Wanted: Women for interest-free loans

Dana Gordon (left) with Arlene Easthope who used the Auckland Women’s Loan Fund to get into midwifery. Photo / Greg Bowker

By Simon Collins

A fund that lends money to women interest-free is in the unexpected position of not having enough borrowers.

The Auckland Women’s Loan Fund, which has operated for 14 years on a purely voluntary basis, has $20,000 available to lend but loan applications have dwindled because few women know that it exists.

“It’s really slowed down now to where we are only doing half a dozen loans a year.

“At the peak I would have thought it was four times that,” said Maureen Eardley-Wilmot, one of six trustees.

Arlene Easthope, a West Auckland midwife who borrowed $1500 in 2010 to buy a Doppler fetal heart-rate monitor, said the loan helped her begin her career as a midwife after graduating from AUT University.

“I needed the loan because I had just finished studying,” she said. “It took me five years and I had to do some of it part-time because I had a young child and became pregnant during the course, and by the time the course ended I was a single parent and I didn’t want to start off with a big new loan.

“So I just needed that extra little bit to get started.”

She found the fund by Googling “low-interest loans”. She paid the money back in a year, and kept on paying into the fund for a while after that to help other women.

She worked with another midwife as a mentor for a year and gradually built up a client list, starting her own website as a “holistic midwife” this year.

“Last year was the first year I didn’t have to worry about getting enough clients,” she said.

Mrs Eardley-Wilmot said the fund started with an $11,000 donation from SkyCity 14 years ago and has built up funds through loans and donations.

The trustees all work in business themselves and lend mainly for education or business.

“We don’t lend for car repairs, we don’t do debt consolidation,” she said. “We give them advice about going to budget services.”

Most loans are up to a maximum of $1000, or occasionally up to $2000. Women have borrowed to buy a fridge for a business importing Island foods, clay for a pottery business or a harmonium for a music therapy business.

The Auckland fund is part of a network of “angel funds” in Waikato, Thames, the Hutt Valley, Nelson, Christchurch, Timaru and Dunedin.

It operates from a Facebook page.

Women’s Loan Fund

• Started with $11,000 donation from SkyCity.

• Lends up to $1000 interest-free for a year “to empower women and support opportunities for them to work toward financial independence”.

• Has $20,000 available.

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