Rev Carmel Jones founded the Pentecostal Credit Union (PCU) in 1979. It is now the second largest credit union in the country. Now aged 80, Rev Jones, a COGIC minister, is a member of the Windrush Generation who arrived in Britain from the Caribbean between the late 1940s and 1960s.
Over the years, the PCU has provided loans for pastors to buy churches as well as make essential high-priced purchases, and for individuals to start businesses. Now under new leadership, the PCU is on a mission to support entrepreneurship and wealth-building in the Black community. Rev Jones is still heavily connected to the PCU, and talks about its origins, his life and his hopes for the PCU’s future.
KEEP THE FAITH (KTF): What inspired you to start the Pentecostal Credit Union (PCU)?
REV CARMEL JONES (RCJ): The inspiration came from my concern about the lack of preparedness of mainstream banks to lend money to Black and ethnic communities, and to Black people in particular; but worst still, to purchase places of worship for the people of God. For example, people had to hire places that were used for all sorts of social activities, which resulted in us more than often than not having to clean up after the previous user and, boy oh boy, that means beer cans and bottles and, even worse, people being sick all over the place. Then said I, “Lord, Your people deserve better than this. Help me to help ourselves.”
KTF: What kind of response did you get, when you first suggested the idea to set it up?
RCJ: After I received divine sanction to set up the credit union and approach the 20 people who were needed to start, there was 100% unanimity that I should go ahead. All of us met the CEO of the Credit Union League of Great Britain in my ‘front room’ on Sunday 14th October 1979. Thereafter I began to encourage people to join me in this venture. There were a few that preferred the ‘pardner’ system, and waged strong resistance against me establishing a credit union. That pre-existing ideology, pre-dating slavery, is still with us today with some of our elderly folks, but on a much lesser scale.
KTF: You launched the PCU in 1980s. What were the main challenges and successes you experienced during the PCU’s early years?
RCJ: A senior prominent minister, on learning about what I was doing, remonstrated with me over the phone for nearly one hour, demanding that I should not pursue calling the organisation the ‘Pentecostal Credit Union’, because “when it fails, as it surely will, it will bring the entire Pentecostal Church organisation into disrepute”, and she was having none of it. My reply was this, “Are you saying that I am going to fail?” “Yes,” she said, “because Black people always fail, especially where money is involved.” I said, “You will be proven wrong.”
KTF: One of the things the PCU was renowned for, was helping pastors buy their churches. Why did they opt to use the PCU instead of a bank?
RCJ: Pastors wanting to buy a place of their own, or thinking of purchasing a place, would
always come to the credit union first. It is commonly appreciated that where some banks would say ‘No’, the Credit Union would say ‘Yes’. The credit union has faith in the Pentecostal Movement, because of its driving force that it is a disgrace to borrow and not pay back. PCU works with pastors by drawing up business plans, making projections and advising how and when plans may be implemented.
KTF: The PCU is now one of the UK’s largest credit unions. How does that make you feel?
RCJ: It makes the PCU and our members feel excited. It is very gratifying to hear our members publicly and privately singing the credit union’s praises. Of course, satisfaction is a driving force. We run surveys from time to time, asking members to tell us how they rate the service they receive on a scale of one to 10. We ask members to list any additional services they would like us to provide, in addition to what’s already on offer. Finally, the survey is confidential; members are asked not to sign the survey, and they are also encouraged to offer critique.
KTF: You are part of the Windrush Generation. Can you share some insights about your childhood: where you born, what your parents did and what your childhood was like?
RCJ: I was born in Black River, St Elizabeth, Jamaica, and grew up in a district known as
By-berry. I attended Pondside All Age School in an adjoining district, which also served many other districts as well as the Anglican Church every Sunday. I was an acolyte in this church. I was one of three monitors chosen by the head teacher and deputy at 5th grade to assist in the class, because I was fast in all subject lessons. My mother spent most of her time caring for my sister and brothers. She also bought and sold various items on Saturdays at four different markets. She took me along with her sometimes.
My father was a small farmer, a cultivator rearing cows, goats and pigs. During my lunch time (I lived near my school), my job was to give water to the pigs and goats and, when school ended, I would take the larger animals to a local running stream/pond for their daily drink at 3.30pm. Most famously, I used to follow my dad to his cultivation to plant black-eyed peas and corn when the season was in. It was while talking with my dad in this function that he said these famous words to me that changed my life forever: “Would you like to join your eldest brother in England?” Six weeks later, in August 1955, I was on my way to England.
KTF: What role did faith play during your childhood and teenage years?
RCJ: Without realising it, faith had been guiding me from as long as I can remember in my childhood years. Coming to England, the home that I stayed in, the Pentecostal people were so loving to me as a very young boy, and they treated me so well and invited me to church.
My mum was a Christian, so I guess that is where it all started.
KTF: What year did you arrive in the UK, and what were the early years of life like, here in the UK?
RCJ: I arrived at Southampton Port and travelled by train to Waterloo in September 1955. It was medieval then, compared to 2018; people who came here after 1969 did not see the dereliction I saw. Britain has been transformed three times over. Looking back, my life was like a panorama.
KTF: You have publicly declared that your wife has played an instrumental part in the
PCU’s success. How did you meet, and what made you decide she was the woman for you?
RCJ: I have publicly declared that it was love at first sight when I saw her. She is the driving force in my life. How did I meet her? A friend of mine told me he knew a girl from his district in Jamaica, who was coming to England, and when she landed he would take me to the home where she was staying with her parents to see her. When we reached the house he rang the doorbell and I saw her in the hallway, upon which I exclaimed, “Look at my wife, man, look at my wife!” He said softly that was the girl he’d brought me to see.
KTF: During the 70 years that Black people have been in the UK, what, in your view, have been the main contributions they’ve made to British society?
RCJ: I can confidently say that Black people have made enormous strides in education, law, degrees of diversity, commerce, small businesses, hold high post in government institutions, such as the NHS, local authorities, judiciaries, trade union senior leadership, and countless entrepreneurs and countless tradesmen and women. Then there’s the Media, politics and yes, we have contributed so much to British society, especially in the field of Christian religion. I sometimes wish that British society would focus on our achievements, rather than on guns, knife crimes, fatherless children, and so on.
KTF: In what ways would you like to see the PCU develop over the next 10 years?
RCJ: The PCU should continue to educate and train people in the wise use of money, such as what the Communication Director is doing, engage with the vibrancy of the field of entrepreneurs, and continue to invest in digital technology.
KTF: What legacy would you like to leave behind?
RCJ: I would like a bronze face and chest stature emblazoned in the wall, as entry is made into the offices of the Credit Union.
KTF: What message of hope would you like to leave with KTF readers?
RCJ: Pride in our achievements, and a commitment to build on our achievements, and when our detractors try to put us low, we will go higher still.
For more information about Rev Carmel Jones, you can read his autobiography on www.slideshare.net. Visit www.pcuuk.com for more information about the PCU.