A Shropshire scheme which has more than 1,600 local savers has received the seal of approval from one of the government’s leading rural figures.
Just Credit Union, which provides access to accounts, affordable loans and insurance products, was the first organisation to receive a special visit from Will Aston, the new rural financial inclusion champion for England.
During his guided tour, he talked to bosses about the way the system operates, including its network of operators, the technology it uses and its strong ties with local charities and voluntary agencies.
“With Post Offices and banks closing all the time, people in rural areas are becoming more and more isolated when it comes to gaining access to simple bank accounts and insurance products,” explained Will.
“This is why organisations like Just Credit Union are so important in providing essential services that individuals understand and trust.
“Having seen at first hand how it works, I’m absolutely struck by the sense of team spirit and co-operation and this, when coupled with the clever use of technology, has made sure the scheme is one of the most successful in the United Kingdom.”
Just Credit Union has five dedicated branches in Craven Arms, Ludlow, Market Drayton, Oswestry and Shrewsbury, with trained volunteers helping guide people through opening accounts, applying for loans and making deposits.
Supported by Shropshire County Council and a host of employers, the scheme has more than 1,600 active members, including 200 junior savers from five local schools.
It covers 1,234 square miles, serves a population of approximately 285,000 people and, in the past seven years, has granted loans totalling over £2 million.
“Simple products like the ones offered by Just Credit are so important to people in rural areas and can help them get jobs, avoid costly lending and provide peace of mind through offering the right insurance,” added Mr Aston.
“For example, the organisation has used £100,000 of growth-fund capital to grant more than £230,000 of small loans – £400 on average to people who would not normally have access to mainstream funding and would be forced to use doorstep lenders.”
Mr Aston’s visit is the prelude to a major conference to be held in Shropshire in January. At this event, Just Credit will launch its current account, aimed at providing a viable alternative to those offered by high street banks. It offers a similar service, but with the added benefits associated with a not-for-profit financial co-operative that is run by and for its members.
Karen Farrow, operations manager of Just Credit Union, said: “Our current account provides a real alternative to the Post Office card account for people fed up with being charged unfair and excessive penalty charges.
“It also offers greater choice to those looking for an ethical alternative to the High Street banks. Account holders will pay a small regular fee but, in most cases, will not pay additional charges. This could save hundreds of pounds a year.
“At Just Credit, we often see people who are paying regular amounts of £30 for going a few pounds overdrawn. The rural financial inclusion champion is responsible for making sure small towns and villages have the same access to services as their urban counterparts.
“This will involve working with local authorities and strategic partners to make sure individuals have the ability to make appropriate decisions regarding their finances, including being able to manage money, keep track of finances, plan ahead and have access to affordable credit.”