Community time banks can not only release enormous human resources to tackle deep-rooted social problems, but also provide practical and effective solutions for a range of public policy problems.

The time bank idea was developed at the London School of Economics by Washington law professor Edgar Cahn in 1986, who describes the idea as working like a blood bank or babysitting club: Help a neighbour and then, when you need it, a neighbour – most likely a different one – will help you.

The system is based on equality: one hour of help means one time dollar, whether the task is grocery shopping or making out a tax return… Credits are kept in individual accounts in a bank’ on a personal computer. Credits and debits are tallied regularly. Some banks provide monthly balance statements, recording the flow of good deeds.”

Time credits are simply a recognition of the time and effort put in locally. They are not supposed to be an adequate recompense, and experience in the USA shows that most are never spent. But they do seem to be the kind of recognition that keep people volunteering much longer than in conventional volunteer schemes. At its simplest, the idea uses a broker at the end of the phone, and allows people to earn time credits for each hour they help out in their local community.

The result is a parallel economy, using time as the medium of exchange, putting these forgotten assets to work meeting the forgotten needs, and by doing so making connections between people and rebuilding a sense of trust.