Croydon’s credit union, a community finance organisation that provides low-cost loans to thousands of residents in and around the borough, is being kicked out of the council offices on Monday because, officials say, the local authority needs the space for “its own operational needs”.
Credit unions are community savings and loan cooperatives. They don’t have “customers”, but members, and the credit union operates as a co-operative – more like old-style mutuals and building societies.
Owned by and run for the benefit of the members who use its services, credit unions might not provide access to cash machines and many of the other facilities of a bank, but they provide savers with better interest rates and lenders with cheaper loans.
Importantly at a time of a cost-of-living crisis when many people might be short of cash, Croydon’s credit union has helped to keep hundreds of residents out of the grasp of rapacious payday loan companies, which trade on desperate people borrowing money at sky-high interest rates.
Founded in 1999 as the Croydon, Merton and Sutton Credit Union, it is now known as CroydonPlus and is part of a movement that has been in existence for more than 150 years.
“As we have grown, our purpose has remained the same: to provide local people with an accessible, secure and ethical way of saving and borrowing money,” CroydonPlus says on its website.
CroydonPlus has about 8,000 members, three-quarters of them living in Croydon. Many of those who turn to CroydonPlus for financial help are among the poorest and more vulnerable members of the community, and many of them are council tenants.
The loans taken out from CroydonPlus are often used to help pay council rent or even Council Tax.
“From Monday, the credit union won’t be able to have face-to-face contact with the people it loans money to because of this decision by the council,” according to one council source.
CroydonPlus occupied 10 or 12 desks in Fisher’s Folly, as well as using Access Croydon to meet clients and members.
Total rental value for the CroydonPlus office area is reckoned to be less than £50,000 per year, but their presence in the building, and their ready availability to residents at Access Croydon, is reckoned to have potentially saved the cash-strapped council at least 10 times that amount each year by helping people keep up to date with their rents and Council Tax.
Access Croydon is the public space on the ground floor of Fisher’s Folly (which some people refer to as Bernard Weatherill House, or the snappy “BWH”). After a series of controversial incidents and complaints, including one accusation of verbal and physical assault by security guards on a young woman refugee, Access Croydon was closed for a month for urgent re-arrangements. It is thought to have re-opened today.
CroydonPlus was first sent a notice to quit on October 6 by a council lawyer.
This was followed up this week by a further passive-aggressive email sent from another jobsworth working within the same building: Huw Rhys Lewis, someone who revels in somewhat pompously parading a series of letters after his name – BSc, BArch, MSc, MRIBA, MRICS, MAPM…
Lewis is formally the Tory-run council’s interim “director of commercial investment and capital”, who was brought in to flog off as many public assets as he can possibly manage in efforts to drive down the council’s own mountain of debt.
It seems very likely that Lewis had a role, for instance, in managing to sell off the Colonnades retail centre on the Purley Way, a viable business making a steady return in rents for the council, but which Croydon managed to flog for £25million less than its purchase price six years ago.
That’s the kind of business deal that only a business genius with 25 letters after their name could possibly secure.
And now penny-wise, pound-foolish Lewis seems to want to do a bit of penny-pinching in his own office building, by kicking CroydonPlus out on to the street, starting from Monday by denying them access to… ahem… Access Croydon, and then, by the end of the year, evicting them from their office space.
Inside Croydon has been told that Lewis’s latest love letter to CroydonPlus stated, “We expect Credit Union to comply with the notice to quit.” He couldn’t even bother to get the organisation’s name correct.
Inside Croydon contacted CroydonPlus to seek an official statement on their situation, but no one was prepared to comment.
Huw Rhys Lewis has yet to kick the over-staffed press office out of their propaganda bunker at Fisher’s Folly, although he might as well, because they never respond to any questions put their way…
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