ABCUL marks the 50th anniversary of the first credit union in Britain

This year’s annual conference of the Association of British Credit Unions (ABCUL) marked the 50th anniversary of the first credit union in Britain. To celebrate, Martin Logan of the...

This year’s annual conference of the Association of British Credit Unions (ABCUL) marked the 50th anniversary of the first credit union in Britain. To celebrate, Martin Logan of the British Credit Union Historical Society published a booklet that tracks the history of credit unions in Britain.

Although they did not gain a legal structure until the Credit Unions Act came into force in 1979, Britain’s first credit unions were registered in London in 1964. Ireland had already seen its first credit union, in Dublin in 1958, as had Northern Ireland, when six forward-thinking individuals pooled their combined savings of eight pounds and ten shillings to establish Derry Credit Union in 1960.

In Britain, the first credit unions were set up by groups of people who were unable to obtain credit from banks. On 1 April 1964, Wimbledon Credit Union was incorporated under the Companies Act to serve anyone who lived or worked within the Jesuit Parish of the Sacred Heart in Wimbledon. Six days later, a group of Caribbean migrants officially registered Hornsey Co-operative Credit Union under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act.

The same year, Wimbledon joined forces with two credit unions in Highgate, London, and Hove, Sussex, to form a support organisation, the National Federation of Credit Unions.

Although they were set up around the same time, the members of Hornsey Credit Union only found out about Wimbledon Credit Union in 1967, when Ted Sammons, a founder member at Wimbledon, published the first Credit Union Handbook. They met for the first time in September 1967. A month later, Hornsey Co-operative Credit Union and other West Indian credit unions formed the Credit Union League of Great Britain, which changed its name to ABCUL in 1984. The Federation and the League had agreed in 1967 to form a single national credit unions organisation but the project never became reality and the National Federation continued until 2000.

Reynold Grier, a founder member of Hornsey Co-operative Credit Union, came to England in 1958, aged 22. Struggling to get loans from the bank, he and his brother started saving  with 10 other parishioners at the local Baptist church in Hornsey. They were advised by a British doctor who had worked in Jamaica to set up a credit union instead.

Bentley Hines, another of the early members of Hornsey Co-operative Credit Union, said that neither he nor Reynold had heard of credit unions , even though they existed in Jamaica at the time. The saving culture was part of the Caribbean way of life, they said.

“There’s a saying that from small acorns mighty oaks grow. Hornsey Co-operative Credit Union was the acorn for the British credit union movement,” said Mr Hines.

Wimbledon Credit Union closed a few years ago while Hornsey Co-operative Credit Union transferred into London Capital Credit Union in 2013.

“The history of credit unions is one of people, people who wanted to make a difference to the lives of their colleagues and neighbours, and Reynold Grier and Bentley Hines are just two of these people,” said Mark Lyonette, chief executive of ABCUL.

The movement continued to grow, reaching Scotland and Wales in the 1970s, with the establishment of Western Credit Union in Glasgow in February 1970 and St Therese’s Credit Union in Port Talbot in 1974.

The 50th anniversary marks a milestone for credit unions in Britain, who now serve over a million people. At the end of September 2013, 371 British credit unions looked after £918m in deposits, had over £641m out on loan and had more than £1.1bn in assets.

The booklet costs £5 and can be ordered by emailing James Clancy at the British Credit Union Historical Society – [email protected].

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