Bangla-Pesa: The Highs and Lows of a Local Currency

Written by Chris Parsons

Bangladesh is home to 150 million people packed into one of the world’s most densely populated countries. And whilst this is a story about Bangladesh, it’s not the one you’re thinking about.

This is Bangladesh in Kenya, a settlement of around 18,000 people across six villages on the outskirts of Mombasa, named as such after the former landowner left for the Asian country and didn’t return. It’s the sort of place that those of us who live faraway like to call a “slum”: a place defined by open sewers, no designated areas for rubbish, limited access to clean water, illegal and dangerous electricity and problems controlling HIV, as well as treating many other diseases. And yet, despite these adversities, in the “slum” of Bangladesh, there are some very smart things happening.

Just like Bristol, the businesses of Bangla-Pesa-Packed-800x600Mombasa’s largest informal settlement are accepting a local currency. And just like the Bristol Pound, there are colourful notes designed by the local community changing hands. And, because this is the 21st Century whether you’re in Kingsdown or Kenya, by the end of the year they even intend to start transferring their local currency by mobile phone – just like the £B TXT2PAY service.

This is the home of the Bangla-Pesa, a brand new complementary currency that began circulating in May 2013, enabling traders to mitigate the risks of supply and demand. Bangladesh is unusual in terms of informal settlements in that the majority of its inhabitants are women. Consequently, so are the majority of business owners signed up to accept Bangla-Pesa – nearly three quarters of them in fact.

bangla-pesa-kenyaTrading in the Bangladesh settlement is notoriously volatile. Very few have the means to save so money can only be spent when it is earned. These peaks and troughs mean many business owners regularly fall under the internationally-recognised line of absolute poverty by earning less than US$1.25 per day. The Bangla-Pesa is specifically designed to tackle this problem, making use of spare capacity in the market.

By agreeing to accept the currency, businesses are given 400 Bangla-Pesa each. They can use this money to buy goods and services from other members and must accept the notes themselves on the same principle, bypassing the need for traditional money at times when none is available, flattening out the good and bad days of the marketplace.

As the non-profit organisation that helped set up the Bangla-Pesa, Koru, states: “[A] bicycle operator may have the capacity for 20 customers, but in general only has 10. Now he can give rides to those businesses in exchange for goods and services they have in excess, such as a woman who has extra tomatoes to sell.” It is a brilliant way of effectively reducing waste and picking up the available slack for positive purposes, as proven by the community members receiving an estimated 22% boost in salesbangla pesta8

There is one major difference between setting up local currencies in Bangladesh and Bristol, though: doing so in Bristol is less likely to lead to imprisonment. After just a few weeks of use, the architects of the Bangla-Pesa scheme were arrested by Kenyan police on suspicion of being part of a separatist movement attempting to secure independence for the region around Mombasa. Creating a new type of money has rocked the boat enough to be treated as a political act of attempted secessionism.

At the time of writing, six members of the administrative team have been released on bail but their charges still stand, presenting the possibility of up to seven years in jail. It’s easy to become comfortably desensitised and not see the significance of making the choice to use a local currency. At Bristol Pound we did a lot of hard work to ensure that our scheme was compliant with all the relevant legislation and regulations, but the case of the Bangla-Pesa is a reminder that there can be an awful lot at stake for some people.

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Bristol Pound in the house!

Written by Haley Pearson (find her on twitter: @BristolYankee)

Look at me! A first-time homeowner. I sure did try to pay for my new flat in Bristol Pounds, but the mortgage company was very firm with me. I had to settle for seeking out Bristol Pound traders with the skills I needed to help me out around the house.

Everyone knows that they should have their locks changed in any new property, especially if it has previously been a rental, so I called up Bricktop Locks (aka Mark), a very keen Bristol Pound trader. We made an appointment and I went on my merry way.

Moments later, what should happen but the entire lock mechanism of my main door failed. Absolutely failed. Couldn’t lock the house, couldn’t get back in, terrifying AND ridiculous! Feeling a wally, I rang Mark straightaway. He jetted right over, and I have to admit I was slightly surprised by his peroxide-blonde semi-faux-hawk Mohican hairstyle. He quickly proved himself to be relaxed and very kind, and despite not having the exact parts immediately to hand, he cobbled together a VERY secure solution and promised to order the rest ASAP. What a gem! I paid him with Bristol Pound TXT2PAY, which not only was easy, but instant. I got a thank-you text from Mark not 10 seconds after I pressed send!

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A smiley Mr BrickTop Services!

On the off-chance, I emailed him later and asked if he knew any decorators. Could he recommend someone? Well, turns out he’s a locksmith AND a plasterer/decorator. Who is this mysterious jack-of-all-trades, I wondered. We agreed an ideal start date for the decorating and he got to work.

A couple of days later he was nearly done, and I asked if it would be possible to finish before the weekend. “Well,” he said. “I clean the bendy-busses on a Thursday, but I could come along around half-4?” This guy, if you can believe it, manages the cleaning all of the park-and-ride bendy-busses in Bristol!

Long story short, he finished in time for the weekend, was a lovely, friendly, funny professional right the way through and I would highly recommend his services. And here’s the best part! Mark offers a 5% discount to anyone paying in Bristol Pounds! I do believe that I made the largest single £B payment to date when I used my online account to transfer nearly £B600 to Mark’s Bristol Pound account held at Bristol Credit Union. The form even detected and filled out all of his account info for me once I started typing his business name into the box! It was ridiculously easy.

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After basking in this claim-to-fame for a day or two, I began to wonder. What was the story behind this friendly bloke who bore so many feathers in his cap it might fly away? I dropped Mark an email and requested an interview. I reckoned it might make an awesome blog-post.

We met at the Clifton Lido (£B trader alert!) on one of the hottest days yet this year. It was a beautiful place to sit with the sun sparkling off the water and a breeze wafting through the wide-open windows.

Firstly, I asked him to list for me every service he offers. He recently changed his business name to Bricktop Services to reflect all those feathers. Deep breath? Plastering, decorating, locksmithing, commercial valet, domestic valet, bendy-bus cleaning, refurbishment and cleaning of pub gardens, jet wash cleaning of all kinds. And he is constantly working to add new skills to his roster.

“I don’t like to sit still, and I never turn down a job,” Mark tells me. “With all of these skills I can do something different every day, never be bored and with luck I’ll never be unemployed.”

Mark moved to Bristol after enduring a difficult corporate redundancy process and decided to retrain as a plasterer (he was already trained as a locksmith). “I heard about the launch of Bristol Pound and if I’m perfectly honest the main attraction for me was the free marketing. Anyone with Bristol Pounds to spend could potentially need a locksmith, and I wanted to be that locksmith and grow my business among a captive audience of like-minded people. It wasn’t until I started attending the first trader meetings that I began to understand how amazing Bristol Pound was. I thought it was bloody brilliant.”

On the eve of the Bristol Pound launch, Mark realised he hadn’t put together any of the promotional materials he had planned for the party in St Nick’s. “So I rushed out, put some flyers together and ordered a t-shirt. Having the t-shirt done at the last minute cost me a bit, but now I wear it everywhere and it really gets people interested, not only in my services but in Bristol Pound. I attend a lot of business seminars with the council and I always wear it.”

“Joining up with Bristol Pound helped me escape my corporate experience for a community experience. There is a kinship among Bristol Pound users that reflects the love all of us have for Bristol itself.”

I love Bristol Pound for the same reasons. How else could I have met this charming, funny guy, who I now count among my friends? Initiatives like Bristol Pound are providing the kind of community spirit that will keep Bristol great (and weird!).

Bristol Pound Really ‘Takes Off’ in Bristol!

By Priyanka Raval


This year’s 35th Bristol International Balloon Fiesta took off in true Bristol style! And what a hustlin’-bustlin’, rip roaring, flame burning, basket swinging extravaganza it was: 500,000 people visiting, 284 balloons taking off, a Fiesta recording breaking 74 balloons landing in the same place on Saturday morning, three wedding proposals taking place and one woman going into labour on site! No wonder it was hailed by organisers as one of the best Fiestas in years. Just as the Balloon Fiesta is a one of the focal points for my Bristol Love, it is also the epicentre for balloonists and enthusiasts internationally. Attracting people from Japan to Germany it has become the biggest festival in Europe. Given the breath-taking sight of the straight-off-a-postcard beauty of Bristol’s sky when it’s dotted with multi-coloured balloons lackadaisically gliding over the city, it is no wonder the Fiesta consistently attracts it is no wonder it consistently attracts and enchants so many people. The Balloon Fiesta is truly one of Bristol’s most iconic events.


The Fiesta being such an intrinsic part of the city, it felt only natural that the Pound should have a presence there, and thanks to Bailey Balloons- who are one of the latest businesses to sign up to the Bristol Pound- we were. The Bristol Pound team are delighted that Bailey Balloons have signed up to the scheme. Run by Joe and Clive Bailey, Bailey balloons are located in Bristol, offering hot air balloon flights from Bristol, Bath and South Wales. They bring a great deal of skills and passion to their business and are a significant presence at the Fiesta.

ME N MAJORSo to celebrate, in the early hours of Sunday morning’s mass ascent, the Major of Bristol George Ferguson went up for a Bailey Balloon ride which he paid for in Bristol Pounds. I arose at Sunday at dawn as well and set off to Ashton Court to meet him. Standing beneath the enormous balloons towering above me, jostling for space and preparing for take off, a typically red trouser clad Mr Ferguson came bounding along, shook my hand, announced his enthusiasm for the Bristol Pound and handed over the £B’s to Clive Bailey.

Watching George and an excited bunch of people gliding high up through the sky, I GEROGE N CLIVEcould not help but contemplate how Bristol Pound really is reaching new heights. The joining of Baileys Balloons is a testament to the variety and the diversity of the local independent traders involved in the scheme. The Bristol Pound now has over six hundred businesses, over 1,200 Bristol Pound account holders and more than a quarter of a million converted from sterling into Bristol Pounds, which shows that the scheme is being really woven into the fabric of the city.

So there you have it, the Bristol Pound is not just hot air, but actually, really taking off!


Independent Businesses Are Wonderful: SOURDOUGH CAFE

by Michaela Parker

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Set up by Jessica Brokenshire nearly four years ago, the Sourdough Cafe began its journey selling lunchtime sourdough toasties but has  since grown up into an ‘anytime’ kind of place,  where customers can indulge in anything from a  delicious breakfast to a post-shopping treat of  tea and cake. The cafe serve a constantly evolving range of  sandwiches and baguettes as well as seasonal  stews and salads. The chilli dog baguette with  free range sausage, organic beef chilli, onions  and mustard is on this week’s menu whilst  chorizo, butterbean and harissa stew has also  been a recent favourite. The focus is very much on locally sourced ingredients but without shouting about it- these values are clearly embedded in Jessica’s nature as a business owner. “Our ethos is just good quality produce that’s affordable. A little bit of variety too- we try and mix it up once a week,” she explains.

Jessica’s introduction to the Bristol Pound came early on when she heard about it via the BBC website so she was excited when she and her staff were approached by the team to get involved. “It’s everything we stand for- being local, for the local people, for the local community- we were really interested.”

Her commitment to the cause has extended further in recent months as Sourdough Cafe have changed some of their suppliers to those accepting Bristol Pounds. “We’ve started using Joe’s Bakery for our lunchtime baguettes,” she tells me. “We went to a lot of different bakeries around Bristol and the fact that they used Bristol Pounds was good. Now that some of our income is Bristol Pounds, it’s good to be able to spend it.”

As well as buying meat and fish from Corn Street farmers’ market on Wednesdays to introduce new ideas to her menus, Sourdough use fellow Bristol Pound businesses Stream Farm and Source Food Hall as suppliers and Jessica admits with a laugh that having Source Food Hall on her doorstep does come in handy. “If we run out of anything, we can text them from here and by the time we get there, it’s already ready.”

St Nick’s market is the perfect hive of activity and contains the great community feel that Bristol Pound envisaged the encouragement of when it started its journey and Jessica is thrilled that people have caught on quickly. “The customers are totally getting involved! It’s quite casual now too which is quite nice. It’s like “Here’s a fiver and here’s five Bristol Pounds” It’s more integrated and that’s just what it needed.”

Sourdough Cafe are open from Monday- Saturday from 8:30am-5pm

The Bristol Pound pub crawl: round one

Written by Purple Paloma –

I love the adventure of discovering new places, and I recently set myself a challenge to feed this passion: to take my Bristol-born-&-bred mate on a £B pub crawl to places neither of us had been to before, using the Bristol Pound directory as our guide and only paying with Bristol Pounds.

Before we set off I wrote down the details of about 15 likely places. We took the number 25 bus to Bedminster, starting off with a quick beer at the Tobacco Factory. OK the Tobacco Factory was cheating a bit, as we’ve both been there before – but it always serves a great pint of local beer and as it’s a £B Access Point it gave us a chance to exchange some sterling for £B paper pounds too.

el rinconThen we strolled a few doors down to a fabulous Spanish place – El Rincon. Not that I know Spain that well, but this felt to me like a corner of traditional Spain in the middle of Bedminster. Painted in yellows and oranges with fairy lights it felt warm and cosy, and the staff were friendly and welcoming. They mostly seemed to be Spanish, and I think they can even give Spanish lessons while you drink your Estrella. We only ordered three tapas initially, expecting to order some more later, but their tapas were much bigger than ones we’re used to and there was more than enough food for the two of us. After enjoying a tasty meal in this convivial setting we decided to press on with my mission, hopping on the bus back to the Centre, which handily stops just outside El Rincon.

We got off the bus again just after Bedminster Bridge roundabout. Next pub: the Golden Guinea. I found this pub interesting and loved the decor – quite an unusual mix of  modern art on the walls with a hint of plush burlesque. And good beer. Just a shame the barmen weren’t sure if they could accept the Bristol Pounds yet (Editor: The owner of The Golden Guinea has told us that they will be ready to take £B payments very soon!).

After another pint we left the pub and turned left down the hill, over the footbridge and across to No 1. Harbourside. This is a lively, vibrant pub right in the Centre overlooking the water. This was only the third pub on our crawl, but drinking pints was seriously putting the kibosh on my grand plans for a proper pub crawl. Embarrassingly light-weight!

cadburySo just one more pub stop before we called it a night. This time we caught the 75 bus from the Centre up to the old Jesters in Stokes Croft and then headed down Picton Street to The Cadbury pub in Montpelier. What a brilliant pub! I work 10 minutes away –  how come I’ve never heard of it before. Outside it twists its’ country pub timber & whitewash look with some cool graffiti. And the combination continues inside: dark, cosy pub selling traditional ales and local cider but with a chilled out, happy buzz of mainly young/creative types. Great atmosphere, and I think this is now my new favourite pub in Bristol. Absolutely loved it, and some great Bristol Pounds’ graffiti in the ladies loos!

So many Bristol Pound pubs; so little time – or drinking stamina. Mind you it’s quality not quantity and the evening surpassed my hopes for discovering some interesting new places. I have a feeling this won’t be the last Bristol Pound crawl…