A credit union that helps people struggling with finances to manage money is marking its 20th anniversary in times when there is an acute need for its services.

The New Central Credit Union supports those struggling to make ends meet and encourages sound financial planning to enable its members to save for a holiday or simply cope with unforeseen circumstances, such as a washing machine breaking down.

The member-owned cooperative, which is open to people across Coventry and Warwickshire, also supports members to pay landlords, take out affordable loans and budget for Christmas.

Having helped tens of thousands of people since being launched in Hillfields, the credit union has expanded and was continuously open through the Covid-19 pandemic, helping people affected by the severe financial impact of the health crisis.  The anniversary falls in times when the country has entered recession and thousands of people across Coventry and Warwickshire find themselves out of work or are faced with the prospect of losing their jobs.

Assistant manager Kwame Quainoo said: “We are proud to say we have remained open throughout the coronavirus pandemic, which has made the financial challenges even worse for the vulnerable people we help.

“As we mark our twenty year anniversary, we are still here to help them get back on their feet.”

Founded by Patrick (Pat) Walsh who had witnessed the community benefits of credit unions in his native Ireland, the project has undergone several name changes over the years.

After four years of planning, Pat set up the credit union to alleviate poverty in his neighbourhood which is home to long-established initiatives such as Working Actively to Change (WATCH) Hillfields, a community centre in the heart of the area, and HillzFM. Launched in July 2000, it was originally called the Phoenix Five Credit Union and also served Foleshill, Longford and the city centre.

Pat and his wife Julia, who lived in Hillfields at the time, were well aware of the hardship in their community, so, enlisting the help of local agencies, they set about recruiting volunteers and organising funding and support from Coventry City Council.

When Pat retired in 1998, he joined WATCH and two years later the new credit union was established, initially in the community centre and subsequently in St Peter’s Church.

Over the years through mergers and community demand the Phoenix Five CU morphed into the Coventry West CU and finally into the New Central Credit Union, which is now firmly established in Smithford Way in the city centre. The mutual and ethical financial service is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority.

One familiar face to members is cheerful office manager Mala, who first joined as a volunteer in 2005 before becoming staff when the office moved from St Peter’s to the City Arcade.

Chairman Susan Barton said: “As we look back over the last twenty years, we acknowledge the commitment and foresight of Pat and Julia, and the dedication of so many staff and volunteers who have guided our credit union to its current membership of over four thousand.

“As we work to navigate our way through these uncertain times we still depend on local recognition and community support to ensure we can continue to serve our city and the surrounding areas for the next twenty years.”

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