Financial services in the heart and hands of the community

 The Bank of England's Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, visits communities in Ashington accompanied by the Just Finance Foundation, local community and Church of England representatives

The Bank of England's Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, visits communities in Ashington accompanied by the Just Finance Foundation, local community and Church of England representatives

Northumberland Community Bank (NCB) is a credit union based in Ashington, an ex-mining town about 20 miles north of Newcastle. It serves the population living in Northumberland and offers loans and savings accounts, as well as supporting a number of school savings clubs. Community finance providers in the region, including another credit union and a CDFI, are responding to the changing landscape for financial services, customer demand for flexible products and the challenges of access in a largely rural context.

NCB was established in as the result of a merger between two regional credit unions and Liz Chadwick, the Just Finance development worker covering the region, was instrumental in brokering the merger and chairing a ‘change team’ to oversee the transition.

The merger meant that 1000 members of a struggling credit union could retain their accounts,  and resulted in the creation of a  stronger, more viable and more accessible financial services provider for the community. NCB established their local presence by moving into high street offices in Ashington and from there they reach out into the surrounding communities.

Last Christmas NCB partnered with Northumberland Local Authority to offer a Christmas loan product to their employees. The £500 loan offer, to be paid back through payroll deductions, attracted 96 applications in the first few hours after launching. The interest comparing favourably with other loan products available.

There have been benefits all round: Employees applying for the loan were able to borrow for Christmas spending at a fair rate with a responsible and community focused provider. And for NCB, the link to salary deductions has resulted in a low delinquency rate and secured new members who will go on to take out further loans, deposit their savings and spread the word about the credit union in the community.

Liz has also been supporting the management of NCB and  recruit volunteers with the professional skills to help the organisation continue to develop and grow. One volunteer commented on her hopes for the community bank and it’s priorities:

‘I’m excited - as the bank grows we will reach more and more people across Northumberland. This isn’t just about commercial growth for us. We are excited because recruitment to the community bank means more people saving and protecting themselves from any financial difficulties that may lie ahead. It also means we are able to make more loans to people across the County who are in need of a step up.

This isn’t momentum for the sake of momentum, it’s about changing lives and communities. It’s about making finance fair for all.’