What if… we could bank hours of help?

Words / Glyn Brown 

Illustration / Chiyun Yeh 

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Things have been particularly tough for Chrissie during the virus. A Gateshead teacher with a teenage son, she’s not only managing her class via Zoom and overseeing Adam’s homework (her ambulance driver husband is rarely home at the best of times), she’s also been trying to organise shopping for her dad, who lives near Truro.

Getting delivery slots has been impossible; two volunteer groups refused to take Reg’s card, saying most relatives would be on hand to supply their parents with cash. (Really?) After reasoning and cajoling, Chrissie got a paid help group to use their only company card, which she’d reimburse online.

But Reg, now on a walking frame, won’t countenance paying for shopping delivery once rules relax. Chrissie also knows he’s lonely and was struck by how warmly he spoke of Jake, the care company driver who’d take down his shopping list. Meanwhile, Chrissie frequently picks up basics for her neighbour Isla, 86. “I’ve told my son all about you,” says Isla, who insists she and Chrissie soon resume the tea and custard cream breaks Chrissie secretly loves. Isla’s son, in Norfolk, feels a bit guilty.

Wouldn’t it be neat if an outfit existed to match people with someone else’s elderly relatives close by? Actually, it does: in Japan. An all-electronic complementary currency, Fureai Kippu (caring relationship tickets) lets you earn credits by helping a local senior citizen or anyone in need. The basic unit is an hour of time, which you can swap for help for a distant family member or store for your future self.

But there’s a glitch or two. How do you know there’ll be someone in the right area who’s registered and prepared to help? Will someone help when you need it? And won’t caregivers have their own needs, especially once we’re all back at work? Many Japanese have joined purely for philanthropy, but broadening the scheme’s remit might widen its appeal and help it translate here.

So how about this? You join Happy Hours, give your location and list what you’re prepared to do – from tutoring to ironing, mowing a lawn, troubleshooting a computer – and things, if any, you need. The only proviso is that your very first hour’s help is for an elderly person, which you may find you want to do more of. Jobs come up, and you take whatever appeals.

In a way it’s a UK-wide hippy barter system, building on habits of helping others we’ve developed over lockdown and emotionally and practically good for us all.

The core of steel is that everyone goes through a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check and submits qualifications and referees. Fail to turn up without a valid reason, and you’re barred.

If Isla’s son joined, he could bank time for his mum and relieve his guilt by, say, doing someone’s accounts once a month. And Chrissie could get Isla’s shopping then enjoy a chat about the Sixties knowing she’s logging up an hour of care for Reg.

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