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‘Pardner’ in financial progress

BAND OF BROTHERS: Caribbean migrants study job ads in the paper

BLACK HISTORY Month this year pays homage to the legacy of the Windrush generation; their aspirations and the better futures they craved for their families.

Armed with ambitions, this hardworking group arrived to help rebuild post-war Britain at a time when the economy was sluggish, unemployment and inflation was at a record-high – not to mention the hostility they faced from their new neighbours.

Against the odds, they not only survived but flourished and a huge part of that is owed to a simple savings scheme known as pardner, which helped provide financial security.

VALUABLE

In the 1950s and 60s, migrants found it almost impossible to access capital for small investments, but pardner offered a valuable alternative to the traditional banking system.

Pardner system – known as susu to West Africans or hui in China – works when a group of individuals agree to each save a set amount, known as a hand, at regular intervals usually weekly or monthly.

The communal pot is then collected by one member of the group designated banker and then cashed as a lump sum in times of times of need.

Extracts of Windrush pioneer Sam King’s oral history show pardner gave a major boost to the prosperity of many West Indians, allowing them to buy cars and get their first foot on the property ladder.

In the Windrush Legacy produced by Black Cultural Archives and Lambeth Archives, King recalled: “We were the second black family to buy a house in Camberwell, this was 1950.

Over the next 12 years my family played a part in buying about half of all the property owned by blacks in Camberwell. Because we couldn’t get mortgages we pooled all our money together to help others. We called it a ‘partner’ which is the same in Jamaica, and it worked very well.”

Today a huge number of Brits are struggling for cash.

People applying for payday loans or cash advances have risen to an all-time high, with millions unable to make their money stretch from one pay cheque to the next.

Five per cent of the population is surviving on payday loans, while others are draining other credit resources, totalling a mammoth £8.4 billion each month, as personal debt soars to around £13,000.

All the while, banks remain reluctant to provide affordable cash loans to people with even a slight blemish on their credit history, despite the Bank of England maintaining relatively low interest rates – meaning funds are much more accessible for banks.

Jamaican-born Portia Grant runs the Portia Partnership Savings Plan in London, a company offering a savings option based upon the Caribbean tradition of pardner.

Grant said her organisation has been particularly successful because it engenders a good savings discipline in clients, which has allowed many to save up for big purchases such as cars, homes and holidays to visit family.

“People who find it hard to save through the banking system really find pardner useful. For many people, the bank is just not big enough of a sacrifice. You may have put £100 or £200 into an account, but if you need it, you can just go over to the cash point and draw it out. You can’t do that with pardner, you really have to put away money to save for a future need,” she explained.

PLAN

“The great thing about pardner is that once you’ve paid in and got your plan sorted, you can do what you want. I deal with a woman who has been a part of our system for four-and-a-half years and uses her funds to get back home to Jamaica once or twice a year.

“I know the system works; pardner put me through university and got me two houses.”

Though pardner is successful for many, Grant admitted some stringent savers may not be suited to the programme.

“This system is not for everyone though,” she added. “If you are very disciplined with money, can put it away in a bank where it can accrue interest and not feel compelled to draw it out until you need it then there probably no need to get involved, but that’s few and far between.”

But at a time when many young people are struggling to get a foothold on the property ladder, is pardner still an ideal option?

Manchester-based author Deanne Heron does not think so.

The brains behind the Pardner Money Stories book, which details some of the successful (and unsuccessful) tales regarding the age-old tradition which dates back to slavery, says that house prices are simply too expensive.

However, Heron says she has noticed that the tradition of pardner has developed and been modernised by the younger generation.

“I thought pardner was dying out with the elder generation of West Indians who came to Britain in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But I was wrong. I’ve met many 20 and 30-year-olds who still use the process. But it is different Whereas before, people would meet face-to-face at the main person’s house to conduct the transactions, today online standing orders are used. Therefore, they have managed to converge elements of both the traditional system and modern technology and resources to save some cash for holidays and clothes. And I can only see the system developing further.”

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