Our community was failed by the banks, so we’ve started our own and put local heroes on our notes

The HSCB’s Hilary Powell and Dan Edelstyn (Picture: Peter Searle)

It was while watching a documentary that declared that 97% of the real money in our society is created out of thin air that we decided to start printing our own cash.

Most of the money in the UK is created as interest bearing debt when banks make loans. Our group decided that if the Bank of England and high-street chains can create money out of nothing, then why couldn’t we?

However, rather than using the proceeds of our money creation for buying up corporate bonds, we would help the people most in need.

We therefore created the Hoe Street Central Bank (HSCB). It’s an artist-led scheme printing its own money as art.

Half of the money we make will fund four local causes that are fighting the fallout of our country’s debt-based economic system; the proceeds from the other half will go on buying up and destroying £1m of local payday debt on the secondary market in Walthamstow.

Our first run of notes was made by my partner, artist and printmaker Hilary Powell, from the shed at the bottom of the garden in December 2016.

Since then we went on to scale up the enterprise, moving into the Hoe Street Bank in March of this year, in the old Co-Op bank in Walthamstow, in order to print out £50,000 worth of our own banknotes/artworks

Hoe Street Central Bank was dubbed ‘The Rebel Bank’, and the name has stuck as a shorthand for our community-oriented, subversive, artistic confrontation.

A design for the Tracey £20 note (Picture: Dan Edelstyn)

The characters on our notes are local heroes who we argue are picking up the pieces of a broken debt based economy – our first note to launch was the Gary, named after Gary Nash who set up the food bank, Eat Or Heat.

We wanted the notes to represent the diversity of Walthamstow and have three more note characters: Saira, Steve and Tracey.

We chose Saira Mir because, along with her family, she runs Pl84U Al-Suffa, a food kitchen serving the homeless and vulnerable in the area.

Steve Barnabis set up The Soul Project to help adolescents, particularly those in danger from or surrounded by gangs.

His building was sold – because of that he has lost major funding and the project is teetering on the edge of closing.

The Tracey is named after the head teacher of our children’s school, Tracey Griffith. All primary schools in our borough have been affected by huge cuts to their budgets since the 2008 banking crisis, with governments since then claiming they had to limit funding to repay national debt levels that went unusually high after the bailouts.

We argue that this simply isn’t true, as the Bank of England has been creating billions of pounds worth of cash to buy up corporate bonds and to help banks out with liquidity since the crisis.

The HSCB print works (Picture: Tony O’Brien)

This money isn’t making its way through the real economy, but the more basic, though illusory, idea that the national economy is like that of a household, and when times are tough, you need to cut. It’s an idea that still holds sway in much of the public’s perception.

The secondary debt market is a murky world where distressed debts are traded at a fraction of their face value. We have raised more than £30,000 from the artwork we have sold so far, and, by using the secondary debt market, we have helped to pay for the £1m of debt.

We haven’t finished selling our artwork though, so we’re having an exhibition of the banknotes in October at the bank in Walthamstow, following which we will divide up the rest of the money we have raised among the causes.

As part of our team we have employed local students, artists, designers and photographers to help us produce the design through to the printing of our money.

We’ve involved as many members of the community as possible in the production and it has been an excellent way of educating people about money creation and debt – not from the orthodox perspective, but from a fresher,  more dynamic one.

We have come together to try to solve a huge problem facing us all in Britain: we have never been so personally indebted.

At a time of such a lot of uncertainty, and political paralysis, we believe that solving things as a community is the way ahead.

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