On the 19th November 1996 the Register of Friendly Societies formally registered the Pontypool and District Credit Union Ltd.
In the Beginning
Where the idea of forming the Credit Union came from is now rather hazy, for the subject had been talked about in a number of places, and by various groups. Eventually it was put on the agenda of a Rectorial Benefice Council of the Church in Wales in Pontypool as a result of asking the question: "What can the church do for the community?" The answer to this question contained a number of suggestions and one was the setting up of a Credit Union. The idea was investigated by inviting a member of the Diocesan Community Development Team to speak to an open meeting of the Rectorial Benefice Council. There was a great deal of suspicion and scepticism but it was still felt worth pursuing and especially to gauge the level of support in the wider community. As a result of this meeting the Benefice Council took it upon itself to form a working party that would look into the implications of a Credit Union, to find the level of interest that might already be in the community, to stimulate some interest and seek some kind of response.
Discovering the Need
When we consider the purposes of a Credit Union, to supply a saving facility and a source of affordable credit, it was plain to see that we were living in an area where it would not only be useful, but that it was needed. It was discovered that many families were spending a large part of their income to pay the expensive interest rates demanded by the doorstep finance companies. Often the rates charged by licensed money lenders worked out far more than the credit cards or the banks. We were seeing the poorer members of the community paying the most for their credit.
The Working Party
This small group took a practical approach and immediately set about contacting as many groups as possible in the area. The use of the local authority voluntary organisation directory was a most useful tool at this stage. All the organisations in the anticipated Common Bond area were notified of a public meeting to which an expert on the Credit Union Movement had been invited as the guest speaker. We were already in contact with the Wales Co-operative Centre in Cardiff, so the Credit Union officer came to Pontypool.
A background to this meeting was a stimulation of interest in the subject by church notices, magazine articles, press releases and talking personally to anybody with a listening ear. The church membership and the local councillors were especially targeted.
From the public meeting the next stage developed naturally. Fifteen people at the meeting expressed an interest and a willingness to train. We saw the formation of the Steering Group. This group was made up of the church and non-church members so it was no longer appropriate for this group to be a sub-committee of the Benefice Council. The working party was dissolved.
There are a number of ways that training can be achieved, and we were fortunate to have the services of the professionals from the Wales Co-operative Centre. This was financed by a grant awarded by the County Council.
The tasks to be completed by the training are common to all Credit Unions, whoever supplies the training. Pontypool Steering Group set about getting a working knowledge of the Credit Union Rule Book, as well as becoming familiar with the practical issues that running a Credit Union entails. Alongside this the many meetings were held to put together the various documents that were needed for registration.
On reflection it seems that we took the long road to achieve our aim, for we met fortnightly over two years. A number of factors caused this, but in the main it was the makeup of the group, and the fact that most members were already busy people.
Eventually the meeting with the representative of the Registry happened, and having been successful we move towards completing registration and opening to the public.
We opened quietly on February 7th 1997.
The story since opening changes every day with every new member who joins us.
Though we have not broken records we have managed to achieve most of the projections contained in the business plan we began with. We have also had the thrill of seeing the benefits of the Credit Union actually being enjoyed by the residents of an area of "social and economic deprivation" (Welsh Office definition).
As we have grown we have made a deliberate effort to market the Credit Union in certain places. As well as the large housing estate, we also attempt to get key figures of the local tertiary college and of the civic centre involved.
Gateway Credit Union stands unique in Wales, as far as we know, because the Church council actually initiated its setting up. The original Board of Directors was made up with a large contingent of church members. The Rector is the Chair and plays an important role in the everyday running of the Credit Union, especially going out and talking to groups, in encouraging new volunteers and allowing the Credit Union to be seen as a part of the church's contribution to the community. Although many of our volunteers are still church folk, we now have volunteers and members of many christian denominations, some from other faiths and many with no religious affiliation.
On the 7th August 2008, at the invitation of North Abergavenny Communities First, we expanded our common bond to include Monmouthshire and became Gateway Credit Union Limited. We opened in the Communities First Resource Centre in Abergavenny, and over the next two years we opened volunteer-run Collection Points in Caldicot, Chepstow, Bulwark and Monmouth. We currently have a presence in most towns in our area, served from the Head Office at 21 Commercial Street, Pontypool, which we now own.
Our products have changed too. From an early emphasis on cash savings, we now accept standing orders, benefits and payroll payments. We became Child Trust Fund and ISA providers, and have moved from lending only to established savers, to lending to new members as well. In 2010 we adopted a new loans policy, based solely on the borrower's ability to repay. Whilst we remain independent, led by volunteers and wholly owned by members, we have earned the trust and support of our partners, Torfaen and Monmouthshire Councils and local Housing Associations, who are confident in promoting Credit Union membership to local people across the income range. We have also received investment from the Department of Work and Pensions and Welsh Government to help us to grow. We are increasingly an online and phone service, especially since the pandemic, which has accelerated our online development, but aim to still provide a personal service, responding to members needs.
Our aim is to become the first choice provider of financial services for people in Torfaen and Monmouthshire. We hope we can be your first choice too.