Pioneering Highgate group trades without money

Brenda Wallace (left) and Alexandra Peacock of 'Lets' Local Exchange Trading Scheme. Picture: Nigel

Brenda Wallace (left) and Alexandra Peacock of 'Lets' Local Exchange Trading Scheme. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

In today’s commercialised society everything seems to come at a price – but a non-profit-making community group in Highgate is challenging this philosophy.

At the North London Local Exchange and Trading System (LETS) in Waterlow Road, members meet to exchange their resources and skills without a penny crossing hands. Rather than using a currency, members build up credit by trading services.

Brenda Wallace and Alex Peacock, who help run the group, both believe in the idea.

Ms Wallace, 50, a gardener who joined six years ago, offered her gardening expertise in exchange for piano lessons and then became more involved.

Keen baker Ms Peacock, 45, who lives in Barnet, came along to a social 12 years ago and has been participating ever since.

Her café in the group’s community space has become so successful that she decided to set up a business. She offers baking among other services and receives posture training in return.

“It’s not a reciprocal arrangement,” she explained. “Members move around to find what they want. The important fact is, this is moneyless, apart from some travelling expenses and materials.”

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For Ms Peacock the group, which was first started 20 years ago and has office and communal space, provides the opportunity to be creative.

“It provides the opportunity to explore creativity that you might not be able to in other parts of your life,” she said. “It’s a little space to explore.”

Members meet in the community space on the first Wednesday of every month and among the 75 people involved are poets, architects, counsellors, therapists and hairdressers.

They subscribe for a minimal fee, which goes towards the rent, and they also have social events four times a year. A craft fair also takes place every Tuesday.

A database – called the Central Exchange System – contains the currency of pledges or credits, which can be spent on other services. The social events have become the main fundraisers to meet the group’s costs.

“Our community room is a popular performing place, intimate in atmosphere,” said Ms Wallace, who lives in Stoke Newington. “The idea of this being a fundraising event has grown. We already have a varied programme of performers from our membership.”

The group is now keen for more people to get involved.

“The problem people often have is that they think they have nothing to offer, but know what they want to get,” said Ms Wallace.

“You don’t have to be an expert at anything.

“Keeping an open mind is important; I didn’t want to be fixed when I joined and the enthusiasm of other people has energised me.”

* To get involved, contact or call 020 7281 0919.