Barclays began working with Essex Savers five years ago, after a meeting between Lisa – then Southend branch manager – and Alison. “She asked whether we could work together and I thought: ‘Why shouldn’t we give a credit union space in a branch? Who says you can’t do it?’,” says Lisa.
Essex Savers, which will be 13 years old this year, now has volunteers in five Barclays branches across Essex – Chelmsford, Braintree, Brentwood, Grays and Southend – as part of its portfolio of 25 face-to-face ‘service points’ in the county.
To date, Essex Savers has lent £9.5m in around 8,000 loans. Alison estimates that this service has saved local authorities at least £18.8m on rental arrears and repossessions alone – for example, in the ensuing court costs and housing costs of tenants losing their homes.
She is particularly proud of the money management help the union can now offer, which includes making sure the customer’s rent and council tax are paid before any remaining money is loaded onto a debit card.
“When the money comes in we can pay those priority bills to avoid the possibility of people getting into financial difficulty,” says Alison. “It gives people a safety net. We know it has helped people turn their lives around.”
“Credit unions have long had the title of the ‘poor man’s bank’ and we do see people who come to us because they need help to replace the washing machine or buy the kids some shoes,” says Alison.
“But we need to fight against that image because it leaves us with only people who are struggling. We are here to help those people the banks can’t help but we also need some of the more financially secure customers to put money in so that we can meet those demands. We have to balance out our membership because if we don’t have money coming in, we can’t service the lending for people in need.”
Barclays’ work in Essex is just one part of the bank’s wider package of support for the credit union sector.
The bank is currently seeking applications for the third year of its £1million Credit Union Programme – a four-year initiative in partnership with the anti-poverty charity Toynbee Hall which has so far helped 20 credit unions to innovate and grow. The scheme offers tailored support and training to 10 credit unions each year, helping them strengthen their governance and financial resilience.
Diane Eshleman, Global Head of Citizenship and Reputation, said the programme, launched in 2014, emerged from Barclays’ recognition that credit unions are a “vital part of the UK economy”. “Our ambition is to make sure that we are driving success not just for ourselves and for shareholders but for the communities in which we operate,” she said. “This credit union programme is an important element in making that happen.”