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Champions sought for credit unions in battle of Wonga

30 May 2014

CAITLIN BURBRIDGE

Champions: appearing on Tuesday: the Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, Prebendary Rosémia Brown, Sir Hector Sants, and David Barclay from the Contextual Theology Centre, and senior co-ordinator of the new network

Champions: appearing on Tuesday: the Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, Prebendary Rosémia Brown, Sir Hector Sants, and David Barclay fro...

THE next phase of a church response to payday lenders was launched on Tuesday - a network of "Credit Champions" to promote responsible lending and saving.

The Church Credit Champions Network (CCCN) was unveiled at St Martin-in-the-Fields, in central London, by Sir Hector Sants, the former investment banker and financial regulator who is leading the Archbishop of Canterbury's taskforce on finance.

The taskforce was set up last year, after Archbishop Welby's run-in with Wonga (News, 26 July 2013).

The new network will be piloted in the dioceses of London, Southwark, and Liverpool. The object is to train clerics and laypeople to be advocates of community finance. The network will also encourage and fund churches to find out about their communities' financial needs, as well as using church buildings to host credit unions.

It will be run by the Contextual Theology Centre, in east London, and is being funded by the Church Urban Fund.

Speaking at the event on Tuesday, Sir Hector said that it was important to remember why Archbishop Welby had made combating financial distress central to the Church's mission.

"Seven million people are using high-cost credit providers. The debt of the average UK household is now almost £13,000, excluding mortgages. Thirty-six per cent of the clients of debt counsellors Christians Against Poverty have contemplated suicide."

The Church of England, he said, had the best "branch network" in the country. The aims of the CCCN were to help those in financial problems, and equip all churchgoers to borrow and save responsibly.

"We hope that, in time, every diocese will have enough of these trained volunteers and clergy to deliver help for all who seek it."

Another proposal being considered by Sir Hector's taskforce is the expansion of financial education in church primary schools, including the practical experience of opening and running an account with a local credit union. Sir Hector said they were also investigating whether the C of E could establish its own lending and borrowing mechanism, perhaps using peer-to-peer online technology.

The Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, who chaired the event on Tuesday, agreed: "What churches offer is a place where people of difference meet. Churches can offer volunteers at every level from governance through to opening up an access point.

"In that meeting of people of difference is a lot of potential for credit unions."

Prebendary Rosémia Brown, Vicar of St James's, Clapton, told how her church had embraced responsible lending. "I'm totally passionate about what people do with their money, and borrowing responsibly. We decided to train our members to start credit-union accounts."

Churchpeople at St James's have joined credit unions, and can tell others about them from a position of experience, Ms Brown said. This helped people to overcome the shame of debt which they felt, and gave them a person that they could get to know and trust, rather than a voice on the phone.

"You don't need a Ph.D., just bags of common sense," she said.

www.theology-centre.org

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