Credit union supports the financially vulnerable during the pandemic

Our latest social impact report for 2019-20 uncovers the financial impact that members experienced as a result of Covid-19

In response to a difficult 12 months for tens of thousands of people across the South West, Great Western Credit Union (GWCU) has released their 2019-2020 Social Impact Report, detailing how the financial institution has delivered social value to over 16,000 people across the Bristol and Bath area. During this period, the credit union helped over 870 people who live in the bottom 20% of areas by levels of deprivation, saving these borrowers nearly £690,000 in interest over the year. Whilst at the same time, there was an increase of almost 20% in the number of savers in the most deprived areas of Bristol.

The report uncovers the financial impact that members experienced as a result of Covid-19, with 33% saying that it had affected their mental health, 15% stating they had been furloughed and 12% having faced unexpected household costs. Furthermore, without the credit union’s services, one in ten would have gone into arrears on a bill and one in seven would have cut back on heating or food. Almost 250 people who were in danger of being made homeless were provided with loans to cover deposits and the first month’s rent for a home in the private rental sector. The credit union also supported 73 families through the Vulnerable People's Resettlement Scheme to help resettle those in need across the Middle East and Africa. While trust in other commercial lenders is generally low, 99% of GWCU members said they were happy with the service they received, with 94% saying the credit union had fairer repayment terms.

The credit union responded to the financial difficulties that had been amplified by the pandemic, including offering 40 NHS key workers zero-interest loans. 2020 saw GWCU increase its online accessibility to limit the need for members to visit the branch and accelerate the credit union’s reach across the South West, investing over £300,000 in IT to deliver an improved web front-end for members. The financial institution helps to build stronger neighbourhoods, supporting Bristol and West Athletic Club, and the Big Issue, through their 'Big Community' initiative. During this year, the credit union reinvested £495,000 in local businesses, accounting for 71% of the organisation's invoiced business spend.

One credit union member said:

Having access to ethical lending gives me a sense of security. It also reduces anxiety about how I would manage with an unexpected expense, as I have no overdraft facility or credit card.

Commenting on the report, James Berry, CEO of Great Western Credit Union said:

The wealth divide has been exponentially widened over the past year and people across the UK are beginning to feel the full force of the economic hardships caused by Covid-19. Great Western Credit Union has continued to provide low-cost and ethical solutions to support people most at risk of financial exclusion. We are looking at the year ahead and how we can help even more people across our region to access fair and ethical borrowing and saving at their time of need.

Following the merger of Bristol Credit Union and Wyvern Savings and Loans in March 2021, the credit union announced their new umbrella name, Great Western Credit Union. With this expansion, the organisation now offers services to almost 20,000 people across Bristol, Bath, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. The credit union is looking to the future and will continue to invest in more advanced processes, offering more choices for low-cost loans and saving products.

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Posted on
10 August 2021