Barrow and District Credit Union is an ethical, not for profit financial co-operative serving our members in South West Cumbria with savings and loans facilities. It took us two and a half years and many hours of hard work to set up our Credit Union. Legally, credit union members must have something that joins them together – a Common Bond. Our Common Bond originally included everyone who resided or worked within the Borough of Barrow in Furness.
In 2010, the Cumbria Financial Inclusion Strategy’s priorities were to reduce the reliance on high cost lenders within Cumbria through the provision of affordable credit and responsible lending. Their vision was to encourage saving and financial capability for the people of Cumbria and they identified credit unions as having the potential to be a key way of tackling financial exclusion as they are non-profit making and already had a strong presence in many of the financially excluded communities.
There were five credit unions in Cumbria at that time – Carlisle, Allerdale, Whitehaven & Egremont, Cleator Moor and Millom. However, despite credit union membership in Cumbria growing by 3,000 since 2007, the people of the Borough of Barrow in Furness, Eden and South Lakeland did not have access to credit union services. To this end, a Credit Union Development Officer was funded until April 2013 to help establish credit unions in these areas.
With the support of the Development Officer, the Barrow & District Study Group was launched at a public meeting in October 2010. All members of the Study Group were volunteers and included elected members from the County and local councils, the NHS, local clergy and other residents from a variety of backgrounds and communities throughout the area. Their remit was to demonstrate the level of need, support and demand for a credit union within the Borough of Barrow in Furness and to make the business case for setting one up. In the first three months, they adopted a constitution, opened a bank account and obtained approval from the Financial Services Authority (FSA) to use the words ‘credit union’ in the Study Group’s title.
The next few months were spent recruiting new members to the Study Group and raising public awareness of the plans for and the benefits of a credit union. This was achieved through a public pledge campaign to evidence demand, setting up a website and making presentations to numerous groups and organisations throughout the Borough. Around 30,000 pledge leaflets and forms were delivered to households throughout the community between September 2011 and February 2012 and by the end of October over 500 pledges of support for the new credit union had been received.
During this time, members of the Study Group also spent many, many hours developing a fully costed business plan, as well as the successful submission of grant applications totalling just under £200,000 to help with the operation of the new Credit Union. With funding in place and the business plan developed, the application for authorisation was submitted to the FSA in May 2012. After many frustrating months of consultation with the FSA, approval was given to operate as a credit union in January 2013 and Barrow & District Credit Union was established at last!
Our office in Barrow in Furness opened on 22 February 2013 and interest in and support from the local community was outstanding with 100 people joining in the first few weeks. There was also a great deal of interest from the areas outside the Borough and, because the South Lakeland Credit Union had not then been set up, we received approval to extend our Common Bond to cover the areas from just outside Barrow and along to Grange. We have continued to grow from strength to strength and we now have around 1,000 members.
EdenSave Credit Union is now also a reality and South Lakeland Credit Union is about to open for business. Millom Credit Union has recently joined forces with Whitehaven & Egremont Credit Union and Allerdale and Cleator Moor Credit Unions have also got together.