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by Robin Gurney of Churches Together Leighton Linslade

It was Archbishop Welby that set us off! The Archbishop’s intervention into the world of finance and lending, with his attack on some of the more extortionate interest rates charged to the most vulnerable people, galvanised many into looking at ways to assist those most in need.

Credit Unions have been around for many years but in comparison to their widespread use in many  countries around the globe they have not been so widely known in this country.

They originated in Germany in the 19th century but were introduced to this country in the 1960s. It is now estimated that there are 500 operating here with some one million members. For the churches in our town the Credit Union route seemed the best way to try to meet known needs in this area.

Many months and much hard work by dedicated people has now enabled the creation of a branch of Money Matters Credit Union to open here as a subsidiary of the Lewsey, Luton main office. With cooperation from Barclays Bank in the High Street, a room has been made available where volunteers may enrol and transactions can begin.

Credit Unions are not pay-day lenders. They offer an alternative to high interest rate loans and doorstep lenders. CUs are financial cooperatives, set up by and controlled by their members for the benefit of the local community.

The idea is to eventually help those who cannot get access to ordinary bank products. Their aim is to promote thrift, credit at competitive rates, as well as other services to members. In contrast to banks Credit Unions are “not for profit” organisations set up to serve people and not out to make a profit. They do, of course, have to make enough surplus to cover expenses, otherwise, like any other business, they will fail.

To become a member an initial deposit of £6 is required (£5 to open the account leaving a £1 deposit in the new account. The Leighton office is expected to be open on Tuesdays and Saturdays to coincide with market days and the greatest footfall in the High Street.

There is though one final hurdle to overcome and that is one faced by so many goodwill organisations today. Volunteers are needed! Members are needed! Volunteers are needed to both serve the customers and to invest in the project.

A certain amount of training is provided and naturally volunteers are expected to be “people’s people”, able to communicate clearly and be willing and able to offer time on Tuesdays and/or Saturdays. Members are needed to invest in the project and thus enable it to offer credit.

The success or failure of the project will depend largely on those who decide to become members and make regular deposits into their account. Depositors cannot get a loan until they have a certain amount in their account so again it is not an easy touch for those in debt.

For more information please contact Tricia Humber at triciahumber@hotmail.com.