Why we are working towards a citywide credit union for Oxford
Credit unions are social enterprises: they are professionally run businesses with a social ideal. They contribute significantly to the wellbeing of citizens by living up to their ideals of accessibility, and friendly and honest service. They encourage thrift amongst their members and offer straightforward and affordable loans. One of the most compelling advantages of credit unions is their emphasis on the building of personal wealth through savings. Their solution to financial exclusion is based on self-help and mutual ownership: they enable individuals to have financial independence and control. The encouragement of personal savings and the availability of low cost loans provide an excellent opportunity for people to break free from a cycle of debt and to regain control of their finances.
One and a half million British households (7% of all households) lack even the most basic financial products, such as a current bank account. In some areas of Oxford this figure is as high as 11%! While many of these households aspire to save regularly, they frequently need to borrow. These households are particularly attracted to the credit union’s combination of saving and access to low cost loans. The credit union enables them to break the cycle of borrowing from high cost lenders and to start saving.
Within Oxford, the Cutteslowe, Barton, Rose Hill and Cowley communities have previously worked towards the establishment of a local credit union. Unfortunately, their efforts have not resulted in registration with the Financial Services Authority. The Blackbird Leys community has succeeded in establishing a local credit union, based in the Leys Link community centre. Blackbird Leys’ success, and the desire for a credit union in many other Oxford communities, encourages the Oxford Credit Union Development Group in its plans for setting up a citywide credit union for Oxford.
Establishing a citywide credit union will enable everyone living and/or working in Oxford to become a member of the credit union. It is our aim to establish a credit union that provides a full credit union package to a large number of dispersed people. While the Oxford Credit Union will have a central administration, it will have service points all over town, run by local volunteers. Offering a network of service points helps to ensure that services are delivered locally and that local knowledge is maintained in the Credit Union’s structure. This is an important aspect for maintaining the feeling of meaningful and relevant membership to a credit union. This means that members do not have to go out of their way to use the credit union, and that the credit union will be an integral part of their local community life.