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Initiatives & fresh ideas


I’ve been reflecting recently about where and how we find community, and how that might have changed over the years.

It’s ironic that in an era dominated by online social networks and mass communications designed to bring us closer, we’re grappling with such widespread issues of social isolation and loneliness.

In recent decades, many of the traditional sites and sources of community have fragmented or disappeared entirely.

To fill this void, we’ve started to turn to new initiatives and fresh ideas. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been a long-time supporter of the Leith Timebank. Under the timebanking model, members provide an hour of service, in exchange for earning a one-time credit. Whether it be transportation, minor home repairs, digital skills, picking up messages or cooking meals, all exchanges have equal value.

Timebanking provides a slightly more formalised approach to creating and sustaining those neighbourly bonds that have long been fixtures in our communities, and it reaffirms that old adage that the most valuable thing you can offer someone is your time.

The Leith Timebank has been running for over a decade now and has really been an amazing success story. Its primary focus is to support older people, carers and adults with chronic health conditions. These aren’t the only demographics represented by a long shot though.

Timebanking has been remarkably effective at breaking down barriers and forging connections between ‘traditional Leithers’ and new arrivals, forming friendships between people who might not otherwise have the chance to meet.

I recently spent time with the remarkable Mary at the Leith Timebank and she shared a few examples of successful timebanking experiences.

One of their members is an 80 year old man who is visually impaired, and lives alone with no family or friends nearby. He earns credits by providing one-to-one Spanish and French lessons in a local cafe with other Time Bank members. In exchange, those members earn credits by accompanying him to medical appointments and social activities, providing practical help with day-to-day needs like shopping, as well as telephone and face-to-face chats.

The timebank in Leith also operates a community pot, whereby people can donate their credits virtually and it can then be used for those who cannot contribute, perhaps because of health issues.

Mary also told me about an older lady who had been receiving help through the community credit pot, but felt she had no expertise to give back. During a group activity, she met with young mums and realised she did indeed have skills to offer as she was able to teach them all how to make soup.

I believe this concept deserves much wider attention, so I’m currently in the process of applying for a debate at Westminster, which will hopefully help to promote the model further.

The tremendous value of a supportive community was also powerfully illustrated to me on a recent visit to Rowan Alba. Their team run a range of services in the constituency aimed at tackling the root causes of homelessness, as well as helping people off the streets who’ve been rough sleeping for years. They provide one-to-one befriending support in people’s homes, and supported living environments, with a particular focus on individuals with addictions, multiple needs, and difficult childhood experiences.

I like Rowan Alba’s emphasis on dignity and respect, accepting people for who they are and upholding their right to make their own choices about their lives. I also share their ethos about the value of ‘home’ - not just as a roof over your head but something which offers safety, warmth and love.

This UK government, with its abhorrent determination to “stop the boats” and ship desperate people off to Rwanda rather than offer sanctuary, should take note.

It’s also an especially poignant message in light of some of the tragic events globally in recent weeks; the horrors in the Middle East, particularly the suffering of children, are very much in my mind.

Having a safe and loving home and community is always important, but it has a special resonance at this time of year.

Wishing all Leithers, whichever communities you’re a part of and wherever you call home, a peaceful and restful time with loved ones over this festive period. ■

Twitter: @DeidreBrock

Timebanking members provide an hour of service for a one-time credit

I believe this concept deserves wider attention, so I’m currently in the process of applying for a debate at Westminster



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