The principle of credit unions was first suggested in the early 1800s by Robert Owen (1771-1858) who wrote many papers on the development of self-sufficient communities and is acknowledged as the founding father of the cooperative idea. There is some dispute as to whether the first credit unions originated in Germany, France or England. The first British credit union was known as the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, formed in 1844. They were weavers who sold shares to their members to raise the capital necessary to buy goods at lower than retail prices, then sold the goods at a saving to members. In Germany in the 1840s ideas were published by Victor Aime Huber, while Hermann Schulze-Delitzch and Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeissen formed credit unions in 1852 and 1864. The movement spread to Canada and the USA in the early 1900s and it was later in the USA that the Credit Union National Association developed seven cooperative principles to reflect their commitment to serving members and their communities. These principles were known as the “Rochdale Principles” after the original founders in Rochdale. Credit Unions now operate in most countries. In Ireland they spread rapidly in the 1950s, forming The Credit Union League of Ireland in 1960. They are now very successful and part of the culture of the country and one of the shared values of the people.
In Britain credit unions were required to register with the Register of Friendly Societies and in 1979 the Credit Union Act was passed. More recently credit unions are monitored by the FSA in the same way as banks and building societies. In 2002 there were 645 credit unions in the UK. Since then there have been many new credit unions formed, but many others have merged as smaller credit unions see the advantages gained through the “economy of scale”, enabling greater efficiency and more professional management.
Rugby was late to have a credit union, formed only in 2004 following a Rugby CVS study group which was set up to explore the viability of a local credit union. FSA registration was obtained, together with startup grants enabling a Development Officer to be employed to oversee the early stages. Many members of the study group formed the inaugural board. Since then progress has been steady, reflecting a town and surrounding area with a population of around 80,000. Originally a market town, famous for its public school and the invention of the game of Rugby, industry developed through the growth of BTH, English Electric and AEI, later to become GEC and Alstom. As these companies have contracted massively in recent years they have been replaced by smaller industries, with unemployment remaining near the national average. Despite new housing developments and an increase in the commuting population there remain several areas of social deprivation