18 March 2021
Standing on the shoulders of Giants
Supporter of credit unions and friend of MCU, Chris Smith, shares his memories of our journey to celebrate our 30 year anniversary:
“Manchester Credit Union has been in business now for over 30 years. There is little doubt that the efforts of dozens of volunteers and workers over the years, have brought this anniversary to fruition. Some might say that our credit union is run by great visionaries, and I would agree; but I maintain that their vison is aided by standing on the shoulders of giants. Our founders had very little by way of a route map to direct their way to success; in fact, perhaps they were never certain what success actually was in those early days, apart from surviving another year on grant aid? Lending out our first loan, or even balancing the books each day, seemed an enormous hurdle back in 1991.
Those founders never leave our memories for they have left indelible footprints on our minds. They give us the reasons to look back and ponder. They give us the reasons to look forward with the hope and aspirations following their endeavour and tenacity. Their mistakes are our lessons. Those giants forged a credit union dynasty that makes us all very proud 30 years later.
It seems hard to not pick out some of those community giants from 30 years ago, so at the risk of forgetting someone I will attempt to remember a few of my heroes that helped forge a credit union that now serves 32,000 members in Greater Manchester.
There were several key figures at the beginning, all those years ago, but I particularly remember Paul Jones's[i] sense of social justice, Christine Moore’s[ii] compassion for ordinary people, June Smith’s[iii] belief in the strength of cooperative working and John Teal’s[iv] inspiration to everyone involved.
Many strong and tenacious women were the foundation of the credit union back then. Beswick & Openshaw Credit Union had the wonderful and inspirational Nora Davies[v]; Hattersley Credit Union had the tenacious Rose Askew[vi] and both women had the ability to mobilise great support in the community. Both women are sadly gone now and missed by all who knew them, but their legacy will endure. Rose and Nora where both unique in establishing a team of mostly volunteers, that launched credit unions into tough areas of eastern Manchester. I often think of how proud these two women would be of their legacy if they saw the size and quality of the credit union now.
The thing that unites many of these inspiring people is that they saw a need; they pulled together and provided the economic resources that people needed. I remember Rose Askew telling me that ‘We should avoid over-thinking this business of credit unions’, and that, ‘It didn’t matter where and how the job would get done; we have to let our members have access to their money and teach them thrift at the same time’. The word thrift doesn’t get used much anymore - the dictionary says thrift means; ‘the quality of using money and other resources carefully and not wastefully.’ Well, these volunteers certainly did that.
Manchester Credit Union is the wonderful amalgamation of several smaller credit unions that started up in different parts of Greater Manchester:
· Hattersley Credit Union
· Moneyspinner Credit Union
· Dukinfield Credit Union
· Gorton Credit Union
· Wythenshawe Credit Union
· East Manchester Credit Union
· Beswick & Openshaw Credit Union
· Trafford United Credit Union
It’s hard to believe that it’s 30 years ago that the first of these credit unions, Hattersley, was registered and at the time was probably one of the earliest credit unions in the North West of the country. In those days, local credit unions were often set up as a part of someone’s anti-poverty strategy, with little thought of whether these most deprived areas could actually sustain a credit union. Beswick & Openshaw Credit Union was set up in conjunction with the local Church of the Resurrection, and like all credit unions back then, was run entirely by volunteers - it was a world away from where we are now. Those small groups of dedicated volunteers did a fantastic job of keeping their credit unions going against massive odds.
We would not be where we are today without the unfailing support and hard work of the staff, directors, and the efforts of volunteers from all the pioneering credit unions who are now part of the Manchester Credit Union family. Over the years hundreds of volunteers dedicated endless hours, so as to bring the benefits of credit unions to their communities.
What a wonderful heritage this credit union has. In years to come I hope they seek out role models to epitomise the character of the original business and if they do, they need look no further than those giants; Paul, Christine, June, John, Rose and many more that gave up their evenings, Saturdays, football, pubs and families to create a credit union that now estimates that it saves local people in excess of £5million in interest each year.”
[i] Still a leading light in the British credit union movement and responsible for influencing much of the change, and progress, seen in the modernization of British credit unions in the last 30 years.
[ii] The current CEO of Manchester Credit Union and when she first joined the credit union it had a mere 103 members. Christine has contributed to the success of the credit union probably more than any other person in its history. Her good humour and drive are qualities that have inspired many. A great friend to many credit unions leaders across the country.
[iii] June Smith was the first paid manager of what was then Money Spinner Credit Union. June inspired many to modernize and reform from the old fashion methods to a safer and better organized financial co-operative. She had previously volunteered (and a founding director) at Dukinfield Credit Union and Ashton West End Credit Union and went on to manage the Tameside Employees Credit Union (CUTE) before working at Moneyspinner Credit Union. Sadly, June died in 2013 aged 61.
[iv] John Teal was a Community Worker employed by the local authority and he had a wonderful but precise manner that seemed like a head teacher at times and other times funny, inspirational and exhilarating. He was the one who had is feet on the ground and constantly reminded us all that dealing with members money is a serious business. John remains a long-term member of Manchester Credit Union.
[v] Nora Davies was probably the most ‘other-centred’ person in the story of local credit unions. Selflessly giving her time and often her house over to helping people in difficulties. Nora sacrificed so much to ensure that her credit union had a great start in life. She also brought about a grant scheme, from her family’s personal wealth, that benefited many small credit unions across the region A great organiser and leader of volunteers.
[vi] Rose Askew was the secretary, chair, treasurer, cashier and loans officer at various times as she patiently lent out £1000’s to the community of Hattersley in the 1990’s. A wonderful volunteer and positive worker. Sadly, Rose died in 2017.
[vii] A proud member of Manchester Credit Union