Part 1: 1980s Liverpool
“Our Credit Union did not have to develop a sense of community, or convince anyone of the benefits of self-help or the principles of people helping people. The community has demonstrated these values for generations.” Eileen Halligan
Liverpool lost 80,000 jobs between 1972 and 1982 as the docks closed and its manufacturing sector shrank by 50%.
The area saw huge unemployment in the city and the population halved as people left for work elsewhere.
The 1980’s started with arguably Liverpool’s lowest point when (along with other UK cities) riots broke out in Toxteth.
One long demo
Those days felt like one long demonstration, against unemployment and against Thatcher.
Even the school children were demonstrating. This is an anti-Youth Training Scheme demo, viewed at the time as a form of conscription.
A unique city
Roy Gladden, a non-Militant Labour Councillor at the time said “Liverpool has always seen itself as separate from the rest of the country. As a city, it has more in common with Belfast and Glasgow than it does with London.
There was the big influx of Irish and, because it’s a port, it’s always been international. We look to America and Ireland – to New York and Dublin – more than we look to London.”
Musician Peter Hooton, who was then a youth worker on one of Liverpool’s poorest estates, Cantrill Farm. “When Thatcher was in power, we felt that she looked at Liverpool and thought: ‘Well, they’re not really English, are they?”
And as the 80s ended, utter disaster struck in April 1989.
The Hillsborough disaster. A tragedy for the whole city.
The picture is Anfield football stadium as mouners mark their respect.
The birth of our Credit Union.
After a couple of small gatherings, a public meetings was organised to discuss establishing a Credit Union.
Over 100 people attended. Many were from Commonwealth Countries or Ireland, where credit unions had been a part of their life.
This is when we met Jean McAuley for the first time.
Jean had grown up with credit unions and her sister was a volunteer in Ballyhackamore Credit Union in Belfast. It had been registered since 1970. Jean was a lot more experienced than us novices. She played a pivotal part in this meeting by confirming the benefits of credit union membership.
Jean signed up that evening to become a member of the steering group and remained a volunteer until she died.
Our first publicity
For the next few years the steering group met regularly. It trained its members and worked to establish Park Road Community Credit Union.
In August 1988 the press started to take notice. Our first publicity was written about the future Credit Union’s battle with loan sharks. It featued in the Liverpool Echo.
Eileen Senior had heard about Credit Union development in Ireland (where it was some years ahead of Great Britain) and was enthusiastic about them but lacked the self-confidence to do anything about it herself. Her tactic, however, was to suggest to anyone who would listen, and particularly Eileen Junior, that “they” should set up a Credit Union.
In due course young Eileen was effectively immobilised following an accident, was unable to go to work and had time on her hands, so she started researching Credit Unions, and sent off to ABCUL (based in Skelmersdale at the time) for information.
Eileen too could recognise a good idea when she saw one, and brought it to Fr. Leo Stoker, who was then the parish priest at St. Pat’s, her idea being that the parish could pick up and run with it. Leo was enthusiastic too and arranged to set up a public meeting to put the plan for a Credit Union to the local community.
The night of the meeting was appalling weather. It was mid-winter, cold, teeming with rain and a gale was blowing. As Eileen and I (she still couldn’t walk unaided) made our way over to St Pat’s junior school – the meeting was to be held in the assembly hall there – we said “Nobody will come out on a night like this”. The hall filled up, though. In the end we were gratified to see about a hundred people there, which shows the level of support there was for a Credit Union in the area from the outset.
Everyone settled down, with Leo Stoker, myself and Eileen on a small table at the head of the room, Eileen beaming at all the people who had braved the weather to be there. Leo got to his feet, called the meeting to order and said “This is Eileen. She is going to tell you about Credit Unions”, and then he sat down again!
So Eileen was thrown in the deep end, unexpectedly giving her first Credit Union talk to her first public meeting. Whilst she didn’t then have either the confidence or the smoothness she later developed, her shear enthusiasm for Credit Union ideals shone out. The meeting welcomed the proposal to set up a local Credit Union whole-heartedly. In truth they didn’t need much convincing, there were Irish people there who were well used to the idea, and people of West Indian background who had grown up with tontines and ideals of mutual financial support.
More than enough people signed up to the new Park Road Community Credit Union there and then (we needed a minimum of 22), the first volunteer Board was picked, and Leo as Chairman and Eileen as Secretary were selected by acclamation. Leo offered the use of a room in the Priest’s House as a Boardroom, and we were underway, a sometimes-hectic ride which, 35 years later (the Credit Union spent five years as a savings club prior to full registration), is still going strong.
Eileen Halligan Snr. was used to getting things done with the raise of an eyebrow and a sigh.
Eileen Halligan Jnr. was used to pacifying Snr. whichever way worked. In the mid-80’s a confluence of events created the perfect storm. EHSnr. was becoming more emboldened by social reformists and was a paid-up member of the Margaret Simey fanclub. EHJnr. had become somewhat incapacitated following a series of accidents which caused significant damage to her back. Jnr was now a sitting (lying) duck for Snr to press upon her the ideas that would change the world.
After some research (reader, there was no internet then), Jnr thought she could set up a small, local CU which would keep Snr. happy. In a bid to mollify Snr., Jnr. set about enlisting local support. 1 of the first candidates was Snr.’s parish priest Fr. Leo Stoker, Jnr had no way of knowing he would be as fervently in favour of CUs as Snr. was. He facilitated a community meeting which introduced those 3 to Jean McCauley among others.
Some would say this was fate, kismet or the stars aligning, nevertheless this series of events thrust Jnr. in to a world that even she didn’t know she belonged in. Not without struggles and hiccups, Jnr. began to bring the dreams of these pioneers to life. Here she discovered that she was also a CU advocate and became both an expert and an evangelist of the CU movement. The rest as they say, is history.