Unify is a community credit union open to anyone working or living in Wigan, Leigh, Chorley, Leyland and Skelmersdale. Formed in 2002, the union has history stretching back to the 1980s.
A Group of local residents, community leaders, Community workers, councillors based in Platt Bridge Wigan started to look into the idea of creating a Credit Union. Councillor John Teirnan was the driving force behind the group, and they managed to obtain funds to create a development agency named Wigan Community Credit Union Development Agency. The Agency (WCCUDA) became the steering group for Credit Unions in the borough, and employed 3 staff, two development workers and an admin assistant. Around the same time 1988/1989 the first Credit Union in Wigan was established Platt Bridge Credit Union Limited.
The Credit Union was based in one of the top ten most deprived areas in the NW and centred itself on two large housing estates that had a reputation for being the worst estates in the Borough. Initially the Credit Union was based in a local Government office block and had collection points in a number of locations. It was run by local volunteers with little financial experience, who eventually managed to join up over 400 members. Like many of the credit unions that were established at this time, they failed to grow and although they successfully delivered a service to their membership for over 10 years, they never had the potential to expand or to grow any bigger. The volunteers dwindled and the credit union started to struggle.
During this time the Development Agency managed to create another 5 credit unions in the Wigan area. Westleigh Credit Union, Pemberton Credit Union, Worsley Mesnes Credit Union, NW Wigan Credit Union and Welcome Credit Union. Unsuccessful attempts were also made to create credit unions in other areas of Wigan. All were community based except Welcome whose bond was employee based. Their common bond were small and limited and all of them were to struggle to survive after the initial development periods.
With hindsight, the development model at that time was flawed. It was driven by the notion that local people could work together to create small financial cooperatives that would benefit the community. It was also driven by the failure of other financial institutions to support local communities and people on low incomes. All of the development money at the time was being used to develop credit unions, very little was set aside to provide continued support for the new credit unions who were as it turned out not equipped to manage and grow what needed to be profitable businesses.
They were perceived by the general public as for “poor people”, run by local government for “charitable purposes. So while they were successful at a local level they had nothing to build a better business with and were doomed to fail. Their image was unprofessional operating from community centres, libraries, etc and they were considered to be run by amateur volunteers. One Credit Union failed due to fraud, but no one lost any money as a result. However, it was a blow that affected all the other credit unions at the time.
The development agency’s funding began to dwindle in the late nineties and its role changed from development to support. It became more and more obvious to those still involved that for credit unions in the Wigan Borough to continue they needed to make changes. Discussions took place among the credit unions and the development agency with a view to merging all the credit unions into one covering the borough.
Three of them, Platt Bridge, NW Wigan and Pemberton opted to merge with Platt Bridge changing its name to Unify and being the lead Credit Union. Worsley Mesnes and Welcome opted to go it alone. Unify Credit Union was formed and the assets of WCCUDA transferred over to the new Credit Union. WCCUDA staff were taken on by the new Credit Union and their premises in Ince became the new registered office. Overnight the Credit Union was bigger, with professional staff, premises and combined funds.
Although the combined Credit Union was stronger it was still struggling to survive and there were concerns whether the staff jobs could be secured. Around this time they joined up with the DWP Growth Fund scheme to help Credit Unions provide loans to people on low incomes. A number of credit unions joined this Scheme, but the model that was used in the Wigan area by Unify proved to be very successful and over the term of the contract membership grew, the loan book grew and bad debt was managed well.
The DWP funded the project over a period of 5 years and left the credit union with a sizable cash reserve in the bank to secure its future growth for many years. Staff jobs were secured and the Credit Union took on new employees to cope with its expansions. It opened a second office in Leigh. The current healthy state of Unify Credit Union is largely due to their successful use of the Growth Fund
Around this time another Credit Union joined the group. Worsley Mesnes sadly lost two key volunteers over a short period and those that were left felt it was time to merge. So Worsley Mesnes joined with the others leaving 2 Credit Unions to service the borough, Unify and Welcome. They both changed their common bonds to facilitate growth. Unify added the payroll element to its membership and Welcome added community to theirs. However, Unify once the poor relation to Welcome Credit Union had now surpassed its neighbour and is by far the dominant Credit Union in the Borough.
Other neighbouring Councils seeing how strong and successful Unify had become invited us to extend our common bond to cover their areas too. A financial arrangement with Chorley Borough Council enabled Unify to extend the Bond to cover Chorley. Unify Opened a third office and employed more staff. This gave Unify another boost and membership continued to grow. Unify used this opportunity to cover other surrounding areas as well. Plans to extend into other Council areas are on hold as we consolidate what we have at the moment.
The Deal, a project from Wigan Council provided Unify with the funding to initially open a desk in the life Centre and later a frontage at the Grand Arcade in the City Centre. More staff were employed. Unify now has 4 offices and a desk in the life Centre with over 20 staff including a Schools development worker, Credit Control officer , 4 full time loan officers. We also have a number of collection points in Schools and community centres throughout the common bond staffed by volunteers
In 2015 Unify hosted two visits from Romainian Credit Union who were learning about credit unions here in the North West. They were welcomed by the Mayor of Wigan.
In 2017 Welcome credit union merged with Unify, purchased its own premises at 90 Bradshawgate, Leigh, a proud moment for the staff and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to build the credit union over the years.
In February 2018, Unify celebrated the 70th Birthday of Pat Conroy who in 1989 became a founder member of Platt Bridge Credit Union. Until 2002 Pat volunteered on a full-time basis and probably worked more hours than if she was in employment! Pat’s volunteering has made a major difference to the people in her community and to the credit union to whom she dedicates many hours in her role as Supervisor.
The eighth Edward Filenne Credit Union Awards for Excellence were held in Manchester City Centre in November 2018. Unify was awarded a Special Award for Excellence in Film Production’ for their school development project and a special Halloween-themed Credit Union Awareness Week. They also had an award for ‘Hosting Saving Schemes for Primary and Secondary School Pupils’ and another for the ‘Use of the Media’
News and Clips HERE
Want to find out more?
Visit the Unify Credit Union website, or get in touch with their team:
Telephone – 01942 245656
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
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