Exeter Pound volunteer and columnist for Exposé features, Pria Rai takes a look at the prospect of individuality that the Exeter Pound could inject into our ‘bland’ high street.
A walk down Exeter High Street and through Princesshay may be pleasant and convenient enough, with all the amenities you could need mostly to hand. However, it doesn’t take long to notice the dominance of international business and chain stores. The same recurring shop fronts as in every other town and city. Exeter has previously been slated for having the ‘blandest high street in Britain’, when it came out on top of a 2005 national survey to identify the country’s ‘clone towns’ – urbanised areas that have lost their own identity to the hands of global businesses. Cambridge had managed to take top spot when the survey was repeated in 2010, but this observation is not one that the city at the heart of Devon should be proud of.
Over recent years organisations within the city, with the support of the City Council, have developed schemes to promote and increase the presence of independent shops within Exeter. This has included ‘Exeter Trails’, which provides maps and an online directory highlighting the unique gems in and around the city. Now, 2015 will be the year of the Exeter Pound.
September will see the launch of the city’s own currency, equal in value to Sterling. Organisers of the scheme hope to see many long-term benefits originate from the introduction of the pound, which can be spent in the independent shops of Exeter. This is the next necessary step for the city if it is to continue its growth away from its shameful ‘bland’ reputation. Students and local residents alike need to be shown the variety of locally born stores of the city in which they have chosen to live. If support for the independent businesses can be encouraged by a local currency, then it also has the potential to strengthen the resilience of Exeter’s local economy.
Any city should be striving to make its visiting experience as individual as possible, and in order to do this the level of business received by local shops needs to be increased. The Exeter Pound has this aim at the heart of its ambitions. Their hope is that it will encourage shoppers to divert away from the chain shops, and instead spend locally. When sterling is spent in national and international business, any value and profit is lost by Exeter. A local currency should have the effect of creating a more self-reliant economy in which more money can circulate within the city.
Not only can this scheme be positive for the economic wealth of Exeter, but also the wealth of its character and community. It is a small city in comparison to many, so it shouldn’t be hard to build connections with the people we trade with. It is, after all, people who make business work. A further benefit a local currency, whether it is in Exeter, Bristol, or Totnes, is the community network it naturally forges. One of the reasons independent shops are often overlooked is for the simple reason that many cannot locate them. Exeter Pound hope to overcome this problem with having map and location information built into their app. This way, individuals can have the personal experience of finding a new place to explore and even converse with the business owners about their experience.
A sense of identity will also be given to the community that the Pound brings together. The design of the paper notes will be forged by local people, using any art form to depict the characteristics of Exeter. This in itself gives an extra connection to the city, and something to give everyone a sense of belonging. I don’t think it is daring to say that it is these types of small details that provoke a community to share more respect for their city, and in return future generations can have more confidence in the path their home will take.
The overriding passion behind wanting to promote the local shops of any city comes from the desire to put ‘people before profit’. This is something that is not as easily possible with grand scale global businesses. It can benefit the Exeter experience for both tourists and inhabitants, as the heritage of the city has the potential to be more prominent, whilst knowing that the economy and environment are receiving positive impacts. Exeter as the ‘clone town’ of Britain is a reputation that needs to shaken off, and in order to do that people need a motive to change their consumer attitudes. The spender has the power to ultimately decide what their city is made of.
Anyone who is interested in being involved with the Exeter Pound Organisation as a volunteer, with opportunities ranging from creative input to market research, can email Project Worker Adam Rich: firstname.lastname@example.org and sign up to our volunteer mailing list