Youngsters create rogues’ gallery showing the many faces of loan sharks

Ian Pye and Liam Hussey with school pupils

Youngsters in Runcorn have joined the fight against loan sharks by creating a rogues’ gallery of images showing the many possible faces of illegal lenders.

Digital Arts Box, a Community Interest Company based in the borough of Halton, has been working with pupils at Ormiston Bolingbroke Academy, in partnership with the England Illegal Money Lending Team, also known as Stop Loan Sharks.

The final artwork has now been unveiled, marking Stop Loan Sharks Week 2024, and will now go on display at the school as a visual reminder that loan sharks are not always easy to spot.

Money confiscated from convicted illegal lenders in England following prosecutions by the IMLT has been used to fund the project.

Ian Pye, director of Digital Arts Box, said: “This is our fifth time working on digital arts projects with Stop Loan Sharks, part of a working relationship spanning over six years.

Ian Pye and Liam Hussey with school pupils

“Over the past few weeks we have been working with the Year 7 pupils at Ormiston Bolingbroke Academy. We have been helping to raise awareness of what an illegal money lender is in sessions that are quite powerful and hard-hitting and then introducing the creative side, which the kids love.

“The students have been able to get creative using the latest technology to make images. By using iPads to draw basic sketches and enter some text instructions for the AI to understand, the students are able to create basically anything they can dream of. Using AI is a great experience for them and even those ‘I can’t draw’ kids are able to generate fantastic portrait artwork that helps to represent the variety of people that we’re looking for to go into our final collative art piece, showing how it is not always easy to spot a loan shark.”

Tony Quigley, head of the IMLT, said: “Illegal money lenders come in all shapes and sizes and they’re often far from the stereotypical gangster image. They could be a neighbour, a work colleague, a friend of the family, another parent at the school, there really is no ‘typical’ illegal money lender.

“This project will help to get this message across to the next generation and hopefully help keep them safe from illegal lenders in the future.

“These pupils have come up with some amazing artwork using the very latest technology. We hope they have enjoyed the sessions and taken away an important lesson.”

Liam Hussey, curriculum leader – Lessons for Life (PSHE), at the school, said: “Our PSHE programme is known as Lessons for Life and we cover a range of themes in our ambitious curriculum, one of which is financial literacy.

“It is important for us, given the communities that we serve, that financial literacy is addressed from an early age. I was really pleased to be approached by Digital Arts Box to participate in the loan shark AI project. This initiative has given us another fantastic external agency to enrich our PSHE programme and allow us to raise awareness of the risks and dangers of loan sharks with our Year 7 students as well as enhancing their digital literacy skills.

“Our students have really enjoyed the creative input with the team from Digital Arts Box – it was a brilliant session which all of our year students participated in, one form group each week. Students learned about the motivations and risks for illegal money lending and sources of support before producing their own AI awareness-raising design. Students had to draw a design by hand and then converted this to a professional looking product using sophisticated software. I am really grateful to all the colleagues and organisations who made this innovative and important interaction possible.”

There are up to 1.08 million people in debt to loan sharks in England, according to figures from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).

Stop Loan Sharks Week runs until May 19 and has the theme No Blame, No Shame, reminding borrowers that they have done nothing wrong and should not be afraid to speak out against illegal lenders.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the IMLT. Since its launch, the team has supported over 31,500 people and written off over £91.2 million worth of illegal debt, securing over 420 prosecutions for illegal money lending, leading to more than 600 years in jail.

Anyone who has been affected by illegal money lending should call the Stop Loan Sharks 24/7 confidential helpline on 0300 555 2222 or access support online at www.stoploansharks.co.uk. Live Chat is available on the website from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.