Safety in Numbers
Iremember as a child going shopping with my mother for groceries at the Co-op store at the bottom of the steep hill where we lived; it was located just before the busy main road between Sheffield and Doncaster in the north of England. I almost got killed there once, on Doncaster Road, one winter's day when I lost control of my toboggan and shot across the main road between trucks and buses. We were tobogganing illegally so we never told anyone about it, even though a policeman, who had seen the whole incident, had threatened to tell our parents. In those days, policemen put the fear of God into us just by looking at us. A couple of years later, I lost my two front teeth on that same hill thanks to winter, snow and tobogganing again: that time I used a low stonewall as an emergency stop. That hill had a lot to answer for. It was always a long trudge back up the hill laden down with shopping bags full.
The Co-op was really the centre of our lives back then. Our insurance company, and we had precious little to insure after the war, was the Co-op Insurance Company. In town, there was the main store that stocked just about every household goods and appliance imaginable. In my teenage years, when I thought I would become a painter to rival the Impressionists, I bought my oil paints at the Co-op.
Much later in life, when I was already a successful writer of textbooks, I frequently lived for months on end at the grand old hotel, the venerable Sheraton Commander, by Harvard Square just opposite the main campus when I was performing there, or at MIT, or at Boston College. My US publisher, Addison-Wesley, was located at Reading, just up the road from Harvard. Sorry, the point of this digression is that on Harvard Square, there was not only the Wurst House (pronounced ‘worst house') where you could get beer, a plate of liver and onions, and ‘full service' by the prettiest student-waitresses on earth, there was also the centre of a student's universe, “The Coop”. It was years later that I came to understand that The Coop was actually the Co-op in the simplified English of America in those days.
You see, the co-operative movement has been present in my life from my earliest days, which goes a long way in explaining my absolute faith in the global phenomenon that in Saint Lucia is represented by the Co-operative and Credit Union Movement.
The title of this piece is, as you may have noticed, Safety in Numbers; so here are a few – numbers, I mean. According to the World Wide Web, St Lucia has 18 Credit Unions (but there may be more: this number may be out of date). Of a population that numbers between 160 and 200-plus thousand, depending on whether it is an election year or not, an impressively precise number of Saint Lucians, 81,022 in all, are members of a Credit Union.
With so many Credit Unions, nobody need ever complain about a lack of easy access to a financial institution; wherever you live, you will live in easy reach of a Credit Union Office. Fond St. Jacques, Millet, Saltibus, Dennery, La Ressource, Laborie, Micoud, Choiseul, Mon Repos, the list goes on and on.
Then there are the special interest credit unions that do not rely on your place of residence as the bond between member and union, but instead are united by a common occupation or interest: the SDA Credit Union, the National Farmers Credit Union, the Civil Service Credit Union, the Co-operative Credit Union, the Hospitality Workers Co-operative Credit Union, the Police Credit Union, the Elk's Co-operative Credit Union, the Teachers' Credit Union, and last but not least, my special favourite, the Saint Lucia Workers' Credit Union,
Why is the Saint Lucia Workers' Credit Union my all-time favourite? Well, ask yourself, “Are we not all Workers?” We work to help ourselves; we work to support our families; we work because we have to, and we work because we must; we work for small causes and we work for greater ones; we work to make our country great, successful and attractive to our visitors; we work for Saint Lucia.
And so I return to the thought that prompted this tale: Yes, we have safety in the number of credit unions and co-operative societies that operate in this small island state, yet would it be too heretical to ask whether or not Saint Lucia would benefit from having one united credit union. I'm not sure – what do you think?