When Anne-Marie Mayer gives neighbours Shiatsu massage, her remuneration comes in beaks, writes Lesley Gerard.

For every 90-minute treatment she gives, she receives 15 beaks - a currency used increasingly in Kingston Upon Thames. She could spend them on a pair of handmade stained glass candlesticks sold at the local Beacon shop, use them to part-pay for a meal at the shop's cafe, indulge in a few self-improving guitar

lessons, order a home-baked cake, or save up to have her living room redecorated - 80 beaks, plus materials.

In the beak directory there are 150 different services on offer from babysitting to science tuition, from Welsh lessons to computer training.

'There are not many things that you cannot buy with beaks around here,' says Anne-Marie. 'I use them to pay for having my bicycle repaired, and I have had my kitchen redecorated (70 beaks) and the bathroom smartened up (50 beaks), and when I went on holiday someone looked after my allotment and I paid them 30 beaks.'

She says she does not earn enough in beaks to pay tax: 'If I did more than six Shiatsu treatments a week then I would probably run into problems.'

The Kingston upon Thames Lets scheme - Kutlets - was launched in January 1992.

At the hub of the scheme, and a popular meeting place for Kutlets members, is the Beacon shop, an environment and community centre, which sells eco-friendly products, whole food and crafts and co-ordinates the trading.

The major benefit of this structured alternative economy, Anne-Marie insists, is the growing sense of community in a commuter-belt suburb.

'What is developing is a real community spirit and identity, despite the fact that we are a London suburb. It has helped people get to know each other and become friends. It has got to the point now that people are not so fussy whether the service they provide is worth more beaks than the service they get back.

'They're not counting any more - what's a beak between friends.'

(Photographs omitted)