Community Development Banks are more common in the USA than they are in the UK. They were originally set up to assist people who reside in lower income areas with the aim of helping those who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to gain access to conventional banking facilities to prevent social exclusion and also to, hopefully, act as a catalyst towards economic development.
Although the concept has been much slower to catch on in the UK, the Royal Bank of Scotland has continued to play its part in helping to boost access to credit in low-income neighbourhoods where even bad credit loans are not accessible to all and to provide backing for social enterprise projects.
One of its major success stories has been that of Aspire Community Enterprise Ltd. which was set up in 1999 in Bristol.
Its aim was to provide meaningful employment and training opportunities to homeless and ex-homeless people through the distribution of a fair trade catalogue provided by the homeless. Within a year of its conception, Aspire had helped to provide full-time work for 15 homeless people who included ex-offenders and people with a history of drug abuse and it was also able to secure living accommodation for those employees who had previously been sleeping rough.
Today, thanks to funding from RBS’ Community Development Banking division, Aspire now operates out of 9 UK cities and has helped over 250 homeless people get off the streets and back into work. The Aspire Group, as they are now called, have even bigger plans which they hope will enable them to venture into new business areas such as gardening services and furniture restoration which will, hopefully, offer a second chance to others who have fallen victim to social exclusion.
With an increasing number of people falling victim to some kind of bad credit history appearing on their credit files due to one reason or another, there has, over recent years, been an improvement in the number of lenders, especially non-traditional ones, who have realised that there are many people out there who should be offered bad credit loans and the opportunity to repair their financial reputation but who have previously been unable to gain access.
Projects like Aspire’s and the willingness of a major bank in the RBS to support such initiatives to tackle financial and social exclusion should be applauded. It helps to develop alternative markets and provides vital cash imjections for local community projects. Following its success, let’s hope we are likely to see other major high street banks also do more to help those less advantaged than others when it comes to borrowing money and to encourage a type of society where everyone feels included.