United Maidens self-help group
'The emphasis is on preventing people falling into financial ruts, but also on making them aware of their rights…What we have found is that residents are empowered by the responsibility of looking out for one another...This is definitely something that could be applied elsewhere in Britain'.
Councillor Kevin Jones
United Maidens is run by and for women living on the Maiden Lane council estate in Camden, north London. The women meet every Wednesday for 'Money Wednesday' sessions to share their experiences of financial difficulties and to discuss ways in which they can better manage their money. Guest speakers, for example, from the Mary Ward Legal Centre, the local Citizens Advice Bureaux and the representatives from the Council's welfare rights board, are invited to the sessions to answer questions.
The United Maidens group began with an informal question and answer sessions but soon expanded to include discussion groups, advice clinics and money skills classes. Those attending are given the opportunity to complete an eight-unit course – taught by member of United Maidens who have undergone voluntary training – on how to prioritise outgoings.
Momota Khaton, a Maiden mother who helped set up the sessions, says the presence of familiar faces, the relaxed atmosphere and the community ethos of the group is making it the first point of contact for many residents on the estate who are struggling to cope with money problems.
Councillor Kevin Jones, who acts as support officer and secretary to United Maidens said, 'The mothers here pass on clear and direct information about the financial issues that matter most, everything from which of their debts are the most serious, legally and practically, to which bailiffs are permitted by law to enter their house in the event of falling into arrears.'
United Maidens helps Camden mothers apply for tax credits and benefits, as well as teaching them how to budget properly, prioritise debt repayments and access job training. It has been hailed as a ground breaking solution to tackling personal debt.
It is also an example of steps that can be made to building what some commentators have called resilient collaborative communities. Community empowerment here is fostered by increasing a sense of self worth which is gained as a result of being valued by other people.