Some Thoughts on our First AGM - 22nd January 2016

Readers of this blog will realise that I tend to write on an ad hoc basis on various subjects as the fancy takes me. Unfortunately there’s nothing quite like having to write something to order to bring on a massive case of writers’ block so when I was asked to write a piece for the Church of England I ended up trawling the internet with the vague idea that other people’s AGM blogs might provide a starting point for mine.

The thing that struck me was that AGMs are very much a review of the past year and that Churches’ Mutual hasn’t even had a year, at least not a full one. Three hundred and forty-four days, fifteen hours and a few minutes ago I was in Church House packing away the debris of the official launch thinking “that’s it, now we have to get down to the business of being a credit union”. We had no members, no depositors and no borrowers and while we had lots of enthusiasm there were undoubtedly a lot of questions too.

Would people join? When the idea of a credit union for Church ministers, employees and trustees was first mooted (some eight years ago), the feedback was positive, but would that general level of interest translate into real live members? The answer to that one is yes it has. It was with great excitement we watched our first applications come through. We operate an online system that sends us an email every time someone joins and it was marvellous to open the mailbox and see twenty new applicants just on the first day and it is rare a day goes by without at least one new member. And yes, we do have a lot of members who are ordained ministers but we also have PCC members, and Elders, and Office staff and a membership that is as diverse as our churches.

The second question was will people save? On the 11th February 2015 the credit union had an empty balance sheet but since then 200 people have become Founder Members of the credit union investing an amazing £910,000 to add to the £386,000 in deferred shares held by our denominational partners big and small. We also gained 350 regular savers depositing an average of £40 a month into their accounts.

The next step was would people borrow? Not guaranteed with our perceived debt adverse client base but since May credit union loans have purchased 83 cars, 2 caravans and a motorbike. We have improved 7 homes and furnished 2 others and helped to pay for 1 wedding. We’ve also walked alongside 11 households in helping to turn unmanageable debt into affordable credit.

The ultimate question for Churches’ Mutual Credit Union as we look back over our first (almost) year has to be ‘have we made a difference?’ Those of you who know something of the history of the founding of the credit union will know that it was a difficult and drawn out journey. Lessons learned and changes made as a result of our struggle have made it easier for other new credit unions to negotiate their way through the authorisation process.

But more importantly we are making a difference to the lives of our members so maybe the last word on the year should come from them: “Often we don’t realise the weight of something that we have been carrying until the load is lightened in some way and we see the difference. We feel a huge sense of relief that things are moving forward for us in a manageable way. Please extend my thanks to all who have been involved in the decision to help us”.

“May I take this opportunity to sincerely thank you for your help, support and advice through this process? This is a truly wonderful initiative and has brought me and my family a huge sense of relief in what was a difficult time”.

“I am so pleased to have the opportunity to be part of the Credit Union Movement, I am so pleased to be part of Churches’ Mutual”.