By Claire West

Today (Wednesday) sees the launch of a new local currency in the South West, the Bristol Pound. After three years of planning and collaboration with local enterprises, community groups and local government, the people of Bristol are now able to spend the city’s very own currency.

More than 300 local shops and other businesses, from butchers and bakers to law firms and plumbers, have already committed to signing up to accept the Bristol Pound, making it the largest scheme of its kind in the UK to date.

The Bristol Pound is the first local currency to be implemented across a major UK city and supported by a financial institution — the Bristol Credit Union. The currency also features an electronic payments system enabling Bristol’s shoppers to pay traders using their mobile phones on the high street and at local markets.

Earlier this year the people of Bristol were invited to submit their ideas for the paper money, and the eight winning designs will now feature on one, five, ten and twenty Bristol Pound denominations - soon to be found in Bristolian purses, wallets and cash tills. 125k in printed Bristol Pounds will be made available initially, exchangeable at a rate of one Bristol pound for one pound sterling at retail distribution points across the city.

The official launch of the Bristol Pound will be marked by celebrations, sponsored by local businesses including Beyond Dispute, Wright Guard Security, BBS Plumbing, and Biblos, at the famous St Nicholas Market and on the streets of Bristol’s historic banking district.

As the market bell, installed in 1850, is rung at 12 .11 GMT (12 noon Bristol time) the Lord Mayor, Councillor Peter Main, will spend the first Bristol pound with food hall and café, Source. The payment will take place on the ‘nails’, the traditional site of exchange in the city since the 18th century. The four Nails stand on the pavement outside the Corn Exchange in Corn Street. These round-topped pedestals were used by merchants when closing a sale. Money was placed on the surface of a Nail, signifying the bargain had been struck; hence the expression 'cash on the nail.'

Ciaran Mundy, Director of the Bristol Pound (a Community Interest Company), will then present the City, represented by Councillor Guy Poultney, Cabinet Member for Communities at Bristol City Council, with the first set of paper Bristol Pounds numbered 001, which will then be displayed at the M Shed Museum.

The busy Wednesday market will be extended into the evening and the addition of musicians and other street entertainers will make for a festive atmosphere. As Ciaran Mundy, Director of the Bristol Pound, explains:

“This is a truly historic occasion for the city of Bristol. Residents and traders with a BS postcode have been able to apply for an account with Bristol Credit Union, allowing them to exchange sterling for the same number of Bristol Pounds via conventional bank transfer or salary payments. They can now start spending the newly created paper pounds with hundreds, and in time thousands, of businesses that benefit by joining the scheme. Shoppers will also be able to use a fast secure mobile phone payment system, a first for a local currency on this scale.”

Mundy added: “As more and more shoppers and businesses spend the Bristol Pound, it will keep more of people's hard earned wages in our communities to be spent again. People in Bristol who love the range of independent traders will be putting their money where it matters and reduce the need for lorries constantly moving goods up and down the country. The scheme is also a powerful way to promote local businesses trading with each other.

“The Bristol Pound starts with an encouraging 300 businesses agreeing to accept the currency, but we anticipate that figure will reach 1000 by the end of the first year, with the value of £B in circulation exceeding 500k by next Autumn.”

The city council are participating in the scheme with businesses accepting the Bristol Pound able to pay their rates in the local currency. Councillor Poultney said:

"Bristol has a successful independent retail sector and thriving high streets which we want to support and grow. The Bristol Pound will provide a real boost to the city's independent businesses and traders. Encouraging people to shop and do their business locally will support the local economy and create wider benefits such as safeguarding local employment and reducing the need to travel.

"We have been keen to support the Bristol Pound by allowing business rate and contract payments to be made electronically in Bristol pounds via the Bristol Credit Union. Council staff will also be able have some of their monthly salary transferred into a Bristol Pound account with the Credit Union. In practical terms we have also provided the organisers with free office space since February.

"I look forward to seeing the Bristol Pound's progress across neighbourhoods and high streets throughout the city."

Early adopters of the currency will enjoy a bonus of additional 5% when exchanging their sterling, and the use of the currency within the city is open to all.

Anyone interested in the Bristol Pound can visit www.bristolpound.org to learn more.