Part 2: Our first year, 1989
Our first office
Fr Leo Stoker was the first Chairperson of Park Road Credit Union.
He was also on the Board of The Phoenix Adult Centre in Wellington Road Liverpool 8 (formerly Wellington Road School, once attended by Billy Fury).
Leo enabled Park Road Community Credit Union to have its first registered office in the building in what was a pokey little cloakroom on the top floor.
Sister Hilary, (former headmistress of St Winifred’s School in Liverpool 8) was the Administrator of the centre. She had an office next door to the Credit Union.
She was a tyrant over her polished floors. Every time a member came in to pay she would scold them like naughty schoolchildren for walking on her floors. Like naughty schoolchildren some members were terrified of her. But beggars can’t be choosers. We were there rent free.
During our first year, Archbishop Worlock visited The Phoenix Adult Centre and the Credit Union. He was so impressed with what we were doing that he made a personal donation of £4,000. This was on the condition we used the money to benefit members.
At the start of our life as a credit union, it cost a minimum of £2 to join, £1 entrance fee with another £1 put into a member’s savings account. Members could only borrow when they’d saved regularly for at least 12 weeks. Consequently we were turning down new members who desperately needed an immediate loan.
It was proposed and accepted by the Board of Directors that we use the Archbishop’s donation as a loan guarantee fund in such cases, so we didn’t turn people away. Nor did we risk members’ savings.
We named this product The Archbishop Fund (ABF) and the interest from these loans would go back into the fund to enable the pot to grow.
Our first ABF loan
The ground floor of the Phoenix Centre housed a Social Services department. They would often send their clients who needed financial help. This is how we first met Marion Scott.
Marion had a £90 bill to pay that she could not afford, in fact, she even struggled to pay the £2 joining fee.
Marion was just the kind of person an ABF loan was designed for. We lent her £90 for the bill and £2 to join, and Marion has been an excellent member ever since.
“I have been in the credit union since 1989, and the first time I got a loan from them I came away and I was so happy -I paid the money each time it was due and saved a little money each week, I had never saved before, and my savings just grew and grew.
I have been in the credit union ever since, and I still recommend them to anyone that needs their help. It is very low interest on the loan, they are excellent, and you make loads of friends. You don’t forget them, they help you, and they are marvelous to you. They treat you with respect, and there is never a cross-word.
The credit union has helped me cope over the years as I raised my children. I want to say thank you to the Halligan family with all my heart. If it hadn’t been for you and the credit union, I don’t think I would have managed to cope in those days. The credit union taught me how to mind my money, they looked after me and pulled me through as I was in distress in those days and when they came along it just changed my life for the better.”
Heros of the ’80s
Bishop David Sheppard (Anglican Bishop of Liverpool 1975-1997) and Archbishop Derek Worlock (Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool 1976-1996) together with Free Church leaders, worked together as advocates for communities. They acted as Liverpool’s ‘honest brokers’ between 1975 and 1996.
Over two decades they provided an ear and a voice for a city. Finding a distinctive Merseyside voice in addressing the social problems of the Thatcher era, of whose individualist ethos they were sharply critical. In Liverpool, they kept alive the (at the time outdated) notions such as common good and community. They refused to believe that the weakest or the unemployed should go to the wall.
The 15ft bronze statue of Bishop David Sheppard and Archbishop Derek Worlock stands halfway along Hope Street between Liverpool Cathedral and the Metropolitan Cathedral. Affectionately dubbed ‘fish and chips’, as they were always together and never out of the papers, the statue is decorated with newspaper headlines from their time as the city’s religious leaders.
Working for the common good
For Sheppard and Warlock, reconciliation was their method for building the Common Good.
Putting the flourishing of people and community before their institutional self-interests, they worked with communities, local groups, civic leaders and business to strengthen civil society. At a time of polarisation and division, Sheppard and Warlock put the city of Liverpool first.
They learned from each other, encouraging local leadership among ‘communities of the left behind.’Building bridges between mutually suspicious groups. Listening to all sides. Interpreting between them. Business and unions. Catholic and Protestant. The affluent and the left behind. The police and the black community. The Militant Tendency and the Thatcher government.
In this way, they emphasised the positive connections and diminished the negative reputation of the city.
Local clergy were encouraged to emulate these two leaders. Because of this many saw credit unions as the answer to some of society’s ills.
Developing credit unions
Park Road Credit Union was in high demand to help other communities establish credit unions. However, given that it took Park Road five years to register, we felt that there needed to be local support created before more credit unions became established. We set up a development agency called Merseyside Credit Union Developmen Agency (MCUDA).
The Agency was awarded £60,000 from The Jospeh Rowntree Foundation. Volunteers would help other communities establish credit unions. This grant needed matched funding and Eileen Halligan and Bo Tsang, both volunteers in Park Road Credit Union, approached each of the five boroughs on Merseyside to match the funding and support MCUDA.
Such was the political climate at the time that the different Local Authorities disliked the idea of working with each other. Instead, they each appointed their own Credit Union Development Workers. The Roundtree money was never called down, and MCUDA ceased to exist. Bo went to work for Wirral Borough Council and helped set up Wirral Credit Union. Eileen has remained with Park Road Credit Union (now Central Liverpool Credit Union) to this day.
Initially through her employer CDS training for Enterprise, she developed and delivered the first accredited Credit Union training course in England. In the last 20 years Eileen has devoted her time solely to the Credit Union, helping it grow to the success it is today.