6Towns: changing people’s attitudes about credit unions

Ever since October 2005, 6Towns Credit Union has been offering people in Sandwell a cheaper alternative to the high interest local providers. The credit union not only works...

Ever since October 2005, 6Towns Credit Union has been offering people in Sandwell a cheaper alternative to the high interest local providers. The credit union not only works with agencies to reach the financially excluded, but also encourages them to break the cycle of dependency and become savers.

6Towns Credit Union are also able to offer the cheapest Payday loans in the UK. 

“6Towns introduced its Payday Loan in March 2012 which has become a huge success enabling us to convert many borrowers to spread the loan repayment into conventional loans. This has had a massive benefit to many lives in the Sandwell area,” said Malcom Keyte, the business development manager for 6Towns.

To qualify for such a loan, one must be over 18 years old and living in Sandwell, be full or part time employed, have a Bank Account with a direct debit facility and agree to become member of 6Towns.

Payday loans are also high on the Co-operative party agenda, as co-op sponsored MP Stella Creasy has started a growing campaign to stop what she refers to as 'legal loan sharks' and to encourage people to use Credit Unions like 6Towns as an alternative.

6Towns was initially funded by a grant by Sandwell Council with the aim of tackling financial exclusion.

Mr. Keyte said at the very beginning the most difficult challenge for the credit union was to convince the locals they would get a good rate of return and that their money was safe.

“Now with a multi-million turnover of payments flowing through, 6Towns is convincing organisations that we are a serious player in the financial market,” Mr Keyte said.

6Towns is trying to address some of the misconceptions people tend to have with regard to the sector.

“Many Credit Unions have turnovers of many millions of pounds a year, staffed by well trained and professional staff whilst still retaining a friendly approach to thousands of members,” said Mr Keyte.

6Towns runs schools programmes giving pupils the chance to save and understand the benefits of credit unions, helping schools to use the Collection point as part of their curriculum of responsibilities. 6Towns run a number of Collection points around the borough of Sandwell. The aim of the Collection Points is to promote the services of 6Towns. 

Mr Keyte said “educating the primary school pupils has been an overnight success and this will have a major impact in their future lives.”

Although 6Towns is based in Sandwell and at the moment it has no plans to expand, Mr. Keyte added that the introduction of the Universal Credit will present an opportunity to offer services to housing associations and a wider market.

“The changes under the Welfare Reform Act have resulted in us reviewing our services and the way in which we deliver them. This has determined us to take the business decision to introduce a fully functional Current Account which benefits our members and business organisations such as Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council and housing associations,” he said.

6Towns also works in partnership with other credit co-ops and credit unions such as youth clubs, libraries and children centres. The credit union also enjoys the support on the Sandwell Council and is currently working with Social Breakfast,  that deals with people under the age of 30.

“6Towns has played and will continue to play a major role in the Tackling Debt programmes run by Sandwell Council. In addition we have good working relationships with Credit Unions across the UK and have worked hard to build a network where there is an exchange of ideas and good practices,” Malcom Keyte added.

The business development manager of 6Towns said credit unions make a huge difference to the lives of the local people by keeping the money local.

“For too many years we have seen large organisations ‘suck’ money out of local communities and degrade the lives they profess to serve, whilst their shareholders live in more affluent areas far from the misery they cause,” he said.

Malcom Keyte further added that setting a credit union is far from easy, but that coming changes to credit union bonds may make it easier to operate in areas not yet serviced.

6Towns Credit Union is a not for profit ethical financial services organisation. Members of 6Towns Credit Union that make a regular payment into their savings account help to build up a fund. This fund then provides the basis for the loans offered by the credit union. Everyone that either lives or works in the Sandwell area can join the credit union.

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