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UK town launches its own currency

  • Story Highlights
  • UK town of Lewes launches own currency to encourage residents to shop local
  • "Lewes Pound" will be accepted by around 50 local businesses
  • Organizers say scheme will strengthen local shops, instill sense of local pride
  • Southern English town had its own currency before between 1789 and 1895
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LEWES, England (CNN) -- Tired of soaring prices and uncertain financial markets, a small town in southern England is fighting back -- with its own local currency.

Tuesday evening, the wealthy English town of Lewes plans to launch the Lewes Pound as a complementary currency to the British pound. About 50 local traders have agreed to accept it, and organizers are selling the notes at a discount to entice people to buy them.

"If you spend a pound in a supermarket," campaigner Adrienne Campbell told CNN, "it almost immediately goes out of the community, leaks away, and then isn't remaining in the community serving the local people."

Organizers say the Lewes Pound benefits shoppers by strengthening local shops and increasing a sense of pride in the community. For traders, it increases customer loyalty, minimizes the cost of card-based transactions, and attracts attention to the town. The Lewes Pound also benefits the environment by keeping transactions local, thus reducing carbon emissions, organizers say.

Local cheese shop Cheese Please -- which plans to accept the new currency -- offers an example in the economics. Owner Fiona Kay fills her counter with local cheeses, and a customer would use the Lewes Pound to buy them. Kay would then pay the dairy with Lewes Pounds, and the dairy owner would use the Lewes Pound to buy local supplies.

The Lewes Pound is a basically a voucher worth one British pound that can only be redeemed at locally-owned participating stores. Customers can buy it at several issuing outlets around town and trade it back for sterling at any time.

"I think we will be keen to take it," said Hamish Elder, managing director of the local Harveys Brewery. "For us, it's as much about how well it's welcomed by the people who are using it. If they find it a nuisance, and there is no real benefit for them, they they are not going to back it, so there is no point (in) us backing it."

To encourage people to buy the currency, organizers are offering a 10-percent discount on the notes for the next two weeks. It's all part of a year-long pilot program designed to test how well the system works.

Lewes Mayor Michael Chartier plans to launch the program Tuesday evening in a ceremony at the Lewes Town Hall, unveiling the nearly 10,000 Lewes Pounds that have so far been designed. Lewes has a history of being a bit rebellious.

U.S. revolutionary Thomas Paine spent six years in Lewes until 1774, and for hundreds of years the town has hosted a wild and colorful annual bonfire parade. The town has also had its own currency once before, between 1789 and 1895.

The current currency initiative has the backing of Transition Towns, a non-profit organization that works with local communities to develop their own initiatives to address high oil prices and climate change.

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