Helen Moyes has a pretty healthy bank account.
“My balance is about 150 stones at the minute,” she confirms happily.
Each stone in Helen’s virtual account equates to roughly £1 - and she’s earned them in a variety of ways.
“I’ve done gardening, cooking, cleaning, given people lifts,” she explains.
Each of Helen’s skills is something she offers in exchange for payment in ‘stones.’
And Helen then uses these stones to pay for her own treats.
I’ve made some good friends on the system as once you trade with someone you tend to do it again
“I’ve received massages, and aromatherapy sessions,” she says.
“I regularly dole out stones to get my oven cleaned, as I really hate cleaning my oven!
“Another member once scanned some pictures for me when I was digitising my photos. It’s a wonderful system.”
The system Helen’s referring to is that of Sheffield LETS - Local Exchange Trading System.
The community launched in Sheffield in 1993 and currently has 24 members. Each member trades their various skills for stones, which they can then use as payment for things they themselves need - referred to commonly among members as ‘a merry-go-round of favours.’
“If you have a big dinner party on and you need some help blitzing your house, it’s good to have some stones saved up,” says Helen, of Greystones.
“The value of each skill is judged by the person providing it.
“ Some things are based on a minimum wage-per-hour basis, like cleaning perhaps, while other skills - like massages - are likely to cost a little more.
“It’s particularly wonderful for people who often don’t have money for those extra little luxuries, because money is not required. As long as you can offer something in exchange, and build up your stone bank account, you can access anything you want.
“We have one member who takes regular piano lessons from another member using just her stones – it’s incredible.”
And in her years of membership, Helen - who is a textile-mixed media artist - has paid out stones for everything from cleaning and gardening, to renting a holiday home.
“I tend to do things I quite enjoy to earn my stones,” she says. “I like painting, decorating and gardening, so I’ve done all those things, and then sent out my own ‘stones invoice.’
“I also make handmade cards which I sell in exchange for stones. We have lots of members who do things like that.
“Another time I hosted an afternoon tea and each stone bought a member a cup of tea and a slice of cake.”
Sheffield LETS is one of 1,500 LETS communities in 39 countries all over the world, in which people exchange goods and services with one another, without the need for money.
“Up until now, it’s been a bit hard work, as we used to rely on people filling out forms and posting ‘stones’ cheques to our head office to help us keep track of everything,” says Helen.
“But we’ve just gone digital, and now everything is tracked online, and gets rid of the messy paper trail that I think put some people off. Now you can handle your stones via online banking!”
And although she refuses to name names, Helen reveals there are some very ‘wealthy’ members.
“I’ve seen some bank accounts with a stunning amount of stones,” she laughs.
“There’s one woman on there who need never do her own gardening or cleaning again if she doesn’t want to!”
And Sheffield LETS is keen to attract more members to its small but thriving community.
“We’d love to get some more members, obviously people with lots of different skills and interests, joining us.
And you get a credit of stones when you join so you can start out by doing some spending which is always nice.
“The cost of a LETS subscription is just £10 a year, reduced to £7.70 if you’re on a low wage, or £5 if you’re not earning.”
In addition to its online community, Sheffield LETS also holds regular meetings and social gatherings for its members, although it’s up to each member as to how involved they want to get.
“The socialising is by no means a requirement, but some people really enjoy extending their social circle with us,” explains Helen.
“As well as accessing goods and services yourself, LETS allows people to improve their own skills and sense of self-worth by offering services that other people value, and pay for in local currency.
“It also helps to create a ‘caring, sharing’ social community, that money simply cannot buy. You do get to know people, and I have people I now consider friends who I met through LETS.”
Catherine Burchell, of Walkley, has been a member of Sheffield LETS for the past 20 years, and regularly gives music lessons in exchange for stones.
“I’ve also helped with decorating,” she says.
“I’ve traded goods from my garden, like rhubarb, herbs, and plant cuttings, and I’ve used my stones to get help in the garden, and bought things at trade events like homemade crafts and second hand clothes.
“It’s a great thing to get involved in. I’ve made some good friends on the system as once you trade with someone you tend to do it again, and often find a friendship develops which is great.”
Visit Sheffield LETS to learn more about Sheffield LETS .