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A West Cumbrian woman is being named a national trading standards hero for her contribution to Cumbria's campaign against loan sharks. Andrea Dockeray, development manager at Whitehaven Egremont and District Credit Union (WEDCU), is picking up the Trading Standards Institute's Hero Award at its annual conference held in Manchester on Tuesday June 26th.
Andrea is winning the award for going above and beyond the normal demands of her job to raise awareness of the dangers of loan sharks in Cumbria and encouraging loan shark victims to come forward. She was nominated for the award by the England Illegal Money Lending Team, which works in partnership with Cumbria Council's trading standards team and the police to fight illegal money lenders who often charge exorbitant interest rates.
As part of a week of anti-loan shark action in Cumbria, Andrea held training sessions for credit union staff and volunteers, along with awareness sessions for community members on the growing issue. She also helped host assemblies and organised a poster design competition for school children on the dangers of loan sharks. The Illegal Money Lending Team's mascot ‘Sid the Shark’ was prominent during the campaign week, banners were displayed in community facilities, and beer mats were delivered to local pubs with the hotline number for reporting loan sharks.
The Illegal Money Lending Team worked with the credit union, using proceeds of crime money to open new credit union accounts and encourage people to save. With Andrea’s support, 73 new credit union accounts were opened during the week, and 23 existing members pledged to save. In doing so, local residents were shown the benefits of the local credit union as a safe and legal alternative to loan sharks.
Andrea is one of three national winners who supported the England Illegal Money Lending Team.
Ron Gainsford, Chief Executive of the Trading Standards Institute, said: "The Trading Standards Institute’s Hero Award is a nationally recognised annual award scheme that celebrates outstanding local contributions to consumer protection and the protection of individuals. We look for individuals or groups who have done something extra and inspiring – above and beyond what normally would be expected of their role.”
Cllr Gary Strong, (pictured) Cumbria County Council's Cabinet member responsible for community safety and local services, said: "We can all be very proud of Andrea and the extra yard she has gone to fight illegal money lenders. At the credit union, she works at the sharp end of helping those in financial difficulties and can see first hand the damage that loan sharks do to individuals, families and communities. Cumbria's multi-agency crackdown on this despicable practice has led to a massively increased awareness of the issue and several convictions. I'm delighted that both our work and Andrea's individual contribution has been recognised on a national platform."
Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: "We would like to thank our three winners and everyone who continues to support the work of the team. The award winners have worked exceptionally hard and made an extremely worthy contribution to raising awareness of the dangers of loan sharks. With their help, we are continuing to encourage victims of loan sharks to come forward and clamp down on this crime. Remember if you have been the victim of a loan shark, help is at hand. Please call us on 0300 555 2222."
Andrea herself said she was "delighted and humbled" by the award and the opportunity to pick up the recognition at the Manchester conference.
The Chairman of WEDCU, Cllr Peter Tyson, paid tribute to the commitment of his staff member: "This award is recognition for all the hard work that Andrea puts into her role as development manager at WEDCU. Andrea is a very enthusiastic manager, who leads by example. She relishes rising to the challenge and was instrumental in helping the Illegal Money Lending Team in partnership with Cumbria County Council to raise awareness of the Stop Loan Sharks Campaign in our area. The campaign was a great success, resulting in swelling our membership numbers and offering people an alternative to using loan sharks by highlighting the benefits of saving and borrowing with their local credit union."
Nationally the Stop Loan Shark Project has secured over 210 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to 130 years worth of custodial sentences. They have written off almost £40 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 18,000 victims.
To report a loan shark:
Call the 24/7 confidential hotline 0300 555 2222
Text ‘loan shark + your message’ to 60003
Private message us on www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject
Log-on to www.direct.gov.uk/stoploansharks