THE Association of British Credit Unions (ABCUL) meets in Blackpool this weekend for its annual conference and AGM.
Around 600 delegates from 414 credit unions will attend and while paying tribute to the pioneers who brought credit unions to Britain a quarter of a century ago the association is looking forward to a big expansion of the movement.
In the 25 years since the Credit Unions Act was passed, the movement has grown from 8,500 members with a little over £ 100,000 in savings to half a million members with savings of over £ 350 million.
This 50-fold growth is attributable to around 10,000 volunteers who ensure that their communities have access to easy savings facilities and great value credit.
Early credit union pioneers in 1960s London were immigrants from the Caribbean. In the 1970s, people in Scotland and northern England with links to Ireland founded more credit unions. Around two thirds of the British population now have access to credit unions.
ABCUL's 414 credit unions have enabled their 400,000 members to build savings of over £ 300 million. ABCUL credit union members are repaying loans of around £ 270 million. Many use the money they save from not having to pay high interest lenders to build personal savings for the first time in their lives.
With such a track record in encouraging people to save, credit unions are keen to get on board with Government initiatives such as the Saving Gateway and the Child Trust Fund.
ABCUL is also working to enable credit union members to access their savings through the ATM network. Eighty percent of credit unions surveyed in ABCUL's Banking Services Project have indicated that they want to offer current accounts and debit cards to members.
The project has established that a number of banks may be willing to act as partners to enable credit unions to tap into the banking system and offer more services.
ABCUL Chief Executive Shaun Spiers told the News: "The UK credit union movement today is unrecognisable from its small base in 1979.
"With the innovation of today's credit union volunteers and staff and our determination to help credit unions develop a range of services, I look forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Act with millions benefiting from membership."
In addition the main conference and AGM, 50 workshops and in-depth training sessions are on offer and delegates will also hear from Arthur Arnold, President and Chief Executive of the World Council of Credit Unions, credit union researcher Paul Jones and Diane Hayter, Deputy Chair of the FSA Consumer Panel and a Director of the UK's National Consumer Association.
? For further information visit: www.abcul.coop