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Hackney now has its own currency to encourage people to spend locally

PUBLISHED: 16:44 12 July 2017 | UPDATED: 12:03 13 July 2017

The East London Pound is an app-based currency. Picture: Colu/Maayan Diskin

The East London Pound is an app-based currency. Picture: Colu/Maayan Diskin

@Maayan Diskin

You’d think our borough would be at the forefront of digital innovation, but it’s taken a while for it to get its own currency. The Gazette spent some time finding out more about the new payment system.

The Pembury Tavern owner Stephen Early is first to introduce the bitcoin payment method in an UK pub.The Pembury Tavern owner Stephen Early is first to introduce the bitcoin payment method in an UK pub.

Hackney is known far and wide for blending its working-class East End roots with its new role as a Mecca for creatives and tech start-ups.

And what better symbol of the two communities living in harmony than the ability to pay the fishmonger with “digital currency”?

Well, thanks to the launch of the East London Pound, that’s exactly what you can do in family-run institution Sutton and Sons, as well as 65 other small businesses – from bars to barbers and bookshops to bike shops.

The borough is understandably seen by some as the UK capital for digital currencies, and boozers have already been swept up by the phenomenon – in 2013 The Pembury Tavern became the first pub in the UK to take bitcoin, which is used internationally.

Staff members Ioana Santa and Martin Gomes-Leal general manager outside Sutton and Sons Fish & Chip Shop 90 Stike Newington High St N16Staff members Ioana Santa and Martin Gomes-Leal general manager outside Sutton and Sons Fish & Chip Shop 90 Stike Newington High St N16

There are also six bitcoin “ATMs” in Hackney, where people can top up their smartphone apps with the virtual cash. Earlier this year, tech firm BCB ATM installed its second machine in Clapton, because the one in Dalston Lane was the most used one they had.

So it seems only natural the borough now boasts its very own currency, which comes courtesy of Israeli tech firm Colu.

It’s not the first area to do it, it’s worth noting. Bristol, Exeter, Lewes, Totnes, Kingston and Brixton have all been using their own variations for some time, and late last year Colu launched its first UK venture in Liverpool.

It works like this: users download the Colu app and are given five East London Pounds to spend. From then on the ratio is 1:1, so for every £1 you upload you get 1ELP, although everyone who signs up gets a free 10pc added to their “wallet” as a way to make it more attractive.

Dalston Cola is using the currency. Picture: ColuDalston Cola is using the currency. Picture: Colu

Colu says the idea is to keep money within the local economy and help it thrive. “It is about building communities from the wallet up, offering a way for locals to infuse their money with meaning by supporting local businesses – a win-win for everyone,” said CEO Amos Meiri.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy, and an investment in local businesses is really an investment in the residents of east London. By introducing the ELP we plan to change the way people think about money.”

Colu itself does take money out of the local economy, charging each business 1.5 per cent when the trader withdraws the money into a bank account.

Business-to-business payments are also on their way.

Staff show Colu to locals. Picture: ColuStaff show Colu to locals. Picture: Colu

Sutton and Sons, which has three chip shops as well as the fishmonger, signed up after being impressed with the idea.

Boss Hana Sutton told the Gazette: “I think it’s a great idea – customers can see all independent business on the map and businesses can use the money they receive to deal with other local independent business.

“We only use the east London pound in our fishmongers at the moment – if it takes off we would be very happy to bring it to our chip shops too.

“It would be great if more and more people would use it, small independent business needs all the help from locals it can get.”

Dickson Sagie of Dickson’s Barbers in Kingsland Road signed up to Colu after being introduced to it by his neighbours at Wine Cellar. He said: “I think it’s a good thing to keep money in the local economy. It helps people like us.”

Further down Kingsland Road, Burley Fisher Books are also using the app, though they say it remains to be seen whether it’ll take off. “Not many people are using it, and it’s more in the cafe than the shop,” said a spokesman. “I think it’s good it keeps money circulating locally. But it’s also another person to have to pay money to, effectively just another card transaction company. But they’re organising lots of events and encouraging businesses to sign up, which is good.”


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