I have shared my admiration for the Forsythia Youth Group from Gurnos, Merthyr Tydfil/Merthyr Tudful previously. So I was yet again impressed, though in no way surprised, to see the group tweet the following film about the perils of loan sharks and the virtues of becoming a member of a credit union (CU), which in Merthyr’s case is Merthyr Tydfil Borough Credit Union.
It conveys a simple message: that the pernicious, persistent grasp of loan sharks can be difficult to escape in even the most mundane of settings. Obviously loan sharks do not dress up in a literal sense. However, they do initially present themselves as a source of help, as being approachable, dependable and responsive to people’s needs. One of the closing graphics states that one loan shark was found to be charging a mind-boggling 100,000% APR interest. That they are not as friendly as first impressions may suggest is candidate for understatement of the century.
The CU movement has long identified the need to engage with schools and young people in order to promote the movement’s benefits and relevance, to raise its profile and to recruit ‘members for life’; as the saying goes ‘Healthy habits are best learned young’. If adults are to become responsible savers and borrowers then it is in their youth they are likely to learn, and retain, the virtues of such behaviour. There are many Communities First clusters working with CUs to promote financial literacy among young people, often in a school setting. I recall fondly working on one such project with Islwyn Community CU in the mid 2000s. They promote an interesting concept, namely that behavioural change among children and young people can be imported into the family home and adopted by adults. Though it was a shame to see efforts to draw attention to the film mention via the seemingly redundant @CreditUnionsWales twitter account go unrequited, I hope the wider CU movement capitalise on the group’s efforts, both broadly and locally. Making CUs relevant to people, of all backgrounds and incomes, is critically important for the movement to thrive. Young people can be at the vanguard of this push both in terms of becoming members at a young age, but cascading messages and behaviour to their peers in a way that is likely to be much more effective than CU staff and volunteers or local community development workers doing so alone
Lastly, I also notice that Forsythia Youth recently celebrated their eleventh birthday.
May I wish all involved with such a great role model for grassroots activism, community spirit and youth empowerment a belated Penblwydd Hapus. I fear it is a clunky metaphor but as they reach the age at which a child moves from primary to secondary school I look forward to the group continuing to mature, grow and broaden its horizons as it approaches its teens. The youth of Gurnos and north Merthyr are in safe hands.