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New LETS not-for-profit trade exchange

A GROUP of residents in East Clare have come together to start an initiative where people can trade and exchange goods and services freely without the need to dip into their pockets.
The East Clare Local Exchange Trading System (LETS), a community exchange project, will be launched at the Aistear centre in Mountshannon on SSunday week from 2pm to 5pm.

The day’s activities will include community trading and a family afternoon of events including a market, information about the initiative, children’s activities and refreshments.
The group is encouraging people to embark on favours for friends with their LETS make a difference effort and are hoping to get people in the East Clare area to use this exchange trading system whereby goods and services can be traded like a community currency.
Speaking about the initiative, co-ordinator Anne Benham from Mountshannon explains that LETSchemes or similar community activities tend to spring into action in times of economic instability.
According to Ms Benham, due to high unemployment rates and scarcity of money, people look for alternatives.
“There was a LETScheme active in Scariff between 1992 and 1996, which I was involved in as a trading member. Therefore, the concept was not new to me and the time just felt right, watching the Celtic Tiger disappear in the far distance, to set it up again,” she said.
Ms Benham stressed that East Clare LETS is not a continuation of the previous LETS activity but a brand-new venture, which she is hoping to get off the ground by incorporating all available technology, such as online-trading and mail groups for instant dispersal of information, saving valuable resources (trees) and keeping printing and postage costs down.
“In the near future I will spend some time on linking into the global LETS network, enabling people to ‘inter-trade’ worldwide, which is great for foreign holidays and to know people abroad,” she said. 
East Clare LETS is run by an independent unincorporated community group which to date has not been in receipt of funding and operates from a small budget raised through annual membership subscriptions with a cost-of-service ethos.
They do not aspire to make profits but try to deliver a service from people for people.
“We do receive moral and practical support from the CDP Scariff (Community Development Project), who let us use their premises for meetings as well as office space and equipment for basic operations,” she added.
As this is a relatively new concept to many, Ms Benham explains how the LETS system works.
“The idea is an open system based on trust and operates as a non-for-profit organisation and it works on a system of community credits instead of cash.
All trading offers or requests are listed in a directory, which is circulated to all members and this is updated regularly. Simply by offering a service, product or your time, the public can earn LETS credits. These are then used by availing of services or products other people on the scheme offer.”
A person’s LETS account can have a positive balance, in other words it is in credit, or it can have a negative balance, thereby being in debt or in commitment. The total sum of all accounts is zero but some accounts have to be in commitment, otherwise no one could be in credit.
The important factor is the flow of trading and not how high or low the balance on the account is.
Transactions are recorded and the administration sends out regular statements and the balances of all members are then published in a trading summary.
Through the LETs system, Anne explains that all trade or transactions are recorded by administration staff and the trade summary is published to all members on a regular basis, leaving the possibility for people to take advantage of the initiative to a minimum.
“Since LETSchemes are a local occurrence with plenty of opportunities to meet personally, people also know each other and it would soon show up if one’s trading record is one-sided.
“This does happen, not by purposeful intent but sometimes when things or services are offered which are not very much in demand. Here, the co-ordinator is called to intervene and do some soul-searching with the member to find a solution to the problem. Membership also needs to be renewed or re-confirmed annually. If there are any problems developing, the renewal date is also a chance for review,” she said.
Ms Benham stressed that LETSchemes are essentially social vehicles and people usually join them with a degree of community spirit and care for fellow members.
A variety of things can be offered and availed of through LETS, such as arts, crafts, building or maintenance work, childcare, clothing, companionship, complementary healthcare or therapies, computers/services, cooking, domestic help, farm or garden produce, gardening, landscaping, house sitting, holidays, tuition or mentoring, painting, decorating, pet care, shopping, errand running, tool hire and transport.
LETSchemes are open to everyone and offer opportunities to people of all ages, skills and abilities and it is also suitable for small local businesses.
According to Ms Benham, unlike commercial banks, no interest is charged for accounts in commitment and you don’t have to earn LETS credits before you can spend them. “As long as you have something to offer another person, (and everyone does), you have capital and therefore it allows individuals to utilise talents which may go unrewarded by the cash economy,” she outlined.
The trading system is designed to help communities to become more self-reliant and helps revitalise communities by hosting social events and trading activities such as regular markets.
For further information about how to get involved or for more information, contact Anne Benham at CDP Derg House, Connaught Road, Scariff on 085 7058026 or email eastclare.lets@yahoo.ie.
More information is also available online at www.eastclarelets.net.

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