On August 3rd 1732, the first stone of the Bank of England was laid in the garden of Sir John Houblon, in Threadneedle Street. This is commemorated on the back of the fifty pound note. The building was close to The Bourse … a square at the intersection between Threadneedle Sreet and Cornhill … where wealthy merchants traded, often in competition with local producers. The Bourse was later renamed “The Royal Exchange.”
Cornhill, with its modern office blocks and towering financial centres, is one of the three ancient hills of London. A little further back in history it was the site of the famous Cornhill Maypole, featured in the writings of Chaucer and Samuel Pepys.
The original Maypoles were associated with revelry and that is why they were banned and chopped down. But the Maypole also stood at the heart of community … as landmark, as gathering place for seasonal celebrations, even as place to display local produce. Each local Maypole was different, connecting people to a particular place and reinforcing a sense of belonging. And when banks make decisions nowadays, they are very far from being connected in this way.
Credit Unions have been around for over 150 years. They were created to provide co-operative credit for small business and rural communities in the wake of the industrial revolution. They spread from their origins in Europe to the rest of the world and are especially popular in rural parts of America where they are called community banks. Credit Union’s are financial institutions, offering their members a safe and convenient place to save, plus access to low cost loans.
A credit union is not a charity nor a funding body, but a service. At times like these, such a service is important because we need to keep our food producers and local systems of support in good heart and equally we need a trusted place to put money safely. The beauty of a local bank is the capacity to build local “capital”. Credit Unions do not have hidden costs – no arrangement fees, no charges for setting up overdraft facilities etc and loans are made in proportion to savings.