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THRIVE Teesside

Church Action on Poverty (CAP) and Oxfam first started working in Thornaby, Stockton-on-Tees, in November 2004. Thrive Teesside was created in January 2007, and is now an award-winning, independent organisation, working in partnership with CAP. Thrive aim to get the voice of people on the margins of society directly to decision-makers, and effect real transformative change in Teesside. They work to build the economic and social resilience of local households and communities. Greg Brown, Lead Organiser of Thrive Teesside Projects are focussed across Middlesbrough and Stockton, and include Ragworth, Thornaby, Newtown, North Ormesby and Brambles Farm, areas which rank amongst the top ten per cent most deprived nationally. The regions traditional political and social networks have been hit hard by the decline in heavy industry, and an increase in unemployment. Thrive Teessides work is based on two approaches; by building relationships with the most excluded households, they identify the issues that keep them trapped in poverty. In addition, broad-based community organising gives people skills and confidence, enabling them to work together to call for change. Thrive Teesside has been unique in getting debt customers not just to manage their finances, but also to tackle the companies which contribute to the problem. Through tough negotiations and campaigning work, Thrive Teesside have enabled a group of women from marginalised, low-income households to fundamentally change the practices of a sector which in 2011 made profits of over 45 million. Their achievement in persuading the countrys three biggest high interest, hire purchase companies to sign up to a consumer charter has helped almost 325,000 customers across the country. Through their ground-breaking partnership with the Centre for Responsible Credit, Thrive Teesside continue to negotiate with the sector for lower interest rates and better credit sharing practices.

Durham University have teamed up with Thrive Teesside to research fuel poverty, and further understand the impact of debt and how to fight it. Thrive Teesside has been nationally recognised; one of their members won the Sheila McKechnie Foundation Take Action 2011 award for her campaigning work. Thrive Teesside aim to build on their success, develop more leaders from the community, and create a truly sustainable future for the organisation.

Thrive Teesside Thornaby Methodist Church, Stanstead Way Thornaby TS17 9DZ Telephone: 01642 769 570 Email: mail@thrive-teesside.org.uk Web: www.thrive-teesside.org.uk Facebook: facebook.com/thrivestockton Twitter: @ThriveTeesside

High-interest Lending
Buy As You View have actually lowered their interest rates. Theyve also started the ball rolling about sharing information on credit ratings. Its had a knock-on effect, and the others have joined in. So it is working.

In 2010, the Thrive community group, angry at the way high interest, hire purchase companies were forcing many local people into debt to buy basic goods, decided to take action. Since then, their award-winning campaign has persuaded the sector to make significant improvements to the way they do business, improving the lives of 325,000 low-income customers. Bright House, Buy As You View and Perfect Home made profits of around 45 million last year; but charge almost double high street prices and interest rates of up to fifty per cent for furniture and basic goods like washing machines and TVs. Despite these high costs, the companies target low-income households who are dependent on benefits, already in debt or struggling for cash. The Office of Fair Trading states that more than a third of customers who use these rent-to-own (RTO) outlets are dependent on the sector for credit. Bad credit histories mean that many of their customers are often unable to access bank loans, credit cards, or even bank accounts, and have nowhere else to go to buy essential goods. Thrive, in partnership with Church Action on Poverty, activated hundreds of people to send emails to the chief executives of the three companies, demanding that they lower their costs and improve their practices. The group arranged a series of meetings in London, and invited Bright House, Buy As You View and Perfect Home, as well as politicians, the Office of Fair Trading, and the Citizens Advice Bureau. They teamed up with the Centre for Responsible Credit to help them during the negotiations, and secured funding for the campaign from the Friends Provident Foundation. Thrive created a hard-hitting YouTube video, Rip Off TV, which satirised the sectors practices, and protested outside branches of those companies who had refused to come to the negotiations.

How much does it cost?


Many of the goods that the RTO sector sell are priced high even before the interest kicks in. Add on hidden extras and interest rates of up to 50 per cent, and RTO customers end up paying almost three times the retail cost or more. Acer Gold 15 laptop Currys.co.uk = 409.90 Brighthouse = 1,142.96 [579.64 + Interest + Optional Service Cover (104 payments of 10.99)] Beko washing machine AppliancesOnline = 250 BuyAsYouView = 661.44 [379.99 + Interest (156 payments of 4.24)] Panasonic 32" LED TV Amazon.co.uk = 380 PerfectHome = 778.44 [541.99 + interest (156 payments of 4.99)] Nevada leather sofa furnituredirectltd = 320 PerfectHome = 1,393.60 [870.99 + interest (208 weekly payments of 6.70)]

(Source: Brighthouse, PerfectHome, Buy As You View)

BBC North East made a documentary about the campaign, and The Sunday People newspaper interviewed local people about their debt experiences. The hard work paid off. Since the first meeting in May 2011, Thrive have managed to get all three companies to sign up to an improved customer charter which commits them to limit their default charges, refer debt-ridden customers to independent advisers, ensure that their goods are competitively priced, and better handle complaints. Buy as You View have even lowered their interest rates; instead of a 49.9 per cent flat rate, regular payers now see their rates drop to 39.9 per cent, while those who use direct debits pay 29.9 per cent. Thrives success has been widely recognised. In 2011, they won the Voluntary Organisations Network North East award for best campaign. They are now working to try to persuade the rest of the RTO sector to sign up to the charter. They also want companies to start sharing credit data, enabling customers to access lower interest, mainstream, forms of credit. The campaign continues.

DONNA ALLISON, MONEY MENTOR

Mum-of-five Donna Allison, 27, of Thornaby, is a member of Thrive. Taking out doorstep loans and using buy-as-you-rent companies had left her with large debts. But with Thrives help, Donna has now managed to pay off most of her loans. Donna is now a money mentor for the Thornaby community. Everyone I know has doorstep lenders family, friends. They also use Buy As You View and Perfect Homes. You dont have the money to save when youve got children or youre on benefits so you go to these places. But then youre paying a thousand pounds for a second-hand washer. Our fridge freezer is reconditioned. But it will still cost us just under a grand. I had bailiffs coming to the door, and red letters all the time. I was scared to answer the phone. I was getting depressed. They threatened to come and take my goods from me if I didnt pay. I was frightened. Youd get loan sharks in my neighbourhood coming to your door. You fall into it. They seem to target Christmas time, when they know people struggle. So youre going to take that money just to give your kids a good Christmas. Id say on a hundred pounds loan, you're paying about 190 back, if not more. It was with Thrive that I built up the confidence and managed to slowly get out of debt. I would take out loans to get by for the kids for Christmas; last year was my first debt-free Christmas. Ive nearly paid all my loan sharks off. They keep asking me if I would like another loan. Now Im strong, and say no. I've started looking on second-hand pages on Facebook, and on Freecycle. If I need something, before Id be the type to just go out and spend, and not think about where the money is going. I feel much better in myself. Ive got more money to spend on the children. Im saving. And all the money that Ive given to those loan sharks Im putting into a tin. Im not adding onto my debt. The money I get is my own money, its not a loan sharks. Its my own. Ive wanted to give something back, and now Im doing a money mentoring scheme. I go to peoples houses to tell them my experience. How Ive managed to get myself out of debt with the help of Thrive. And hopefully help others. I know that I can make a change because Ive got the experience. I think people tend to listen more when they know you've been through it. Its good to give something positive back and help others. G

I know that I can make a change because Ive got the experience. And I think people tend to listen more when they know youve been through it.

GRAHAM CLARKE, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF BUY AS YOU VIEW

Graham Clarke discusses why he decided to engage with Thrive; and why other companies have nothing to fear from community organising. Whats worked has been people getting round the table and talking. I think there needs to be willingness on both sides of the table to do something. Its amazing how perceptions change our view of things. In April 2010, I started getting some emails. As a human being, no matter how resilient and tough you are, it hurts when someone has a pot shot at you. Ive always been a firm believer in communication. Thrive were always going to get a receptive response; it was a little bit prickly at first. They made a spoof film, which looking back I have to say was quite funny; but it was all designed to provoke. They threw a lot of rocks at me. The danger is, do you just sit back and not respond? Certainly in my corporate life that was always seen as the best way to approach. I don't buy that. I was able to show that a lot of the things Thrive were frustrated with we were in the process of changing. The model currently works like insurance; good payers subsidise bad payers. You pay the same whether youre a bad customer, or youve been a customer for 40 years. I want to be able to reward good payers. That isnt some soft hearted approach; this is business. I want to keep good customers. As a consequence of that we are one of the first companies in the sector to offer differential pricing. My existing customers pay a lower APR than new customers. We still have a high APR; but its a high cost to collect. The company never used to do direct debits. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) had made some recommendations about data sharing; but from that recommendation there was very little that had been done. Coming together with Thrive was a catalyst to get round the table and start moving towards that. We are now designing a consumer charter that we are signing up to and we are all in the process of working out how data can be shared.

We are absolutely prepared to make more changes in the future.


One of the frustrations from both sides of the table is how difficult that is. Theres no specific legislation to allow it to happen the OFT have only made recommendations and guidelines. But it has made the OFT see there that there is a groundswell both from consumers and businesses. It is a piece of PR. Youd be a liar to say otherwise. But thats not been the driver. Weve seen that this has been good for us; its helped us improve. Its changed the way we do things. I would say to community organisers; try a gentle approach first. Its worth doing creative approaches like Thrive. Be tenacious. And I would say to the businesses; engage. There is nothing to lose. We are absolutely prepared to make more changes in the future. G

MAUREEN HAGAN, THRIVE MEMBER

In 2008, grandmother-of-ten Maureen, 58, left her partner and moved into unfurnished private accommodation. As a full-time guardian for two teenage granddaughters, she had no savings and was reliant on benefits. Although she was able to find some second-hand furniture, Maureen had to turn to Perfect Home and Buy as You View to purchase a new sofa, bed, washer and cooker. At the beginning I joined Thrive to get me out of four walls. I just carried on because it was something to do. Then we started talking about the bad boys of doorstep lending. But where else do you go when youve got no money to buy the goods with? Theres nowhere else for a person with a bad credit rating or no credit rating to go. Because they won't have you. My main issue was to give us a credit rating. And they've got to publicise that rating to other companies to know that we are good payers. First of all we contacted a multi-million pound company to come and listen to us. We never thought they would. But they did. And that was Buy As You View. Graham Clarke (Chief Executive) came from Wales over to Teesside to meet with us. I just couldn't believe that somebody would want to come and meet normal people. But he did. We were going down to London, to Dean House at the back of Westminster Cathedral, which was a place Id never thought Id see. There was Ministers, there was the top man of the Citizens Advice Bureau. PerfectHome was there. We just couldnt get Brighthouse to the table. I thought, I'm just a spare cog in this wheel. And then people started asking me questions. I was absolutely shaking that people like this were asking me questions.

The common man does have a right and if they speak loud enough they've got to be heard.
The second time we went, Brighthouse wasnt there. So we decided that we would petition Brighthouse. We stood outside the Stockton store with cardboard cut-outs of microwaves, and I stood in a cardboard cut-out of a washing machine. And next time theyve come to the table. When I walked out, the third time we went to London, I was like a bouncy ball. Because people were listening to me. A nana, a mother, a normal everyday person. Not somebody whos got airs and graces. I couldnt stop talking about it, it was so electrifying to think that I was actually helping, not just me, but other people in the same situation Im in. Im trying to help those coming up behind me. If its just one person then Ive achieved a lifetimes ambition. Then theyre not going to be in debt like Ive been in debt. Buy As You View have actually lowered their interest rates. Theyve also started the ball rolling about sharing information on credit ratings. Its all been a knock-on effect where the others have joined in. So it is working. It does work. The common man does have a right and if they speak loud enough theyve got to be heard. If Id have realised that doing this sort of thing would have empowered me and others, then I would have done it a long time ago. G

People were listening to me. A nana, a mother, a normal everyday person. Not somebody whos got airs and graces. It was electrifying.

Asylum Seeker Housing


I thought I was voiceless. And I felt disempowered. So when I met Thrive it really made a difference. Now I can take anything. I can take that mountain. I feel so strong; so, so strong.

As part of the Governments policy of dispersing asylum seekers across the UK, the North East has seen a large increase in the number of asylum seekers. Over 3,300 had moved to the area by the end of 2006. In summer last year, Stockton was home to almost a quarter of the regions asylum seekers. In 2010, Thrive started receiving allegations that asylum seekers were being mistreated by their landlord. Tenants alleged that houses had inadequate cooking and sleeping facilities; they they were being intimidated and told they would be reported to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) if they complained; and that the landlord was visiting houses without the agreed 24 hours notice. Different faith and cultural needs were reportedly being ignored. With Thrives help, Diaspora Action and Support United Kingdom (DASUK) was formed by two Zimbabwean asylum seekers to address the issues. In November 2010, DASUK organised a meeting, which was attended by over 100 asylum seekers and members of Stocktons voluntary and community sector, as well as the towns mayor. Asylum seekers told their stories; one former local councillor was so moved, she agreed to become a partner and mentor for DASUK. Together with their new supporters, DASUK contacted UKBA, who had contracted G4S to provide asylum seeker services for the area, and Jomast, who had been subcontracted by G4S to provide housing, to ask them to attend a meeting to discuss DASUKs concerns. The meeting was held in April 2011; UKBA attended, as did Migrant Helpline, a G4S partner, and the Regional Refugee Forum. Since then, DASUK have held several private meetings with UKBA and G4S. They have been in communication with Jomast. DASUK representatives now also attend the local multi-agency forum on asylum issues.

Although DASUK has yet to see concrete improvements to the housing situation, negotiations have been initiated, and are ongoing.

KUDZAI RUSERE, CO-FOUNDER, DIASPORA ACTION AND SUPPORT UNITED KINGDOM (DASUK)

Kudzai Rusere, 46, is a Zimbabwean national. The former Harare Polytechnic administrator, a leading light of the then anti-Mugabe Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), fled her Harare home in 2002 after receiving death threats, leaving her two daughters behind. She has not seen them since. She is chairperson of the Middlesbrough branch of the MDC. The housing provider wasn't actually adhering to the contract or to the obligations of the contract; so he took advantage of the people to manipulate them. They tried to threaten them and dehumanise them, telling them that they should be grateful theyve got a roof over their head because theyre coming from Africa.

It has helped me build my confidence, and to really realise the potential thats in me. Power is the ability to cause changes, wherever you are; thats power.
Seven women were given four pots to cook in. These women have got children. How do you use four pots amongst seven women? Its not feasible. They started intimidating people when they complained. It was terrible, to be honest with you. The journey to having the meeting was a bit challenging. With community organising, youve got to get it from the community. And make sure that the community can present their issues. Eventually we built up the momentum with the help of Thrive. And when the big man knows hes going to be attacked, he tries to divide and rule. He said, lets negotiate now, last minute, just a day or two before the big meeting. But there was nothing to negotiate about. They had already refused three times to come to the meeting. There were about forty to fifty asylum seekers there. We had to represent our cases and our experiences. We had testimonies from the people who had been abused by the system and all the problems that wed encountered. Soon after the meeting, they went round doing things that they used not to do; painting and buying equipment for the houses. They sort of changed, although not to the great extent that we wanted. Now they know the problems that weve had and I think it will be taken on board.

Thrive doesnt actually do anything for you; they empower you and they give you the direction and the information. Thrive really helped us. I thought I was voiceless. And I felt disempowered. So when I met Thrive it really made a difference. Now I can take anything. Now I can take that mountain. I feel so strong, so, so strong. It has helped me to build my confidence, and to really realise the potential that's in me. The current system, it sort of takes the power from you. But power is the ability to cause changes, wherever you are; thats power. So I feel very powerful now, to be honest. G

Richard Mahlahla: Co-Founder, Diaspora Action And Support United Kingdom

SUZANNE FLETCHER, MENTOR & PARTNER, DASUK

They tried to threaten them and dehumanise them, telling them that they should be grateful theyve got a roof over their head because theyre coming from Africa.

Suzanne Fletcher MBE, 67, is a respected former local councillor in Stockton. After attending a DASUK-organised event in November 2010, and hearing co-founder Richard Mahlahla speak, she vowed to help the group. Since then she has supported DASUK in developing documentation, negotiation and communication skills. I was shocked. Ive heard lots of things in my life, but to think this was actually happening in my own community, I sat there with my mouth open. My reaction was that somethings got to be done and Im going to help to do it.

DASUK mentor Suzanne Fletcher with Richard Mahlahla

In ten or twenty years time, some of these people weve been working with will be leading the whole community, not just their own. And I think it will be different and better because of that.
We had a meeting with people from DASUK. They were wonderful people, and brave, to be talking about it when their own position was so insecure in this country. I think theres two strands: one is helping them tease out what the issues are you can do something about, and what you cant. The other strand is how we relate to the different organisations that we approach. When we were organising the meeting that we had in April, we had a number of rehearsals. We spent quite some time working out who was going to say what. Its made what Ive always wanted to do to work with and for people much more possible. Because it was a completely different, non-political setting. Which made it much better.

Ive learnt what Ive always known that the asylum seekers have got so much about them, such huge dignity. All theyve ever asked for is to be treated with dignity and respect. The more Ive got to know them the more Ive come to respect who they are. Everybody moving forward together is a really important thing. I thought I would have had this sorted out by the end of December last year. Youre taking people with you and you walk slower if everybody is going at the same pace. We can use community organising for everything when these good people are settled citizens and theyve got jobs and are really part of the community. They know how to organise, they know how to put the case, they know the power of personal testimony, they know how to use people power. In ten or twenty years time, some of these people weve been working with will be leading the whole community, not just their own community. And I think it will be different and better because of that. G