If you want to know the time ask a policeman. But if you want to know what the assets of the Credit Union were in 1986 ask Seamus McAnee.
Since 1971 Seamus McAnee has been at the heart of the Credit Union in Derry, serving as president, treasurer, assistant treasurer and press officer.
But after 44 years’ dedicated service Seamus has finally decided to turn in his trademark blue book and take well earned retirement.
It’s been a tough decision for the Derry man who celebrated his 80th birthday in December but Seamus says the time has come to move on adding that he’ll miss the great camaraderie and craic he’s had at the Credit Union over the years.
“I joined the Credit Union in 1971,” said Seamus. “There was a bit of an outflow of directors and the Credit Union was looking for people to come in. Thomas McAdams and Tommy Carlin who were part of the Credit Union were in the Wolfe Tone Band with me where I was treasurer. We had just built a band hall after raising £1,500.
“That was the only qualification I had, but I was only in the door when I was made assistant treasurer.”
He remembers that at the time the Credit Union was publicising the fact that savings had reached £2 million.
“Today the assets are over £90 million,” he said. “At that time we hadn’t that much money to loan out but the policy was that the credit committee would pass all the good loans, they wouldn’t turn down or delay a good loan and it was up to the board to find the money to meet the demand. There were times we had to go for an overdraft to pay out to the members.”
In the early 1990s Seamus recalls how the new building came about in Abbey Street
“The old building was great but the three flights of stairs weren’t brilliant,” he said. “Especially as the loans department was on the second floor and you had mothers struggling with prams and older people finding the stairs difficult to manage.
“We began planning for the new building in the early 1980s. We ran a savings drive and got prizes from traders in the town, members of the Credit Union who were only too delighted to donate. The biggest prize was a car given by Bobby Mullan.”
Seamus came up with the idea of doing a jingle to play over the tannoy in the Credit Union building.
“Save, save, save, a little extra now - and If you have a lucky star you might win a brand new car.”
“I insisted on the jingles being played,” said Seamus. “But I didn’t realise they were driving the staff mad. They told me they would stand guard at the window waiting until I came in on a Saturday, then they would switch the jingle on. I was told members said they’d save an extra fiver if the jingle was turned off - permanently!
“But the savings drive was a huge success and that year we brought in an extra £9 million in savings.”
But there were troubled times.
“We had a time when self appointed groups who were using the Credit Union objected to us using a certain bank because they claimed they didn’t employ Catholics,” said Seamus. “They told us to take our money out and put it elsewhere but we were getting the best deal from that bank.
“We resisted and they got together a petition with 100 signatures and forced us to have an extraordinary general meeting. The parish hall was too small for the meeting so it was taken to Templemore Sports Complex. We bused people from the area to the hall for the meeting and we won. The members agreed that the board should run the Credit Union and anyone outside should mind their own business.”
It was around this time that the Credit Union tried to encourage more people to attend the AGMs and moved them to St Columb’s Hall, adding in the famous turkey draw, bingo and entertainment.
“It was a huge success,” said Seamus. “They were queued right up to the Diamond to try and get in. The town was in gridlock.
“We always gave the turkey prizes out on Christmas Eve. One year we were a bird short and I spent Christmas eve trawling the town looking for a spare turkey. People would come to the hall, queue up and we’d cross their name off when they collected their turkey. One man who was in the queue gave me his name. When I said he wasn’t on the list he said he just stood in the queue because he thought we were handing out free turkeys.”
Seamus also recalls how the Credit Union becoming computerised was a huge change but said the first computer system they had installed was a disaster.
“Phil Doherty was very forward thinking and wanted to get into IT but the system we had just wouldn’t work. At one stage there were more people from the computer place in the Credit Union then staff. Phil told them if they didn’t take it out, we would and leave it in the street. We then got IBM and haven’t looked back since.
“The Credit Union is fully computerised now, you only have to push a button and it is all there. You can pay your loans with direct debit or standing order. That said, people do still like to come in with their books.”
Without the support of his wife Margaret who he says had to put up with an awful lot over the years, Seamus said he would have been unable to give so much to the Credit Union. Sadly Margaret passed away last year after the couple celebrated 55 years of marriage.
“When I went into the Credit Union I had five children under 11, was working full time, studying part time and I was involved in swimming. But she never complained or asked me to stop. I couldn’t have done it without her. She was very tolerant.
“I became a Director of Derry Credit Union because of its community based self-help philosophy and ethos. The belief that communities should be in control of their own financial destiny appealed to me. I was raised in old Deanery Street which imbued me with a rich community spirit and a great belief in self-help. It was a neighbourhood which supported many voluntary organisation eg football and boxing clubs, marching bands etc all funded by the community before grant aid or government funding was heard of.”
In the early days the CU was very involved in the social life of members organising dances on International CU day and after the AGMs and bus runs for the members in the summer On one occasion six buses left Abbey street for a trip and on the way a talent competition was held in each bus and the six winners competed in the final at a dinner that evening.
Last week staff at the Credit Union held a retirement do for Seamus.
“They said lots of nice things about me,” said Seamus, “But Margaret Logue was the only one who was truthful who told me there was lots of times I could be contrary, and she admired that.
“There are three pillars of the Credit Union - the volunteers, the staff and the members. It’s a fantastic organisation that will endure.”