top of page

How we started

How did timebanking start?

The idea of Timebanking was conceived in the 1980s by an American lawyer called Edgar Cahn who was a speechwriter  for Robert Kennedy.


During a spell in hospital after a heart attack he started thinking about people who may be undervalued or dismissed because they don’t earn a wage. He observed that the economy doesn’t value contributions fairly – for instance that of unpaid carers despite their huge contribution to society. 


Equally, the way the system values things that are scarce felt wrong to him.  Just because something is plentiful, doesn’t make it worthless and Cahn wanted a system that valued the intrinsic worth of the individual - all being equal.

There are several Cahn interviews - here are two, a short one and a longer one!

How we started in Portobello

Laura Plumb read this article in The Herald (03-Sep-2008) explaining how timebanking worked in a Scottish prison, and a few years later, she met Kate Kasprowicz while working at Portobello Citizens Advice Bureau. Kate was working with the Edinburgh Volunteer Centre and EVOC (Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations’ Council) to promote Timebanking in Edinburgh. Laura was inspired to write the following for the Portobello Reporter (winter 2012 edition) appealing for help to launch a timebank!

Advert in The Portobello Reporter Dec-2012

The seed was born. The advertised meeting at the library was well attended by at least 10 people and a steering group was formed. Barbara Mahon (chair), Siobhán Leslie (treasurer), Laura Plumb and Emma Dempsey became the committee, taking the idea further, forging links with the library, drafting a constitution, and planning how to launch and grow in Portobello. The support of the library was a boon in the early years – we were given space to hold meetings and events as well as permission to use the library as our address.  Some of our early events were about awareness raising and attracting members.

Being a time Bank required working out an exchange system to record time spent between members performing all sorts of exchanges.  To start with this was a spreadsheet requiring two ‘timebrokers’ (Kay Griew and Charlotte Gardiner) to administer. The spreadsheet method soon proved inadequate and too time consuming, so in early 2014 we switched over to a dedicated web app called ‘Time And Talents’ developed in the USA by hOurworld and used by many timebanks. As well as recording time credits, this system provided each member with their own ‘portal’ for a short bio and photo of themselves (visible only to other members). 

Previously, membership had been administered by Laura with a Google Form, which was replaced by hourworld which was a benefit in other ways too enabling members to ‘advertise’ their offers and requests, and to record their own exchanges. Kirsty Carver joined the committee in 2013 and being the main contact with hOurworld, she was the first member to join the hOurwold on 11/01/2014. By the end 2014 there were 28 members. The timebank was able to grow, and in our 10th year we have well over 200 members.

[examples of our early fliers, below]

Timebank 2.png
Timebank 1.png

The Member’s Handbook was developed around 2013 – based on ones from North and South Edinburgh Timebanks.


The committee has changed over time with various members taking their turn. Irene Thomson joined the timebank as timebroker and committee member in June 2015 and soon became chair and membership secretary.  She excelled in these roles, taking time to meet and get to know new members, providing inductions and gently cajoling us to participate! It was a great loss when she died in July 2019.

We have received some funding to cover running costs, Scotmid being an early donor, but mostly we have raised our own funds. We have an exceptional baking team and rely on them to provide all the goodies for our fundraisers. We also help out other local charitable organisations with catering and skill sharing. At Christmas we raise money for local charities by carol singing. Our members are very generous with their time and effort.

Group activities were started by James Carver in 2016 with litter clearance in the Brunstane Burn woodland below Donkey Field, and soon the Conservation Group was formed also by James to help maintain certain aspects of this natural environment. Both these groups were very popular with members attracted by the social opportunity and ability to earn hours! The community gardening group also became very popular, created by Frank Ledwith. Chris Cowie was also very active especially in ‘guerilla gardening’ in Brunstane Road and the Morton Street triangle.

Though she was never a member, Kate Kasprowicz played an important ongoing role in helping to set up the timebank, especially around training us to fulfill required roles such as timebroker. Of all the timebanks Kate helped set up in Edinburgh, Portobello was different in that we were the only one set up to be run entirely by volunteers, giving us more freedom perhaps, but this could have been a major factor in determining our survival over other timebanks that were established in Edinburgh around the same time.

bottom of page