CounterCoin™ in Newcastle under Lyme

CounterCoin is a volunteer, business and community rewards scheme in development. CounterCoin brings business, community and the voluntary sector together to revitalise the town centre and uplift community spirit and pride. It does this by rewarding community volunteering and boosting business at the same time.

It supports businesses of all types and sizes; small, independent, medium, large, private, social and community. And it supports many types of volunteering organisation; including charities, voluntary groups, sports clubs, arts organisations, housing associations, churches and social enterprises.

And most importantly it rewards volunteers, who give so generously of their time, energy, knowledge and skills in our towns.


So how does it work?

A CounterCoin scheme is locally-based, and each scheme needs Volunteers, Issuers (organisations where volunteers undertake their volunteering time, such as York Place’s Cultural Squatters Cafe) and Redeemers (local businesses offering goods and services, such as Lymelight Lanes bowling alley).

Issuers give CounterCoins to their Volunteers in exchange for their time (steps 1 and 2 in diagram), the Volunteers can then exchange their CounterCoins for rewards offered by local businesses (steps 3 and 4).

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The scheme is highly beneficial for local businesses, they are able to choose what products to offer in exchange of CounterCoin, such as fresh produce that would otherwise go to waste if not exchanged for CounterCoins, or discounted services at times when a bowling alley for example, is not busy. Businesses which become Redeemers on the scheme will reap a range of other benefits; new and repeat customers bringing their additional spend, goodwill from customers and the local community, business promotion through being part of the scheme, drawing customers into the local area, and therefore mutually supporting business across the town (step 5).

This exchange and reward scheme’s unique approach strengthens and builds resilience and cohesion across both business and the community. See below for more about the scheme in development.


Counter-Coin – Hometown Plus ahead of the curve

CounterCoin is a scheme that has been developed locally in Newcastle under Lyme – at the outset within the context of York Place shopping centre, which Riddell TPS was managing, with the support of Hometown Plus.

Hometown Plus has been ahead of the curve in that it has been one of very few companies experimenting on the ground to counter the decline in small town shopping centres (AKA secondary shopping centres). The company marries social innovation with strong business credentials, taking an ethical approach to business to help solve some of society’s ‘wicked’ problems.

We know that for centuries town centres have been a place to meet, socialise, exchange information/goods, as well as being the place to shop. However, the larger national retailers are consolidating their bricks and mortar business to prime shopping centre sites and the continued growth of online retail has seen many high street staple brands fail in the last few years (1).

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In fact, some argue that ‘… retailing is not independent of economy, society or place, but is rather a reflection of what we value as consumers and society’ (2). Hometown Plus has embraced this approach, and has been asking - what do communities, local authorities and businesses want their town centres to be like?

The company has brought together a group of people representing voluntary groups, the local authority and local social enterprises, to develop CounterCoin from the ground-up (see York Place article for list of partners). Through prototyping and pilot-testing different phases within the town, CounterCoin’s development is true social innovation in action, ‘… new ideas (products, services and models) that simultaneously meet social needs and create new social relationships or collaborations’ (3).

This collectively-driven practical action research is experimenting in ways to address some of the social, economic and environmental issues of our time – including social cohesion, health and wellbeing, support for volunteering, town centre resilience, business prosperity. It is bringing the public, private and social sectors together, working towards a resilient and prosperous community and town centre - in Newcastle under Lyme.

The next phase includes a wider rolling out of the CounterCoin scheme and working with Tech for Good expert Adam Rizvi to take the scheme to the next level.


1 Deloitte Real Estate Blog – 12/3/18, Hugo Clarke Head of Retail Property Strategy.

2 Anne Findlay & Leigh Sparkes, Town and Country Planning Journal, May/June 2018.

3 Murray et al (2010), in Chalmers, D. (2012), ‘Social innovation: An exploration of the barriers faced by innovating organizations in the social economy, Local Economy, 28(1).


Image credits: 1 & 2, Sarah Spanton, 3, Jake Cliffe, 4, Thormond