Rhian charts financial inclusion progress as Champions project ends

Rhian Hughes reflects on the development of financial inclusion services during her 16 years at the Wales Co-operative Centre

This month sees the end of the Financial Inclusion Champions project in Wales and, as the North Wales Financial Inclusion Champion, I will be saying farewell to the Wales Co-operative Centre after 16 years. I started my employment with the Centre working as an Admin Officer on a national credit union project, which the Centre was delivering in partnership with ABCUL, one of the membership bodies for credit unions in the UK.

I soon became passionate about credit unions and joined as a member straight away. I’ve seen Llandudno Credit Union, as it was then, thrive and become the driving force for the merger of 5 of the 6 credit unions in north Wales, eventually becoming the North Wales Credit Union (NWCU). The Centre was a key partner in the merger process and supported them through this. Since then, NWCU have merged with Hafren CU and now cover not only north Wales, but as far down as Brecon, changed their name to, naturally, Cambrian Credit Union.

In 2007 I was offered a secondment to the Department for Work and Pensions to work on the ‘Now Let’s Talk Money’ campaign, a national project set up to raise awareness of financial inclusion across the country. At the end of this campaign, the UK Government invested further funding and created the ‘Financial Inclusion Champions’ project. I, along with Katija Dew and Ryan Evans became the Financial Inclusion Champions for Wales.

Our aim was to support and advise stakeholders and partners across Wales to embed financial inclusion within their strategic planning. We’ve played a strategic role in influencing both regional, national and UK policy, working with local service boards, local authorities, housing associations, credit unions, Citizens Advice Bureaus and the third sector to try and achieve this. We’ve supported organisations with their strategies; trained frontline staff; and developed partnerships to raise awareness of the importance of everyone having access to basic financial services.

Having successfully secured over £1million of additional funding to tackle financial exclusion across Wales, the Champions’ have been instrumental in shaping the financial inclusion agenda both locally and nationally. Through pilot projects working with vulnerable tenants, collaboration across local authorities & partnership approaches with digital inclusion, training and shared learning.

During my time at the Centre I have seen many steps taken towards financial inclusion, but the work is not done! With the challenges of Universal Credit, it’s never been more important to ensure that people have access to the advice, tools and services to enable them to manage their money on a day to day basis and be able to cope with financial distress.

Wherever I go from here, I will put my passion into that role; but will always be banging the drums for financial inclusion and tackling poverty and continuing to influence change!

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