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Kent Savers Credit Union (KSCU) opened the branch at All Saints to provide struggling families with loans and savings accounts.
The system, which was launched in 2010 to provide affordable financial services, allows members to pay into a not-for-profit organisation which then invests cash and lends it back to people when they are in need.
As credit unions cannot legally charge more than 26.8% interest annually, it’s hoped it will tempt people away from taking out payday loans, some of which have rates of more than 5,000%.
Since going live on January 20, 32 savings accounts have been set up, 10 loan forms have been given out and on average 50 people are passing through the doors each week during opening hours which are Monday to Friday 10am to noon.
As well as banking services, visitors can enjoy refreshments in the cafe, free wi-fi, access to a Citizens’ Advice Bureau representative once a week, as well as pastoral and spiritual support.
A group looking to set something similar up at St Christopher Church in Newington, Ramsgate, visited the premises on March 12 to find out how it works.
About 12 other parties interested in setting up their own versions have also been invited to the venue next Wednesday.
All Saints’ assistant curate Lesley Jones said: “We are really pleased at how it is going. People feel welcome to chat, ask for help, meet professional advisors about counselling or find out ways in which to save and so on.
“There’s always a lovely atmosphere and sense of community spirit. Some weeks are busier than others. Our aim is to offer a warm welcome, a listening ear, practical help and ongoing support.
“The first thing we do when people ask about a loan is to listen to why they need a loan, what the pressing financial issues are.
"And where possible, we access help in another way, signpost people to other organisations like the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and try and work through the problem with them. Often a loan is the last thing people need, they just need some help.”
Kent Savers was set up at Maidstone Community Support Centre in Marsham Street, and now has around 1,300 members. For more information, visit www.kentsavers.co.uk or call 0333 321 9050.
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