Banks and exchanging – with a difference!

Banks and exchanging – with a difference!

Thanks to the Education Team at Sustainability Trust, there has always been a close relationship between this non-profit organisation and Wellington’s Timebank.  

Staff at the Trust are always keen to spread the word about Timebank and their volunteers can take the opportunity to attend Timebank recruitment drives in the Trust’s purpose built Meeting Room. This is certainly where I learnt more about Timebank and joined up back in January, although at the time I wasn’t really aware of this connection or how it had been developed.

On Wednesday Vishal, the Trust’s volunteer co-ordinator, introduced me to a group of Sustainability Trust’s volunteers who, I soon found out, were also Timebankers. The volunteers can receive Timebank credits for the work they do, which can then be spent in the usual way on exchanges published in the Newsletter. The group I met were all volunteering at the Sustainability Trust’s Curtain Bank (another ‘bank’ I was soon to learn all about) and were delighted to have exchanged their well-earned credits for hair-cuts, a compost bin, Marion’s famous muesli, wood-stacking, massages and even a vegan chocolate cake.  And if they accrue too many time credits, and they often do, they can always donate them to the Community Chest!

Vishal explained that reciprocation works well between the two organisations. The Trust often needs more volunteers than it currently has, especially in the Curtain Bank and when doing external work and waste audits, and this is when Timebank will put a shout out on its media network for volunteers to offer their help in exchange for - yes, you’ve guessed it … time credits. Faye, one of the volunteers, told me that she had initially seen the advertisement to help out at the Curtain Bank in the Timebank newsletter – proof of the good working relationships.

By this time the volunteers were eager to show me around the Curtain Bank, and so it was that Jane and Faye led me through the building to a veritable curtain emporium! A massive warehouse with materials of all colours, textures and sizes stacked on shelves far above our heads and reaching as far as the eye could see. And Lynely, the Curtain Bank Coordinator, the machinist Gollett, and a small group of busy volunteers, stoutly hold the towering bolts at bay.


The Curtain Bank began in Newtown about 6 years ago as part of Sustainability Trust and is now housed at its HQ in Forresters Lane, off Tory Street. I met Cathy Trewby, another volunteer, who assesses the quality and recycling potential of all the curtains and materials donated by the general public, hotels, rest homes etc. She is generally bowled over by the generosity of people and commented on the often huge donations from hotels and the end-of-roll donations from fabric suppliers, which are brand new. Cathy works with machinists, who make up the curtains, and a group of volunteers. When curtains or material are donated they are assessed, measured and folded. They cannot wash dirty materials, so these will not be passed, but they do make every effort to detach usable linings from decaying curtains or vice versa and cut out moulding patches into shorter drops. In addition, they can cut out/off and re-cycle tapes, plastic and metal hooks and tracks. Cathy appreciates that some of the material has been woven by women in the third world for a pittance and so she wants to give the material as long a life as is possible.  

The Curtain Bank generates some money which is fed back into the process of providing curtains for families holding community service cards or for those requiring special care due to risk of particular illnesses. Small amounts are generated from recycling metal, spotting vintage or special interest material that can be sold on Trade Me and from the alteration service Curtain Bank offers to the public. Generally, curtains are provided for the living room in a house, although depending on need, provision might extend to a child’s room or the whole house.

For community service card holders, applications for curtains come into Curtain Bank specifying measurements and describing some element of choice and the co-ordinator selects appropriate fabric. The curtains are then made up and lined, although lining can be provided separately if people have suitable curtains already (as a paid service.) When couriers transport curtains for a whole household or mobile banks deliver multiple orders to a community centre for pick-up a real sense of excitement is generated, experienced by the team as well as those receiving the deliveries.

The Curtain Bank is generously supported by Genesis Energy and Wellington Community Trust.

Jane felt that receiving time credits for her voluntary work at Curtain Bank was a great idea and it had enabled her to have a builder construct a compost bin for her as well as giving her the opportunity to make moisturisers. She really appreciates the Timebank ethos, especially because she knows it is so much easier to give time, than it is to ask for help oneself. Both the give and take are equally important.

Faye has been a Timebanker for a good few years now and although her initial involvement was through a café social, in order to meet people, she soon got into the collecting and exchanging credits culture. In fact, she offered a Pilates session during the Island Bay Festival and earned credits for the development and planning of her initiative and for taking the sessions. In addition, the money paid for the classes was donated to Timebank to help raise the money needed to rent the premises.

The enthusiasm of these volunteers and the efficiency of the whole process was remarkable. Long may this style of ‘banking and exchange’ continue!

Story written by Sue Jenkins