Building community an hour at a time – Timebuilders Sheffield, UK

By | June 2, 2014

Article written by Mike Calvert, York St John University, UK

Time Banking is not a new concept and many of the blog’s readers will know of the history and development of Time Banking which is a fast-growing global phenomenon. Founded in 1980 by Edgar Cahn it has spread to at least 24 countries and there are well over 250 Time Banks in England (including Timebank York by the way). All Time Banks are different but crudely what they have in common is the use of time as currency, there is the concept of reciprocity and the notion that we all have something to offer and we all need other people.

An interview with a Timebuilder at Sheffield led to this blog which may well be of interest to those committed to community action, social enterprise/economy and is seeking other ways of dealing with serious social issues that shrinking public services are finding increasingly hard to address.

The Big Lottery-funded project (£325K) in Sheffield is 18 months in and is based at St Mary’s Church at Bramall Lane Community Centre. The location had the advantage of already being used by community groups and to house projects. It is used as a centre for teaching English and is used by new arrivals including asylum seekers who have just come into the country and need to learn English. It has conference facilities that can be hired out. There are four paid staff and they recognise the need for some paid staff.

As was mentioned above, every Time Bank or similar is different from the next. It depends on a number of factors and the context. What works in one place might not work in another. Interestingly, Sheffield Timebuilders moved away from one-to-one skill share as a) they feel it has a short shelf life b) it is labour intensive and c) it was unlikely to achieve the deliverables that they were charged with in the lottery bid d) given the demographic sending people out to vet or visit individuals could be quite risky.

The aim is to have 1000 people as active timebuilders. The project attracts a range of people including those from minority backgrounds, those suffering from substance abuse and recovering from mental health issues. They work more extensively with groups of people rather than individuals. They set out to earn as a group and spend as a group. They have established a framework within which they can learn from each other, earn with each other and socialise with each other. They have a weekly joining slot for new members.

They recognise the value of reciprocity and have preserved the notion of time as a currency but regard what they do as volunteering with a difference – it is ‘a two-way street’. They value caring and the range of people’s talents and contributions and see the process as being a mechanism for recovery for some including those with mental health problems. They talk of ‘unlocking the resources in the community’.

They used to use time online to register the hours but felt that there was some rigidity there and have moved to paper time credits that the participants have to take responsibility for managing. They still record the hours on a database to show what is being achieved but this is more for monitoring purposes. They currently have 220 people on their books. They focus on group activities such as litter picking and gardening and can supervise a range of people in one place and fulfil their duty of care.

They are also in receipt of a different funding stream ‘Awards for all’ to the tune of £5000.  This means that they have additional funds to offer social events and trips such as the one to York. This attracts those who might not volunteer, as well as those who might providing an additional ‘pull factor’ of being able to spend the hours on something nice. They have partnership arrangements with football clubs, theatres, other organisations and endeavour to try to get as many free tickets as possible but this is quite challenging.

They have a Timebuilder leadership programme where people can learn transferable skills around facilitation, and make them more effective as Timebuilding volunteers. They recognise the need for capacity building for sustainability that can be brought about by developing the volunteers. They also have a Timebuilders Catalogue specifying what you can spend and what you can earn. They also have a ‘Timebuilders University’ helping those who might be able to go on to study. ‘Speak and grow’ brings together people with different languages to speak and do gardening at the same time.

I recommend (not an advert for after shave but a great site from Wales) and more locally as well as our own See also an interview with Viv Chamberlin-Kidd from York Timebank on the Social Economy site. The parent body is