building community and also as one of the biggest things is trying to get those people who don’t feel they are a valued member of society to realise that actually they are and they do have something to give. Volunteering always seems to have … to be a hierarchical thing where I’ve got skills or more time than you have and I’m going to help you which is great because you need people to do that. But what I like about this is that everybody’s involved and everybody can do something important. So you’re actually potentially increasing the self-esteem of people who probably don’t think they are worth very much or valued at all as part of society. It has that really big potential. I understand that you need a degree to do some things. You could say that a doctor who has trained for seven years in going to put more value on their time than somebody who hasn’t, but what I like about Time bank is the level playing field of including everybody.
MM: How effective is the Time Bank in addressing these problems within the community?
VC-K: I think it’s working really well. I think what happens next is the important thing, with the withdrawal of funding for the time broker. But we’ve had some real successes. Have you seen the film they did? What Tash is trying to show is that it’s actually having a positive impact, and especially to see if we can quantify how it’s saving doctor’s time or mental health services, or social services This is really difficult to do. Can we actually quantify that and say ‘would you give us some money because we’re actually saving this amount of money?’ They did a film where they interviewed some people and there was one woman in particular who said ‘I’ve made a friend through this and it’s been really important’.
I think it’s really effective and much more than I’ve seen in other volunteering activities. Tash goes round and sees to people and they say ‘… well I can’t do anything.’ And she says, ‘Well let’s go through a list of things that people have asked for. Can you walk somebody’s dog? ‘Oh yeah, I could do that.’ ‘Can you go and help somebody do their shopping? Can you drive a car and pick somebody up, can you water someone’s plants? ‘Oh yeah, I can, I can do that’.
People don’t think they have anything to give and that’s so wrong because they do. I’d like somebody to come and do my garden because I don’t have time. There’ll be some people who can’t but then if you have someone who feels totally excluded from society but has a phone, what about somebody who will just phone them once a week and check they’re okay and understand what it feels like to be like that? You wouldn’t think that’s a skill or a talent, but it is actually really important. The Time Bank is successful in making people realise they have something to offer.
And a key element is the face to face encounter so it’s not about sending an email and saying ‘do you need help?’ it’s about going and chatting with them directly. Some people may be happy to do that via email. But I do think there’s a lot to be said for going and actually seeing someone face-to-face. That connection is important.
If people now are being friends who weren’t friends before, how much money is that saving? That person might have needed to get some counselling because they were lonely. How do you quantify that? They (funders) like to see the bottom line don’t they? How many people have stopped going to the doctor with ailments because they feel valued now?
MM: Is there any mechanism for noting the true value of the exchange? e.g. indications of improved self-esteem, employability?
VC-K: Tash does questionnaires every so often about how do people think it’s gone. ‘Are you feeling more connected to your community?’ So I think she’s got a pretty good baseline. People often forget to take their initial baseline and say ‘this has been really good but we can’t prove it’. She’s done at least one questionnaire: ‘How’s it improved this? How do you feel about that …?’
MM: Is there a natural balance between ‘deposits’ and ‘withdrawals’ of time? Some time banks report that people make more deposits of time than withdrawals.
VC-K: No, it does tend to be more withdrawals from people who are vulnerable. They were talking about trying to find a way where people want to volunteer because they like volunteering and they could credit for those who are more vulnerable than them. So you could maybe donate ¼ of your credits a year or maybe all of them. So the more vulnerable aren’t needing to worry about their balance. I think that would be quite helpful.
MM: What kind of interactions takes place among members?
VC-K: There’s been the band which has been a high point for me. I’m now friends with somebody who lives just round the corner and we see each other socially, and then you bump into people because if you’re into time bank you’re going to be into other things. So I know there are definitely some friendships that have been created. There’s someone round the corner who would say it’s been really important for her. She’s a single mum. It’s really difficult to find friends who are like-minded and you haven’t got the time to just keep going out and meeting people. If you’ve got somebody who’s in time bank you know straight off that they are somebody who cares about community, who’s bothered about what’s happening, who’s aware that money isn’t the be all and end all. It’s sort of filtered for you already, so you don’t need to worry about who you’re meeting.
MM: What’s coming through a lot is your personal values and the values that you feel are underlying time banking. Do you think that it’s a way of people channelling their values or do you think that their values are developed through Time Bank?
VC-K: I think you begin to realise what’s important. When you hear other people’s stories about why they joined and what’s important to them and you see the needs of people out there. It’s just a sort of sharing of what you already knew but hadn’t vocalised or realised.
MM: Does York Time Bank work with any public/private sector organisations?
VC-K: At the moment it’s funded by the City Council as part of the Community Voluntary Service. That pays for Tash’s time one day a week. But the funding is being cut and the role is coming to an end.
You can go and swim for a Time Bank credit.
MM: That’s quite a breakthrough.
VC-K: Yes it is. Somebody could think, ‘Do you know what, I don’t need anything but I’m quite happy to give and then I can go for a swim’. Then you don’t have that worry.
MM: How do you think the Time Bank has changed you?
VC-K: I’ve lived here for 14 years and I know about things I can get involved in, but I’ve had younger kids. It’s opened doors actually and I’ve made some friends and I’ve got a band and singing which has been nice. I just feel I’m more involved in what’s going on in York in a positive way.
MM: What about your family?
VC-K: A simple one – Dave [husband] was looking at the ceiling saying ‘I really don’t want to paint this.’ I said ‘Dave I’ve got a couple of hours, I could get somebody round to do it’. So he’s met people because we had one of the socials here. My kids have been aware that I’m doing stuff and I’ve explained to them why and why it’s important to me. And that idea that you can have skills that you don’t even realise you’ve got which can be really important to somebody. My main education of my children is social, why it’s not okay to stand by and see somebody upset, why it’s not okay to stand by and see somebody bullied and not do anything or not come and get somebody, and this is just another aspect of that. Why it’s not okay to have a community with some very lonely people out there who don’t think they’re worth anything. Because everybody has got something they can give and they’ve definitely got something they can do which probably someone else doesn’t want to do, even if it’s as simple as ironing. That one skill is more valued than another … more important, I don’t understand. So for my kids this has just been another part of their education.
MM: What could the University do to support the work of time banks?
VC-K: Could researchers in universities help us to quantify this stuff? If you can say based on this person now having a friendship and feeling more part of community that they haven’t been to the doctor’s only once in a while instead of once a week and that means funding to keep doing this stuff that’s vital and I don’t see anybody doing it well enough. But that’s the sort of evidence we need in order to get funding for a broker.
The other thing is volunteer fatigue and if you feel that you’re putting in a lot and you’re not getting much out of it, then any organisation that can come and say ’do you know what we’re going to run a day for you - communication skills, non-violent communication skills, meeting skills’, cause sometimes you‘ve got people on steering groups, but not a lot of SMART objectives at the end or outcomes at the end. Any training in communication skills, making things more streamlined, all those sorts of skills that HE organisations have, or the connections with people who are able to do that. Or with funding, because at the moment it looks like it could fold because we don’t have any money.
MM: What do you think the organisation needs to do in the coming months?
VC-K:I think if we decide we need more time brokers that is something that would involve some training about how to deal with vulnerable people. I think that’s something we’d have to look into.