Encouraging disaffected young people to volunteer for activities
that help build communities has always been difficult.
But those behind the growing number of “time banks” argue that
giving young people and other participants time credits for the
volunteering they do means there is an incentive to get involved
and that the activity can build self-esteem among young people as
well as bridging generations.
But there are still significant challenges to the development of
time banks in schools and communities, such as lack of sustainable
funding, the need for external support and the small size of many
projects. There has also been confusion over the similar names of
Time Banks UK, the national network for time banks, and the
separate organisation TimeBank, whichis a media campaign aimed at
Participants in a time bank “deposit” their time in the bank by
giving practical help and support to others and are able to
“withdraw” their time when they need something done for
In some of the youth-oriented time banks participants can get a
refurbished computer after reaching a certain number of time
Unlike the Lets alternative currency system, in a time bank
everyone’s time is worth the same and a broker links people up and
keeps records. The idea was pioneered in the 1980s in the US, where
there are now more than 250 time banks. From the first UK pilot in
1998 there are now more than 50 in operation or seeking funding. By
September 2002 some 63,000 hours had been given and received by
time bank participants in the UK.
Most are targeted at socially excluded groups and research
commissioned by the New Economics Foundation1 suggests that time
bank volunteers are far more likely to come from low income
households than traditional volunteers.
For example, the Time 2 Trade time bank in Sandwell, West Midlands,
is aimed at promoting health and well-being on three deprived
The time bank is led by a partnership between the local council and
primary care trust and funded by the health action zone. It is
building on local estates’ tenants and residents associations and
aims to have a drop-in centre and management committee on each
The time bank has involved a youth group from the local Baptist
church, says time bank co-ordinator Daniel Grainger. The youth
group, which is mainly comprised of disaffected young people, has
been involved in delivering leaflets for the time bank on the
estates and clearing litter.
In return they have received access to computers at a local IT
provider, trips to a rock climbing centre and a disco organised by
another time bank participant.
Adrian Lowe, youth co-ordinator at the West Bromwich Baptist
Church, says that in the initial stages of the time bank the
organisation was patchy because part-time volunteers were running
“When Daniel was appointed it improved a lot because now we get
regular letters telling us how many time credits we’ve built up, as
well as a manual explaining how it all works,” he says.
It appeals to the young people, says Lowe, because they can see the
trade-off between community activity and personal benefit. But
building up the number of participants on the estates will take
“It’s a good idea but it needs to grow bigger to become effective,”
Some time banks involving young people are based in schools. In
Tower Hamlets, east London Opt 4 IT covers three secondary schools.
In this project teenagers give one-to-one tutoring to younger
pupils in subjects like numeracy and English during lunch hours and
after school. When the tutors have gained 30 hours of time credits
they are entitled to a refurbished computer. The scheme is now in
its second year and involves around 45 young people acting as
What makes this different to other peer tutoring schemes is that
the tutors are pupils who are under-performing at school themselves
because of personal problems and often have high truancy
“Just because they are disaffected does not mean they’re not bright
enough to be tutors,” says Chris Jones, director of economic and
community regeneration at the Community Education Development
Centre, an educational trust which is helping run the
She says the tutors receive a boost to their self-esteem and that
initial research has suggested the time bank results in lower
truancy rates and improved behaviour among those giving time.
The Tower Hamlets scheme is based on a Chicago project but is less
ambitious as the Chicago model includes activities that involve
parents as well as pupils. Jones says one of the challenges such
school-based time banks face is the need to involve school
“Teachers are hard-pressed but their involvement is needed to make
it work and it’s dependent on the goodwill of staff,” she
Bridging generations in communities is one of the aims of
Stonehouse Fair Shares in rural Gloucestershire, one of several
time banks in the county. It is based around a number of sheltered
housing schemes for older people in the town of Stonehouse.
Pupils from a local secondary school take part in communal
activities to help older residents, such as picking up shopping or
planting bulbs, says Julie Baxter, Gloucester City time bank
The young people taking part are non-GCSE pupils, some of whom have
behavioural problems. The scheme is part of the school’s
citizenship curriculum and, in this scheme, the pupils do not
receive time credits in return for the work they do.
Baxter says she hopes the pupils’ experience will lead some of them
to take part in other time banks when they leave school.
“The contact between the generations is very important as many of
the older people have a negative view of the young and some of the
pupils have very limited contact with older people,” says
The IPPR research group is launching a scheme of alternative
currencies in primary and secondary schools this summer, in which
six schools will experiment with Lets and six with time
Joe Hallgarten, a researcher at IPPR, says the time banks will be
broader than those piloted in Tower Hamlets and Gloucestershire and
that parental involvement will be sought in some schools.
In recent years there has been some rivalry between Lets and time
banks, says Hallgarten, adding that the IPPR project will seek to
mix elements of the two approaches. “The Lets schemes will employ a
broker, which is a time bank idea, and the time banks will have a
directory of services offered, which is usually only found in Lets
schemes,” he says.
While there has been some success in developing time banks that
involve younger people it is still early days and there are
obstacles to be overcome before the concept can truly take
Gill Seyfang, co-author of a report on time banks published by
radical think tank the New Economics Foundation, identifies a
number of major hurdles facing time banks.1 These
include ensuring that schemes reflect the local context because she
says that there is no one-size-fits-all model.
Another key issue is recognising that time bank participants often
have large support needs and so the staffing and other
infrastructure must be properly resourced.
A culture change is also often required, as it can be difficult
getting people to ask for services, Seyfang found, and it can be
hard getting people to understand the difference between time
banking and traditional volunteering.
Despite these challenges, NEF believes that a “tipping point” could
be reached sometime in the next decade that would put time banks in
a significant number of health centres, schools and housing
estates, totalling perhaps 10,000 to 15,000 time banks across the
1 Gill Seyfang, Karen Smith, The Time of our
Lives, New Economics Foundation, 2002