Some people have problems with using conventional banks.  For some this is a simple lack of trust in those institutions but for others, especially those with limited funds, they are simply not an option. For such people a credit union, a member-owned collective that can make loans from pooled funds, could be the answer. 

Hastings & Rother Credit Union volunteers at Thriftfest 2018

Hastings & Rother Credit Union (HRCU) was originally established 20 years ago this summer. When it was first set up, funding was provided by Hastings Borough Council and 1066 Housing Association. In this early period HRCU was also provided with rent-free accommodation and staff support. It has grown since then to a current membership of 1300-1400 people. These members are predominantly drawn from two groups, those who wish to support the local community and those with low incomes. The council no longer simply provides funds, but HRCU does provide paid-for services to them that bring money in. Otherwise it is funded from the £4 annual member fee, grants and a modest amount of interest on loans. 

Paying the £4 fee entitles anyone to become a member, able to have a say at the Annual General Meeting on how HRCU is run. Whilst HRCU is required to undertake similar identity checks to banks, they can be more flexible for those without all the standard ID documents. Before applying for a loan, a member must save for a minimum of three months, saving at least £100 in that time. The loans provided tend to be in the £100s instead of £1000s. Whilst some are taken out to cover emergencies, others aid people in starting their own business. One member initially took out a small loan to start a cleaning business, then came back for a larger loan when the success of this business led to them needing a van. Because the money comes from local people, the loans are perceived as more personal in nature, resulting in a low default rate.

The introduction of Universal Credit also saw a significant increase in membership. This new benefit system required that the money be paid into an account. Many of those in a position to need Universal Credit were not easily able to get an account from the conventional banks. HRCU allows those affected to have an account, with a new pre-paid debit card giving individuals access to those funds promptly. 

Whilst HRCU has two part-time staff, most work is done by volunteers. A board of 8 oversees the day to day running of HRCU, and 2 regular information points are also manned by volunteers. They are always looking for new people to get involved, especially those with skills related to the work of HRCU. A recent addition to the board has experience of fundraising, hopefully bringing in further funds to expand the service and more people will be needed too.

Two information points are provided by HRCU to provide information and assistance at the following locations.

• Advice Hub, Renaissance House, Old Christchurch School, London Road, St Leonards. Wednesdays 2pm to 3pm

• Community Contact Centre, Town Hall, Queen’s Square Fridays 2pm to 4pm

• If you want to find out more about HRCU, whether to consider membership or volunteer, further information can be found at hrcu.org.uk/info


We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.