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Last Updated: Friday, 25 April, 2003, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Valley's 'super' credit union
Denis Allsopp and daughter Janet Mulcock
Denis Allsopp and daughter Janet Mulcock

Single mother Janet Mulcock found herself at an all-time low when she was living on income support, 4,000 in debt and facing eviction notices.

Stuck in a cycle of debt, the 32-year-old from Tonyrefail, south Wales, found salvation in the local credit union, who helped tackle her debts and offered invaluable support through further troubles.

When one of Janet's daughters developed a brain tumour, she ran up a series of further bills.

"I was travelling back and forth to the hospital in Penarth. The credit union said to me 'do not worry'.

"They wanted me to get back on my feet and they offered assistance and help. They gave me a feeling I was somebody again."

We get people coming in here almost in tears, not knowing how they are going to pay for Christmas
Denis Allsopp, volunteer

Her daughters are now both members, learning to be thrifty and save and borrow small amounts for little treats.

Tonyrefail's credit union deals with hundreds of people in similar situations to Janet and is set to celebrate signing up its 1,000th member.

The group is also about to merge with four other credit unions in Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) - Pontypridd, Pontyclun, Aberdare and Treorchy - to create a "super" credit union, covering up to 240,000 people in the local authority area.

It is a bold move to open up the credit union movement's simple ethos of save and borrow to a much wider audience.

Members save what they can afford and borrow money at low, affordable rates to help pay for Christmas and holidays.

Now RCT council is allowing its 14,000 staff to make salary deductions to save with a credit union and other major employers are being asked to support the scheme.

'Go for it'

On a small loan of 100 members repay just 6.50 in interest, which makes it highly attractive to people such as Janet's father, Denis Allsopp, 61, a volunteer and founder member in Tonyrefail.

"We get people coming in here almost in tears, not knowing how they are going to pay for Christmas and they go out of here happy," said Mr Allsopp.

"If I have a problem with money, I know I can come here and have anything I need, purely on my past credit. And there is nobody that has had more loans than me!"

He greets people from behind the counter in Tonyrefail by their first name to encourage a warm, friendly atmosphere in the community branch, one of five in RCT.

Nigel Crook, who runs the Tonyrefail credit union, believes the merger plans - awaiting final approval by the Financial Services Authority - will create huge potential to expand.

"In RCT, we have adopted a 'go for it' approach. We want to become self sustainable," he said.

"Credit unions build up to a certain point and then take off. We feel credit unions should be open to anyone in this county."

As non-profit organisations, credit unions have to put surplus money back into the system and the hope is the forthcoming merger in RCT will mean that can take the form of paying dividends to members.

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