A Bishop has announced plans to recruit 1,000 people to new church run credit unions within the next twelve months.
The Right Reverend Mark Bryant, the Bishop of Jarrow, wants to set up a network of facilities across County Durham to tackle poverty among children and pensioners and help families relying on foodbanks with their finances.
Speaking at the Durham Diocesan Synod at Durham Johnston School at Crossgate Moor on Saturday, Bishop Mark used the meeting to pledge his own personal membership of the Prince Bishops Community Bank.
He said: “There is a real imperative for us through our local churches to see how we can best serve the most vulnerable members of our community.
“There are a number of credit unions in our own Diocese and it is good that there are already parishes engaging with their local credit unions, for example in the North Wearside team in Houghton-le-spring and in Easington Colliery where the credit union comes weekly to the local lunch club.
“They are doing sterling work but a lack of resources means that they simply cannot do as much as they would like to do and it means that they are often not able to be in places where they are needed most.”
To help more families in the county, the Diocese has set itself the target of recruiting 1,000 members in 2014 to new unions.
The plan to help parishes roll out the new facilities is backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the former Bishop of Durham, and the new Bishop of Durham Elect, the Right Rev Paul Butler, who takes up his position in February next year.
Both members of the Church of England have previously said how unions should be used to counteract growing debts built up by families using loan companies and payday lenders.
Bishop Bryant added: “We know we have parishes where more than 50% of the children are living in poverty and where nearly half the pensioners are living in poverty.
“Somebody was telling me the other day about how they regularly see going past their window families moving because they can no longer afford the rent on their houses and how it seems to take families almost a week to move because they have to move everything with a pushchair and dustbin bags.
“The person that was telling me about this said that it was just like pictures of refugees that we see on our television screens and this was happening in Hartlepool.”
Credit unions will be rolled out from the start of the year with members of congregations encouraged to help set them up.
He added: “In some of our parishes there will be people with the skills and expertise which are exactly those needed by credit unions as they seek to expand their influence.
“I hope we should get to a situation whereby the question for church goers in the diocese will not be why should I join my credit union but rather why am I not joining it?”
Lesley Richardson, manager of the Prince Bishops Community Bank based in Stanley, said signing up 1,000 new people would be a ‘phenomenal’ achievement.
She said: “It is exciting that the church is joining up with the bank, it will give extra credibility to credit unions and community banks.
“This is about helping people to understand how to manage their money.
“It will help keep them away from the doorstep lenders and get them away from the payday lenders.”