Time-banking as an initiative for supporting disabled artists/musicians


At a Connect & Collaborate London – Drake Music event at Shape Arts in March 2013, my aim was to involve 25 disabled artists/musicians as a focus group to help us to develop possibilities for finding and establishing structures for support for disabled composers, artists and musicians across London.

The general feedback was about the difficulties for disabled artists to find support for their individual development and projects.

Yes it is hard for any artist/musician, but more so for a disabled artists, due to an array of often overwhelming access issues.

One of our group, a disabled drummer told us he could not afford to pay for someone to move, drive and assemble his drum kit for gigs. Any money he earned from a gig would not cover that simple access requirement, leaving him paying out of his own pocket to play in front of his audience, not an issue that a non-disabled drummer would have to face.

DMConnectShapeThis is a common story and in this time of financial hardship, disabled artists/musicians are finding themselves increasingly more isolated from the music world.

Gaining funding to develop our work is highly competitive and finding accessible studios and venues is extremely difficult and expensive.

Our discussion was in danger of merely citing the pitfalls and barriers for disabled artists/musicians and the severe lack of support across London.

Mik Scarlet (musician, broadcaster, journalist and actor), chairing the discussion asked a simple ‘what if’ question.

It was something along the lines of “what if we could find a way of sharing our respective skills, experience and knowledge without the struggle of finding funding, applying with the high possibility of being rejected for our individual projects?”

This set my mind racing, as I had only just the year before made a film about ‘Time-banking’ for Age UK Bromley & Greenwich.

This leads me on to the thrust of this blog – about how Time-banking could be one of the answers to that simple question.

From here on I want to put up an idea about how we as disabled artists/musicians can look into the possibility setting up our own London-wide Time Bank.

What is a Time Bank?

A Time Bank is a facility where volunteered services, including sharing knowledge, specialist skills or general help is exchanged and stored as hours within a banking structure.

Time given is treated as currency and stored as individual accounts for each person and organisation using and providing volunteering services. All time given and taken is stored and exchanged at an hourly rate.

For example, a volunteer gives an hour of their time to teach someone to play piano and this is stored on their account, which they can claim back at a later date.

In exchange for that hour in tutoring that volunteer can request an hour of help being driven to one of their performances from another volunteer. Then that hour is exchanged and there are two beneficiaries from that initial exchange.

There is no limit to volunteers, beneficiaries or knowledge base and skill sets. Everyone has something to offer and something to receive.

Why use Time-banking?

In this current tight economy, funding for individual disable artists/musicians to get help with what they need is extremely rare.

For example, our earlier mentioned physically disabled drummer (a wheel chair user) who plays live for various events but has no facilities for driving and setting up their equipment would need help from a more able bodied person.

This facility would usually have to be paid for by that individual who does not have a budget for that facility.

Through a Time-banking system that drummer will be able to access a volunteer who might be a music student and that student might exchange the time working with the drummer for another skill set, either tuition from the drummer or a skill or help with something else from another volunteer in the Time-banking System.

Through this process, a group of like-minded disabled artists/musicians would be able to set up a Time Bank network including visual artists, filmmakers, performers, actors and dancers who want to work with composers and musicians.

For example a disabled music group/band may want to make a video and work with a volunteer filmmaker. Here again, volunteering time can be shared and the band can provide their music to the filmmaker for his or her own project or to another filmmaker or dancer within the Time Bank system.

These skill exchanges would prove highly valuable to all parties concerned and provide their own volunteering economy where everyone is paid with knowledge, skills and general help in kind.

What would a London-wide disabled artist/musicians’ Time Bank Scheme look like and how can we develop one?

A London-wide Time Bank initiative could connect a high number of disabled artist/musicians, other professional artists/musicians, arts/music organisations and industry connections. And I stress the importance of engaging industry and organisational help in this. The possibility of having such a network would allow individuals and organisations to share voluntary hours, exchanging one skill or facility for another.

To start with, there could be some form of pilot scheme to establish how many isolated disabled artists/musicians there are, find local partner organisations like Drake Music, Graeae, Heart N Soul, Sound Connections, etc. and their links with disabled and no disabled artists/musicians as well as artist from other art forms.

This way of working would enable open discourse with no single organisation or individual taking on the brunt of such an expansive undertaking. Also it is always best to build outwards from a smaller collective.

This is a great opportunity to find disabled artists/musicians and assess our needs for volunteer skills and knowledge and support base, as well as establish our abilities to return those resources to the time Bank. Furthermore it will enable us to pick up the short fall in provision for all London based organisations and help share support, profiling and support structures for disabled artists/musicians across London without having to compete for participants and resources, sharing them and not duplicating initiatives and projects etc.

Some successful Time Banks and Time-banking organisations based in London, in their own words:

Lewisham Time Bank Network Under Lewisham Council’s ‘Communities that Care’ programme, the Time Bank received funding to establish 5 Time-banking community hubs, and two extra staff joined the Time Bank in early 2013 to pilot the hubs until March 2014. The aim of the hubs is to develop an inclusive network of people supporting each other through a Time-banking initiative of neighbourly community ‘hubs’, connecting people to others and to various groups. With coproduction as a central principle of working, the participants will be encouraged to be more active and co-design the activities and services they want.

Timber Wharf Time Bank is a skills exchange network based in Hackney, East London. It is a way for local people to help each other, build relationships and be recognised for the help that they give. For every hour’s help a member gives another (e.g. Spanish lesson, guttering mending, web design) they receive one time credit which they can then spend on receiving help from another member (leg waxing, bike fixing, horrible internet connection problem solving). There are also organisations who have joined our special organisation Time Bank, Hackney Shares . They put in their own resources in return for help or resources from other members. This means we are able to offer theatre, cinema tickets and other useful and fun stuff as part of the time bank.

Time Banking UK Time-banking has been around in the UK since 1998. Since that point it has witnessed extraordinary growth, being applied to many and varied settings across the public, private and community sectors. And it is not just a UK phenomenon. The Time-banking journey began in the USA, and has now spread to over forty countries in six different continents. But the coming of age of this movement, Time-banking, still remains an approach that is far from fully-formed. Not a day goes by without Time-banking being applied in a new setting, or across a new boundary. No two Time Banks of the 250 or so there are in the UK are the same. We are constantly learning about how and why Time-banking as a means of exchange can make a difference to society. In many ways we are only just scratching the surface of our understanding and experience of this new way of doing business.

Where do we go from here?

I am extremely enthused by the possibility of Time-banking as a viable London-wide resource. Having seen Time-banking work successfully for Age UK Bromley and Greenwich, I feel that there are wide expanses of possibilities for disabled artist/musicians like myself, to network and find support through this type of structure, in these thinly-funded and highly competitive times. I feel that this is a discourse well worth setting in place.

If you are interested in discussing the possibilities of Time-banking with me, please reply to this blog.


Leave a Reply