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The Bishop of Stepney Adrian Newman on the benefit of Credit Unions

PUBLISHED: 12:45 27 March 2013 | UPDATED: 12:45 27 March 2013

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When I was a young Vicar living on an outer estate in Sheffield, it appalled me to discover that some of my parishioners were being forced to hand over their Child Benefit books to loan sharks, or being charged exorbitant amounts of interest for loans simply to keep their families fed. I went looking for ways to fight this evil, and that’s when someone told me about Credit Unions. I went on to help set up Sheffield’s first community credit union, and have been a supporter of the movement ever since.

If you lived in Ireland, or Germany, or many other parts of the world, you’d know immediately what I was talking about. But the chances are, if you’re English, you’ve never even heard of a Credit Union. In this country they’ve been really slow to catch on - but that’s our loss.

Credit Unions are a great idea. They are a form of ‘neighbourhood bank’, where people save and borrow money at rates of interest you simply won’t find anywhere else. They encourage people to manage their money well, and the really great thing about them is that the money is recycled in the local economy and the local community, which makes it an ethical investment of the highest order.

I’ve just transferred my membership and joined my local credit union here – the London Community Credit Union. It’s an impressive organisation, and a great part of the local landscape.

A few years ago I remember listening spell-bound as three members of my credit union gave the best marketing talk you could ever hope to hear. One young mother stood up and said how much it meant that she didn’t have to worry about how she was going to afford Christmas presents for her children. Another man told us about how the Credit Union had enabled him to escape from a credit card nightmare, and stand on his own two feet again financially. Another woman, who was in a good job, had found that it was a wonderful way to manage her money.

It’s wrong to think that Credit Unions are just for people without much money. Actually, they are for anyone who wants to look after their money properly. Me – in the past few years I’ve saved a small regular amount each month, which enabled me to get a loan to replace our ageing TV and buy a bike, without falling victim to the High Street moneylenders.

We are going to hear a lot more about credit unions over the next few years, as the impact of economic recession and the welfare cuts bite deep in to some of our most vulnerable communities.

For those of us who are Christians, there is some pretty profound spiritual significance here. If you say the Lord’s Prayer regularly you’ll know that there’s a phrase ‘forgive us our sins’ that can equally be translated “release us from our debts”. Finding some sort of freedom from debt can feel much the same as being forgiven. So I’m a fan of my local credit union and I’d urge you to join yours as soon as you can. It’s a liberating thing.

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