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Page last updated at 11:03 GMT, Thursday, 11 September 2008 12:03 UK

Good start for the Lewes pound

Rob Pittam
Working Lunch roving reporter

Lewes pound
10,000 Lewes Pound notes have now been printed

England's World Cup victory was celebrated as lustily and noisily in Lewes as anywhere else in the land last night.

There was no doubting the patriotic fervour and devotion to the England cause amongst the locals.

But in the pockets of the cheering fans, many will have been carrying a symbol that says this Sussex is town is different to the rest of England - a Lewes pound.

And many of these same supporters had spent the previous night cheering the launch of the world's newest currency.

They had packed into the town hall for the unveiling of the Lewes one pound note.

Its appearance was greeted with a roar of approval from more than 500 people who had gathered to celebrate the occasion.

The new currency can be spent in more than seventy shops in the town, including four pubs.

every single Lewes pound is directly backed by a sterling pound and you can change your Lewes currency back into the coin of the realm at any point. The money can then be spent in shops and pubs displaying the Lewes pound sign outside.

It's designed to keep money circulating in the local economy rather than leeching out to the banks and headquarters of big business.

By encouraging people to shop with local traders, supporters say it will also help the environment.

But why has Lewes taken such a radical step? And how will it all work.

A tradition of independence

Well, Lewes has always been a little different, in fact, it's always been a little radical too. The steep hilled settlement with its historic buildings lining the high street feels more like a town on the Welsh or Scottish borders.

It has a long history of dissent, from the Protestant martyrs burned at the stake here in the 16th century to the radical thinker Thomas Paine who lived in the town and whose face proudly appears on the new pound note.

That's all helped to foster a fierce local pride.

It has also seen the effects of climate change close up. Eight years ago homes and businesses were wrecked when the River here burst its banks and flooded the lower end of the town.

Those two factors have given impetus to the new currency, but there's a deeper thinking going on here too.

Environmental economics

It's been developed by a group called Transition Town Lewes. The transition towns movement believe the world is heading for a global economic shock as oil runs out.

The transition movement is trying to prepare communities for what they predict will be a world of economic chaos where even international currencies could become worthless. By building up the strength of local economies they believe they are preparing for the worst, but at the same time helping the environment by cutting down on the amount of travelling done in the economy.

That's the thinking behind the scheme, but how will it work in practice?

Well 10,000 Lewes pounds have been printed. They're worth exactly one pound in sterling.

To get one you have to buy it with a sterling pound. The sterling is then stored away in a bank vault. And that's vital to the scheme.

It means every single Lewes pound is directly backed by a sterling pound and you can change your Lewes currency back into the coin of the realm at any point.

The money can then be spent in shops and pubs displaying the Lewes pound sign outside.

The traders themselves can use their takings to pay other local services and suppliers, or can take it to one of three exchange points in the town to convert it back into sterling.

Lewes isn't the first town to have launched its own currency though. The Devon town of Totnes has had its own pound circulating for almost two years.

And with growing concerns about the global economy and climate change , more local communities are thinking of following their example.




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