Bubbling beneath the surface of the internet is an alternate economy.
CENTs – the Community Exchange Network Tasmania – brings together people across the state, from all stages of life, to trade their goods and services, without cash.
The idea was born out of the North-West Environment Centre, and began with about 16 people.
Today, there are about 500 active members.
Network administrator Tania Brookes said the members came from all corners of the community.
She said the youngest member was four years old, and the oldest was about 90.
Ms Brookes said that personally, she used the service for all number of things – from finding someone to do those odd jobs around the house, to renting out a holiday home intrastate.
“Our daughter (uses CENTs) and bought a chess set for her Dad for Father’s Day,” Ms Brookes said.
“She sold her old toys and clothes that she had grown out of, to get the money to buy the set.
“It’s a good way for kids to be able to buy gifts for the people they care about.”
The program works by one member offering a goods or service, in exchange for online tokens. They can bank those tokens, or “spend” them straight away.
Ms Brookes said that it was not unheard of for couples who were planning a budget-friendly wedding to utilise the service, saving up their tokens to hire a wedding photographer for their big day.
While the North-West Coast is the “stronghold” for the program, it’s steadily gaining traction through Northern and Southern Tasmania.
Ms Brookes said a state like Tasmania was the ideal place for the service to operate, because of its strong sense of community.
The network holds regular face-to-face meet ups for its members.
“The gatherings that we have are (helpful) for people who might not just be economically, but also socially isolated,” Ms Brookes said.
“The network has lots of flow-on effects, including boosting social lives and mental health. People are starting to build relationships again.”
While some of the people who utilise the network do live on tight budgets, Ms Brookes said a lot of members took part in the exchange for social reasons.
“There’s very much an ethos of sustainability, in encouraging recycling and reuse,” she said.
For example, one person’s excess fruit could be transformed by another into preserves, who would then go on to trade it for services, creating a wholly local economy.
For more information about CENTs, visit www.nwcents.org