The co-ordinator of a time bank volunteering scheme is hoping to find more Belper residents with an hour to spare in 2017 - so that they might reap the rewards of helping their neighbours and strengthen community ties.
Louise Hiron, 37, has been working with Derbyshire County Council for 12 years, providing support to community groups for older residents such as the 50-Plus forums.
But now she is part of Time Swap, a new council initiative which invites Belper residents to volunteer their time and skills to help others - and earn time and assistance in return.
Louise said: “We kept coming across more and more people who said they wanted to be actively involved in their communities, but without the formal commitments of long-term volunteering.
“We also work with a lot of people who wanted help with little, ad-hoc jobs that they would struggle to do themselves.”
After considering several different options, the council found that the timebank model could be the perfect solution.
Every time people give an hour to the scheme, they bank an hour of someone else’s time for future use which can be ‘cashed in’ at any time.
The more you put in to help others, the more you can call on in return - you can even bank a whole team of people for a big job.
Louise said: “We’re happy to hear from anyone who wants some help, or wants to offer some.
“A lot of it at the moment is fairly basic tasks - gardening, simple DIY, dog walking, computer advice - but there are all sorts of possibilities.”
She adds: “Elsewhere we’ve seen people offering music lessons, translation services, meditation classes.
“If you use your imagination a scheme like this can accomplish anything.”
So far the Belper timebank has eight members, but Louise and her colleagues have set themselves an 18-month timetable to grow it.
She said: “I think it takes people getting involved and seeing the results and the real life stories, once that happens it will really take off.
“Even so, one of our other groups in the county has five members, and it’s incredible what they’ve achieved between them - shopping trips, ironing, decorating.”
All time exchanges are organised by Louise and her team, who carry out basic vetting on volunteers to ensure that jobs are done properly and safely, and provide participants with peace of mind.
She said: “That’s the nice thing about our involvement, we can make sure everyone is safe and jobs are done suitably, and everyone’s expectations can be met.”
The council is also sensitive to the local economy, ensuring that volunteers are not in direct competition with commercial services.
Louise said: “We don’t want to compete with small businesses, or suggest that some work isn’t worth paying for. This is about odd jobs, one-offs where there isn’t a regular market for them or where people aren’t in a position to pay.”
The Time Swap team is looking to extend the network through existing community groups, and Louise regularly attends meetings to give talks on the benefits of the system.
She also hosts meet-up events in Belper every few weeks where timebank members can get to know each other and plan future activities.
Louise said: “It’s not just about individuals, we’re providing a tool to show how organisations can serve everyone in the community and share time and resources.
“I suppose we’re trying to get back to people’s idea of how communities used to be - where everyone can count on their neighbours for a helping hand.”