Banking time brings community together

An innovative scheme that rewards time given to community work with a number of items, including cinema tickets and exercise classes, is being expanded.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A resident uses her volunteer credits on the app to get a bottle of oil.

A common headache for grassroots officials is reviving community spirit and bringing residents — especially the young — closer together. Gonghexin Road Community offers a solution.

It has introduced the concept of “time bank,” where residents can earn credits by volunteering in the community. "Time credits” can be exchanged for a number of things, from yearly laundry cards to cinema tickets, restaurant coupons and exercise classes. 

Residents can earn and use credits on a tailor-made app — Gonghexin e home — the city’s first app of its kind that blend online and offline community. 

The Luoshan neighborhood was first to try the app about a year ago. This year, the project will be expanded to 25 neighborhoods, said Zhu Youyuan, deputy director of the community’s office.

“Previously, only senior citizens took part in volunteering and other community works,” said Huang Bei, Party chief of Luoshan. “Young people didn’t have much time and they were not interested in our activities. Also, we used to only post information on boards rather via social media, and thus they just missed it.”

The neighborhood interviewed young residents and listened to what they wanted.

“Now we have 387 registered users, more than half of whom are young people. They are exactly the group I target,” Huang said. 

Han Liang and his wife are among the active users. 

“His wife found the community was providing free karate classes to children from the app, and signed up for their son, aged 8,” Huang said. “We didn’t charge a penny and we let parents themselves to decide on the appropriate class time based on their schedule. It was really attractive to them.”

Gradually, the woman befriended social workers. During chats, she said Han was good at pen writing and recommended him to be a volunteer teacher.

“My son felt lonely at home and didn’t want to learn pen writing with me because he thought it was boring. But now, he likee to take class with other children in the community,” Han said. “Besides, I’d love to do something for the community. Also, I can earn credits to exchange for things what I want.”

So far, he has held more than 10 classes, Huang said.

Another popular function on the app is “sharing parking spaces,” which make up for the community’s parking shortage.

“Residents with their own parking space can open access when they are driving out. Neighbors can use credits to exchange for short-time parking,” Huang said. “Also, people can exchange parking spaces.”

Wan Jie, 30, has benefited from it.

After his wife got pregnant, he paid many visits to the property management officials, hoping to change to a parking space near to his unit. But he had no luck.

“My parking space was about seven to eight minutes walk from my unit. I wanted a nearer one. So I posted on the app, asking for an exchange. Unexpectedly, a neighbor soon contacted me and agreed for exchange,” he said.

Zhu said “time credits” not only recognize the contribution residents make to their community, but also help to bring residents closer. “Previously, neighbors were only ‘familiar strangers,' but from now on, they can be real friends.”

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