The Credit Union

Administrator, Cashier, Loan Officer

£4.75 per hour

Age: 22 – 24

All credit unions operate on trust.  You trust them with your savings and they trust you to pay back loans.  Some members are not as forthcoming with repayment.  That’s why they work on a common bond basis.  You can only get in if nominated by a fellow good payer.

I and a small admin team were employed to find the bad people and arrange for them to pay the money they owed.  There was hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost members money.

At the time, one local credit union went so far as to print the names of all those who were written off and displayed them on notice boards.  This shaming exercise worked but it was too brutal for us.

The credit union was changing from a manual to a computerised system.  We created a spreadsheet called ‘The Hitlist’ and added everyone who was written off. This meant the volunteers had tried and failed but could not recoup the agreed payments. We found the dormant account holders using the electoral register and hounded them.

One man was found on the off-chance.  He moved address but took his wheelie bin with him.  Therefore when one of our team passed his house on bin day, the address we’d been sending letters to suddenly appeared painted on a wheelie bin in a completely different street.  So we were able to start getting back the £8k he’d stolen from the members.

A company from Galway had won the tender to install new software. It enabled us to process and issue loans quicker. We were shown how to use the software and then we trained the volunteers. Many elderly volunteers took to it like ducks to water and others needed more time. It was here where I learned to develop patience. They were of the mental maths generation and didn’t appreciate the computer doing the work for them. They would tot huge sums in their heads when I was sitting blattering away at a calculator.

It gave me a better understanding and respect of the volunteers in the Credit Union movement.  This one came about as a result of money lenders bringing people in the lower Falls to their knees. It was clear they had an interest in the area and worked for free to help people in poverty.   A lot of them were also involved with St Vincent de Paul and Clonard Monastery.  This is the type of Christianity I like.

I felt that these volunteers were the real community activists. They were there in their free time, working humbly without photo opportunity – enabling normal everyday people to buy cars, go on holidays, do their houses up.  These were luxuries for people in West Belfast during the troubles.

When banks wouldn’t lend to anybody in a BT11 or 12 postcode, the credit unions were there because they trust people – and still do.  With only one bank on the Andytown Road these days, the credit unions in estates are offering more services such as PayPoint and Bureau de Change.  It’s almost like the people have run the bankers out of town.