Credit Union combats bank closures in West Lothian

Welcoming face...of West Lothian Credit Union, branch office manager John McClay, administration assistant Liz Ferguson and senior administrator Alison Melrose.
Welcoming face...of West Lothian Credit Union, branch office manager John McClay, administration assistant Liz Ferguson and senior administrator Alison Melrose.

Santander is closing its branch in Linlithgow High Street on May 31, with the Royal Bank of Scotland following suit on June 27 this year.

The news has infuriated locals, who have inundated Linlithgow MSP Fiona Hyslop and Linlithgow and East Falkirk Constituency MP Martyn Day with complaints.

Shake on it...Nancy MacGillivray, West Lothian Credit Union's chairperson, with the newest member, Linlithgow and East Falkirk Constituency MP Martyn Day.

Shake on it...Nancy MacGillivray, West Lothian Credit Union's chairperson, with the newest member, Linlithgow and East Falkirk Constituency MP Martyn Day.

But with the banks pulling out of the town, is there another option local people can tap into?

West Lothian Credit Union could be the answer.

Founded in 1998, the group was initially aimed solely at people living and working in Livingston.

However, when the Credit Union moved from its original base in a small church in Carmondean to the Almondvale Centre, it started dealing with people from all over West Lothian.

Branch office...in the Almondvale Centre in Livingston but the Credit Union also offers online services to its members.

Branch office...in the Almondvale Centre in Livingston but the Credit Union also offers online services to its members.

So a decision was taken to change the name and expand its reach to take in the whole of the West Lothian Council boundary.

Now everyone who lives and works in the West Lothian area, including people in neighbouring Bo’ness, can use its services.

Manager John McClay, who lives in Linlithgow, is keen for both individuals and employers locally to consider signing up.

He said: “The Credit Union is there for every single person who lives and works within our common boundary in West Lothian – from Newton to Bridgend and Linlithgow to Livingston.

“Any surplus funds go back into the community and the further development of the credit union.

“We are currently trying to get more employers signed up so that our members’ savings can be deducted from their pay and paid straight into their credit union savings accounts.

“Whatever the person can afford to save can be paid in – whether that be £5 or £105.

“People can also choose to have their benefits paid into their credit union account.

“Their benefits can be loaded onto a pre-paid card which can be used in shops or online.

“And if they have a good basis of savings with us, they can come to us for a loan to buy those big ticket items – a car, holiday or kitchen.

“We also help people who are living in big, grand houses but are up to their eyeballs in debt. We can offer a loan consolidation service to help get them out of debt.

“We help people who other lenders wouldn’t touch with a bargepole, providing loans of up to £7500 – depending on the person’s ability, of course, to pay it back.

“Helping people get out of debt and on a more stable financial footing is our raison d’être.

“We will try to alleviate their debt as best as we can and, if we can’t help, we can signpost them to other agencies who can.

“Banks cannot beat us when it comes to interest rates either – we are very competitive.”

The mainstay of any credit union, though, is the people who save their pennies with it.

Which is why the credit union also has junior members in schools across West Lothian and is hoping to develop even more.

John said: “We have 3000 adult members and 1300 junior members aged under 16, many of them in schools.

“We want to get them into the habit of saving early so that when they borrow later in life, they’re not doing it to pay off other debts or, God forbid, a loan shark.

“We try to educate them to save and borrow responsibly and our schools programme is an ideal way of doing that.

“We’d be delighted to hear from any schools locally who would be interested in forming links with us.”

At the moment, of course, John and his team of five members of staff are busy dealing with people looking for an alternative to banks.

He said: “We’re getting a lot of people just now looking to put their money elsewhere as they are fed up with banks.

“We are not a bank, as such – we try to get people to save their money for a rainy day when the car blows up!

“But we’re happy for people to come along to the Almondvale Centre and we’ll do what we can to help them.

“The credit union is built on the trust we build up with our members.”

As for those living in far-flung rural communities, the credit union is also moving with the times.

John added: “We already have an online service, which allows people to join up and withdraw money online.

“We are now looking at developing a mobile app and bringing in a community development officer to reach out to our rural areas.”

Martyn Day MP is the newest member

Linlithgow and East Falkirk Constituency MP Martyn Day has now become a member of West Lothian Credit Union.

He met up with the Credit Union’s chairperson Nancy MacGillivray recently to look at ways it could help mitigate the effects of the closure of the Royal Bank of Scotland and Santander branches in Linlithgow High Street.

Martyn is now encouraging people in West Lothian to join and is also looking at ways he can assist to increase its overall coverage locally.

He said: “I would urge all my constituents to consider joining the credit union.

“It offers the public a competitive and ethical alternative to the high street banks for loans and savings.

“While banks continue to announce closures, West Lothian Credit Union has assured me that it is here to stay and will continue to help serve the local community.”

Nancy MacGillivray, West Lothian Credit Union’s chairperson, said: “It was a pleasure to welcome Martyn as one of West Lothian Credit Union’s newest members.”

West Lothian Credit Union opened for business in November 1998 as a not-for-profit financial co-operative providing an effective and viable alternative to banks.

It provides a safe place to save money and access affordable loans. Anyone who lives or works in West Lothian can become a West Lothian Credit Union member and enjoy the benefits of saving and borrowing locally.

The credit union offers competitive loans, savings and other products to the whole community, not just those who can afford to shop around.

For more information, email info@westlothiancreditunion.co.uk, visit www.westlothian

creditunion.co.uk or call 01506 436666.