The North Staffordshire community was one of the first areas where UnLtd focused its place-based support. There was real enthusiasm to create lasting social change in the region, but a lack of coordination and available resources to make it happen. Our Resilient Communities programme and support from the players of People's Postcode Lottery has helped with providing those resources.
Fast forward two years and much has been achieved from that energy and passion.
Leading the way is Mike Riddell, an UnLtd Award Winner, who created CounterCoin. The venture is a reward scheme through which volunteers that make a contribution to their community are recognised by the payment of a token known as a CounterCoin. The token can then be exchanged for rewards, which typically consist of surplus goods. Actual clay coins (a nod to North Staffordshire’s Pottery heritage) have been minted but the longer-term plan is that this can be digitised.
A number of other projects and potential social ventures are also in the pipeline including work with a local supermarket to enable CounterCoin earners to part ‘pay-with-clay’ for surplus food with their clay coins. Some local leisure and sports organisations have already pledged to accept part-payment for tickets as part of a pilot that will test the CounterCoin concept and help shape future plans.
Closely linked to CounterCoin is the Cultural Squatters CIC café. The café is run by volunteers, all of whom are distant from the job market for a variety of reasons. Narina Stead, the Squatter’s proprietor, has already helped 14 long-term unemployed people into full time employment and provides a caring and safe environment that helps volunteers to thrive. Volunteers are also able to earn CounterCoin from their volunteering activity which can then be redeemed at participating businesses in the local area. There are aspirations to bring a Cultural Squatters type café to each of Stoke-on-Trent’s six distinct town centres, and to start CounterCoin ‘earner forums’ to give a voice to those who are creating value through volunteering but are often marginalised from society.
There are several social ventures growing locally too: the Magic Money Tree art project; a refugee street food project; volunteer celebration events; a peer mentoring hub; and a joint event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce to bridge the gap between corporates and social entrepreneurs due to take place this summer.
Mike supports his social entrepreneur peers as part of a wider group of organisations and individuals who are working strategically to influence an infrastructure that will enable social entrepreneurs to survive and thrive in North Staffs. These businesses offer an alternative solution to local issues, addressing social inequality, poverty, social injustice, and environmental sustainability.
The #BeKind golden thread stitches these projects together. There’s no hierarchy here, just groups of social entrepreneurs and supportive organisations who want to use the areas assets to improve opportunities for all.
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