Exeter leads the way in unconventional money.
450 years ago the Exeter Ship Canal – the first canal in England with locks – was opened. Built to replace the unnavigable River Exe – which had been blocked by successive Earls of Devon to force goods from the sea to unload at Topsham and reach Exeter by land and so pay their exorbitant tolls – it predated the canal mania by over 200 years. A grand scheme to link Exeter to the Bristol Channel via a canal passing near Tiverton and on to Bridgwater never materialised in full, though a Tiverton branch survives today.
So without musing too long on what might have been, the opening of the Exeter Ship Canal in 1566 remains an important moment in the city’s history . And what better way to commemorate that anniversary than by an unusual embellishment to a scheme intended to benefit the local economy.
The Exeter Pound has been legal tender in the city since September 2015 . Like other complementary or community currency schemes, it aims to ensure more of the wealth generated by local trade remains local, so boosting independent businesses and enhancing the range of traders available to the local community.
Yesterday (30 July), a new note was unveiled to join the £E1, £E5, £E10 and £E20 notes already in circulation. Unusually, its value is £E4.50p. The denomination was selected to mark the 450th anniversary of the opening of the canal, and the design of the note, shown below, reflects this.
A large-size mock-up of the note was brought up the canal to the city by boat and presented by an awesomely well-dressed replica of a Tudor merchant – in reality a director of the Exeter Pound Community Interest Company – to the city’s Lord Mayor. The presentation was apt, because Exeter City Council provided resources to help get the scheme off the ground.
All a bit of fun, but with a serious purpose. According to NEF  small shops are closing at a rate of 2,000 a year, and small and medium-sized businesses employ 58% of the private sector workforce. Community currencies can combat this: for every £1 spent they return significantly more than £1 to the local economy. This is the so-called multiplier effects which means the local pound is spent repeatedly in the local economy. By contrast, spending your £1 in a national chain shop means that much less than £1 remains local. That’s why the chains are not allowed to join the Exeter Pound scheme, and only local, independent businesses can trade in it.
There are 163 of them in Exeter– and well worth your support. These businesses exist to serve the local community, and are the antithesis of the self-serving and greedy culture which has been so visible in the downfall of BHS. They are an essential part of rediscovering business decency and community-oriented values, not just here in Exeter, but everywhere where a community currency is taking off . If nations can be bound together by national currencies (ie not the Euro) so can communities by their local pounds.
 The Exeter Ship Canal’s future is by no means secure. A support group, the Friends of the Exeter Ship Canal – friendsofexetershipcanal.co.uk/ – has recently been established to help ensure the canal’s future as an active waterway and as a beautiful part of Exeter’s heritage landscape. They welcome new members.
 The Exeter Pound website – exeterpound.org.uk – provides all the information you need about the scheme, including the traders who accept £Es and where you can change sterling for £Es.
 The New Economics Foundation (NEF) website has a wealth of information about the benefits of community currencies – see http://www.neweconomics.org/issues/entry/community-currencies
 As ever, the south-west is well-represented with community currencies. Schemes are operating or in development in Bristol, Cornwall, Plymouth, Totnes and Stroud.