Shotton Colliery Community Centre have today (15th March) been awarded with £3000 of proceeds of crime money to spend on a project which will help raise further awareness of loan sharks.

The well-known community centre, based on Bridge Road, was awarded with the lump sum of proceeds of crime money as a result for their hard work during Shotton Colliery’s ‘Bite Back’ Week back in September 2016.

In August 2016, local organisations within the Shotton Colliery parish, teamed up to organise a ‘bite back’ week of action against loan sharks.

The week of action, which later took place between Monday 26th and Friday 30th September, helped raise awareness of the dangers of getting involved with loan sharks and helped signpost residents to their local credit union, a legal alternative to borrowing money in a safe and secure way.

Local organisations were concerned that loan sharks were preying on vulnerable members of the Shotton Colliery community, so they teamed up with the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) to combat the issue that was evidently affecting residents dearly.

Housing providers such as East Durham Homes and Home Housing wrote to all their tenants informing them about the week of action and the activities that were taking place.

Shotton Community Centre acted as the main hub during ‘bite back’ week. The centre also represented a safe place for residents to drop in to gain free, confidential advice on loan sharks. Residents had the opportunity to speak to staff about illegal money lending activity that was happening in the local community.

Activities that took place during the week of action included a coffee morning and charter signing, whereby local organisations came together to pledge a zero tolerance approach towards loan sharks by signing a charter. Housing associations and local Citizen Advice Bureaus also held a number of drop-in sessions during the week, and took part in a leaflet drop in the Shotton Colliery district.

As a result of the hard work that Shotton Colliery Community Centre and local organisations put in, 66 new members joined NE First Credit Union and saved for the required period of 10 weeks. All members were later rewarded with a £25 savings boost for their effort to save. This credit incentive was funded by the England Illegal Money Lending Team, using proceeds of crime money, confiscated from convicted loan sharks.

The week of action events reached an outstanding 3000 households in the Shotton Colliery district.

Denise Brooks, Manager at Shotton Community Centre said:

“Our new members thought the incentive scheme was great, they received the £25 savings boost just in time for Christmas, allowing them push the boat out and buy something a little extra. The incentive has encouraged them to continue saving to ease the burden when that rainy day hits.

“At NE First Credit Union, we are still attracting new members on a monthly basis, even though the incentive has now ended. New member sign-ups is up by over 50% which is a brilliant result”

Heather Wake, Senior Employment and Support Officer at East Durham Homes said:

“We whole heartedly supported this event to highlight to residents that if they are victim of illegal money lending activities, that this is nothing to be ashamed of, and support is available.

“It’s fantastic that our collaborative work with other organisations has been recognised, and this funding will be sure to benefit local people.”

Tony Quigley, Head of Service for the England Illegal Money Lending Team said:

“Well done to all our winners and ‘highly commended’ runners up in the National Champions Awards 2016. You have all contributed to making a difference and tackling this crime in your community.

“Loan sharks are a scourge on society and cause harm and misery to their victims. If you or someone you know has been a victim of a loan shark, we urge you to get in touch with IMLT on 0300 555 2222. You call will be handled by a trained officer and all information will be treated in the strictest confidence.”

Nationally, Illegal Money Lending Teams have secured more than 370 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to nearly 318 years’ worth of custodial sentences. They have written off £71.9 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 26,500 people.

To report a loan shark:

Call the 24/7 confidential hotline 0300 555 2222

Text a report to 078600 22116

Visit the website www.stoploansharks.co.uk

E-mail reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk

Private message us on www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject