Meet the Team: Mel Shaw, Project Worker
Each month we’ll introduce you to the individuals behind the pound sign, who are working hard to make the project not just a reality, but a resounding success! This month we caught up with part-time project worker Melanie Shaw, who fills us in on what it’s like to be a part of the project, and how her experience of working in investment banking has come to be invaluable in a local community project.
Hello Mel! How did you first get involved with Exeter Pound?
I initially found out about the job through Transition Exeter, which is a bit like an incubator for various projects, including Exeter Pound, Exeter Community Energy, The Real Food Store, and others. They’d posted an advert for a freelance part-time project worker for Exeter Pound. I had just moved to Exeter (in August of last year) and the city was still very new to me. I needed a part-time job to support my work as a Herbalist and was actively looking for jobs that wouldn’t take up my whole week. It was initially just to pay the bills but I think this is a dream part-time job!
What makes it a dream job?
It’s very positive! It just seems to tick all the boxes for me; I think using money as a positive tool is a great thing! Occasionally there are moments of stress, but we’re working to a deadline so sometimes things don’t quite follow your plan. I always feel like I can contact my team members though and we’ll fix it together. I’m surrounded by creative, innovative, quick-thinking people and so far we’ve always managed to get back on track. It also immediately boosted my network beyond anything I could have hoped for as a newcomer to Exeter, and it’s been great for professional development too. I’ve never worked for a start-up project before but it means we all get to do a variety of things we haven’t tried previously. I haven’t gone back and revamped my CV yet but when I do my skillset will have increased considerably!
Could you tell us about your role within Exeter Pound?
Originally the directors decided to hire three of us as part-time project workers. The roles have become more clearly defined over the year that I’ve been here but they aren’t set in stone. I tend not to get very involved with the design stuff and Ian Martin generally handles the press and social media. I’ve done a lot of work on the legal and technical side of things, or what I call the nuts and bolts, but it’s not necessarily exclusive to that; we all do a little bit of everything. It’s been great because ever since we’ve started signing up traders I’ve been getting flashbacks to when I was working in the city, in investment banking.
It sounds like a different world! Could you tell us a little about what you used to do?
Rather than selling stocks, shares, and bonds, which are publicly traded entities, I was, if you like, selling on the other side of the Chinese Wall. My job as a salesperson for the investment bank was to find investors to provide financing for large company buyouts. This meant I was regularly dealing with reams of information, analysing it for clients and answering key questions. While this project is not as complex as a leverage buyout deal, I used to love understanding and responding to the needs of each client and this has felt very similar. It’s quite exciting to be able to use the skills I gained in the city for a positive local community project.
Which achievements for Exeter Pound are you particularly proud of?
I’m so excited about the number of trader sign-ups! The amount of support we’ve had from traders signing up, and purchasing ads, has been great. We’re offering free trader membership, we’re making this as accessible as possible but for a business, change is still a risk to take. By signing up early these guys are helping us to keep the momentum going. I’d also like to mention that Devon Air Ambulance Trust is supporting us! All five of their premises are going to be trader members, and four of them will be exchange points which is a big commitment on their part and helps us to expand our exchange points network!
That’s very true, the traders are key! Is there anything you would like prospective traders to know?
I would like people to know that we’re not for profit, we’re independent, and why we’re doing it too! By supporting local independent businesses, we’re building resilience by increasing the diversity of employment for local people. I was asked recently to give a one-liner about why I got involved with the project and I referred back to my banking background when I was helping to provide financing for large buyouts. The companies being bought out would suddenly find themselves in debt to anything from twenty to fifty-odd investors, all of whom would be expecting a return in an agreed period. The problem with this is that the company’s priorities change. The focus goes from serving the needs of the customer or the needs of the local people to servicing what can often be pretty high-interest payments. Decisions about the future of the business are suddenly being made in boardrooms miles away, and if there’s a downturn and payments can’t be met, retail outlets can end up being closed down and large numbers of people lose their jobs. Of course, local independent businesses can go under too but the impact is usually not so big overnight. It’s all about bringing the decision making and the stakeholder input back closer to home so that we can all take each other’s needs into account a bit more.
And do you have a message for anyone thinking of volunteering?
Please, get in touch! I haven’t been volunteering so it’s slightly different for me, but having worked with volunteers and from the feedback we’ve been getting, people seem to be getting a lot out of it. We’ve got people who volunteer for an hour a week, up to people who put in quite a bit more, so we’re very flexible on our side to accept volunteers regardless of how much time they can give. We’re specifically looking for a volunteer bookkeeper at the moment, to manage the note circulation after the launch. If you’re interested, please do get in touch!
Have you been surprised by any of the work that Exeter Pound does?
I wondered why we were printing paper notes when I initially got involved with the project as it’s not the most environmentally friendly option. However, I quickly realised how much the design of the notes, created by the people of Exeter, really engaged people. We also got a strong message back from the public during the surveying that quite a lot of people would prefer to use paper notes, so I think it’s important to provide the option of both a digital and a paper currency. That did surprise me at first though.
The notes stand for so much more than just currency now! If you could change one thing about Exeter Pound, what would it be and why?
Funnily enough, I would add a digital currency! We’re examining all options to achieve this and I think it’ll happen next year. Some of the feedback we got through the surveys showed us there’s also a strong minority of people who do most of their shopping either with a card or in some digital format. It will also allow more trade to go back and forth between traders and enable those without a retail presence to participate more actively. Figures from the Bristol Pound scheme show that more currency tends to circulate in the economy via digital than paper.
And what do you do when you’re not working for Exeter Pound?
I’m building up my herbal medicine practice which is going well. I’m paying for an ad in the Exeter Pound brochure, so that should be a good boost! I also love photography and rambling, I love going to forage and harvest herbs which of course is a big part of my job as a herbalist. I love meditation, I’ve been doing it for about seven years now and regularly meditate with a group of friends.
Finally, could you name a favourite thing or two about our lovely city?
It’s really pretty! The thing I like most is walking home and hearing, just through the breeze, the bells from the cathedral. It’s quieter here than in London, with a more civilised pace of life and I love the fact that I can hear owls out at night; that would never happen in London! Walking or cycling everywhere is also a pleasure!
Exeter is absolutely that perfect combination of city and countryside! Thanks very much to Mel for taking the time to chat today. Don’t forget to check out next month’s newsletter to meet another member of the team!
Disclaimer: The details in this interview were correct when first published in the Exeter Pound Newsletter on 30th August 2015. I wrote it while volunteering as Communications Editor for the Exeter Pound Project CIC, which was discontinued in 2018. Please click here to read about the project’s aims. For more information about my role in the project, please check out my LinkedIn profile.