CHARITY shops recycle “pre-loved” clothes and goods and invest the money in good causes. But Glasgow’s most ethnically diverse neighbourhood has developed a whole new model – a Swap Market, where no money changes hands, goods are exchanged not bought or sold and the items on display include skills such as language tuition and the knack of breast-feeding twins.

The Swap Market opened in Govanhill’s Victoria Road this September and has already changed local ideas about shopping, volunteering and the whole money system. That’s intentional.

It began as part of the People’s Bank project, which in turn emerged from the long-running campaign to restore Govanhill Baths.

Artist Ailie Rutherford had returned from living in Liverpool for a residency at the Baths in 2014. “It was a very exciting time – I just got back in time to vote. Scotland had become a hotbed of political discussion – so much desire to see change -- and it prompted talk about different kinds of independence. Like independence from the current, money system.

“During the campaign the currency debate was really frustrating. Sterling or not sterling – would there really be a difference or just the same economic disparities in a new currency?

“Through the residency I started wondering – what if Govanhill had its own independent currency? I screen-printed an edition of Govanhill bank notes, which could be exchanged at the Baths. It was an experiment, but once they were in circulation people started asking – what happens next? What do we do with these notes? That’s when we realised the project could become much bigger.”

Ailie got some funding from Creative Scotland and the People’s Bank grew.

“The project is underpinned by feminist economics, but we tried to do this in a playful way. I dressed up like the economy as an iceberg and hung out in chip shops and kebab houses.

“It was a way to have a conversation – if you have sit-down discussions only certain people turn up. It’s also really important to have something tangible in projects like these, which is how the Swap Market developed.”

The shop in Victoria Road is extremely tangible, but also takes a creative pop at the conventional stock market. There’s no cash in the store but valuable items and skills are constantly changing hands.

To get started, locals need stamps on a membership card – deliberately modelled on coffee shop loyalty cards. When folk become (free) members they get one point, which currently gets one item of clothing (the exchange rate varies according to supply and demand). The shop has an exchange rate blackboard with a “swaps and shares” index charting transactions each week to show what’s popular and how many people are swapping.

Sibell Barrowclough is the manager of the shop.

She explained: “The points value of an object doesn’t say how much it’s worth elsewhere – to us a Versace jacket and a Primark jacket have the same value, one point. But a home-made recipe, piece of art or hand-knitted garment gets our top value – three points.”

“A lot of people assume the Swap Market is a charity shop and ask for prices. We explain the points system and the exchange rate – though actually the easiest explanation is pointing out the lack of a till. Children grasp it all immediately. Adults take longer.”

It’s also possible to swap skills for points. One woman has offered a workshop on how to breastfeed twins. Another local volunteer and barterer, Andrew Currie, has offered 10-minute shoulder massages.

“It’s another way to get round the capitalist way of just using money for things. I’ve a friend who’s a vocal coach so I’ve been giving her massages in exchange for singing lessons.”

The most popular skill swap, though, is language coaching.

Claire Morris is back in Scotland after living in France for 11 years and is offering French classes. But why not become a French tutor and earn hard cash?

“My French isn’t totally fluent and my grammar is pretty rubbish. I’m more into communication than formal language skills. I recently bought a flat but it’s not ready to move into yet. So I may be looking for people with practical skills before long. Meanwhile, it’s great to be part of the community sharing things.”

Perhaps the biggest achievement has been the Swap Market’s engagement with the large, local refugee population – many of whom speak only Romanes. Two multi-lingual interpreters, Rahela Cirpaci and David Milosiu, hold weekly classes in Kalderash Romanes, teaching the language to volunteers and staff from the Swap Market and other local projects.

According to Sybil: “Now we can say a few words to help customers. No-one expects anyone outside the Romanes community to speak their language so people are excited and moved when it’s spoken to them.

"If you are living in poverty or seeking asylum, this is a great place to come because there is no money. Asylum seekers often have incredible skills and experience, but government rules mean they can’t be employed.

"There’s nothing to stop refugees swapping their skills though and it really boosts their confidence to be valued by other local people.”

Since the opening in September this year, 600 people have become members. “We’ve been swamped – we actually need time to come up with more unusual swaps.”

Ideas will doubtless flow this weekend when the Swap Market will celebrate National Board Game Day by inventing and playing its own version of Govanhill monopoly – you need to co-operate to win.

So what’s next?

According to Ailie Rutherford: “The People’s Bank is now looking at cryptocurrency. We are moving towards a cashless society and blockchain will most likely become massive.

“Either it will replicate the money system and exacerbate its problems or we can work out how to take control.

“How do we make sure current gender, race and class biases aren’t coded into the currency of the future so it’s more fair and equal? We’re starting workshops with a designer and researcher to ask what a community cryptocurrency would look like.”

That may sound a bit left-field, but in three months the Swap Market’s combination of practical provision and radical new thinking has won over locals.

According to resident Brian Morgan: “Here was a project that wanted to look at what was good rather than what was bad in Govanhill.

“I was also interested in alternative currencies and time-banks and knew that new conversations could emerge from this approach. But Ailie has added an artistic element, and that’s what makes the project unique.

“I think it’s really caught the imagination of people – and could have tremendous potential for community and economic development in Govanhill.”

The Swap Market has almost 18 months before funding runs out in March 2020. Enough time to switch Govanhillers on to a whole new way of doing business.