Fair shares

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Fair Shares - Time for childcare was a Phoenix Fund supported project that ran from 2001 to 2004. It used an innovative Time Bank approach to organise childcare for people (mostly women) on training courses.

The phrase "time is money" is just a meaningless cliche to most people. But the concept of time banks makes it real: people provide services to other members and earn time credits instead of money; then they can spend those credits when they want something done.

This innovative idea has been spreading across the country, and the Fair Shares project applied it to childcare in two contrasting locations - rural Gloucestershire and inner-city Leicester. The aim was to liberate women who couldn't afford to pay for the childcare they needed if they were to take training or educational courses.

Instead of paying with money they didn't have, they could pay in time. For example, Lyn, who wanted to set up a dance school, used members' time contributions to make costumes. In a novel twist, Fair Shares also "paid" time credits to people on training courses, so Lyn repaid some of the members' time she used by taking management courses and practical courses in needlework and lighting. Members also earn credits by providing services, which can include giving somebody a lift, gardening or housework. One of the great things about it is that services can be available at all hours all through the week.

"We reward things that we want to see happening'; explains Martin Simon, director of Fair Shares. "So we reward people for the time they put in, because it's of value to themselves and to the community:'

Members were recruited individually through local publicity, but the projects also linked with other local organisations. In some cases those organisations benefited because the time bank provided emergency cover when staff were sick.

Originally the project aimed to help lone mothers transform their informal childcare activities into businesses, but it soon became obvious that women were interested in other kinds of entrepreneurial activity. Ali wanted to use her music skills and after completing several courses she is now employed by Gloucester Music working with parents and toddlers. "The support of what amounts to a huge extended family gives these women the confidence to take bigger steps forward, secure that they have around them a social support network they can trust'; Mr Simon says. "They see that they are needed and valued by others and that they can change and grow from dependency to interdependency:'

It also meant that these women stayed the course more than usual when they took up training, because they knew somebody would be collecting their children from nursery and they didn't need to worry about the cost. The higher retention rate of participants helped local training providers, who were then more prepared to listen to demands for more or different courses. Training providers also began to encourage participants to join the time bank because of the valuable support it provides.

More than 80 people in the two locations are now offering child care through the time banks, providing thousands of hours of invaluable support to other women in these communities. The model is also influencing other time banks around the country and even internationally.

"We reward people for the time they put in, because it's of value to themselves and to the community."