Case study

Allison – I couldn't save a penny before. Now I might have a holiday next year

How the Five Lamps, a charity providing social, economic and financial inclusion services, helped someone struggling with debt.

This case study was withdrawn on

We have archived older case studies about social justice and published more up to date case studies.

Allison – I couldn't save a penny before. Now I might have a holiday next year

Allison had struggled with debt for years. Workshops run by the Five Lamps Financial Inclusion Team helped her sort out her financial problems and focus on finding a job.

Watch the video to hear Allison talk about her experience. The video also features John Hird, a Senior Loans Officer from the Five Lamps Financial Inclusion Team.

Allison’s video youtube

Read the video transcript

Allison’s story

Allison had struggled with debt since her children were born over 20 years ago. By 2011, her situation had become so dire that she was considering suicide.

“I had no one to talk to about my problems,” said Allison. “I’ve been in debt since the kids were little. At the time, when someone offers you vouchers for Christmas or something from a shopping catalogue, you think, ‘Oh, I can manage that.’ But then it adds up and you have to take out a loan to cover it, then another to cover that, and another.

“One time they came in and took away the TV, the cooker and the washing machine. I was left with nothing. I was in thousands and thousands of pounds worth of debt. A new letter would come through saying I owed £3.80 a week and I couldn’t afford it, never mind being able to have food, heating or electricity.

I couldn’t sleep from the worry

“It reached a point where I couldn’t sleep from the worry because there was letter after letter coming through my door and people constantly calling. I thought killing myself would be the only way out.”

Allison’s friend mentioned she was going to a workshop run by Five Lamps, an organisation that helps people to improve their finances, find work or start their own business. Allison decided to join her friend at the workshop where she met John Hird, a Senior Loans Officer from the Five Lamps Financial Inclusion Team.

John explains: “Our Capacity Builders Workshops are held in the community to allow people to talk about their situation and provide a financial education so they can begin to solve their problems. We discuss budgeting, debts, doorstep lenders, alternative forms of finance, utilities and how to save money.

“At the end of the workshop, Allison came up to me and asked for a follow-up meeting to look at her financial problems in more detail. We couldn’t help her with a low-cost loan because of her situation, but I contacted all her creditors to arrange manageable repayments on her behalf instead.

Not just a debt problem

“When someone comes to us for help, they aren’t just coming to us with a debt problem. Their situation will also be affecting their mental and physical health, often preventing them from working.

“Once we have looked at how we can improve someone’s financial situation we also offer training to help them get a job, or maybe give them support to turn a hobby into their own business. Now that Allison isn’t constantly worrying about her debts, she’s focusing on getting a job.”

Allison has recommended Five Lamps to friends and family in similar situations and is now managing to save money for the first time in her life through her local Credit Union, which encourages members to save regularly and provides affordable financial services.

Saving money for the first time

“John was so quick to sort my problems out,” Allison adds. “It was an instant weight off my shoulders and he still keeps in touch to make sure I’m OK. Now I’m able to save money for the first time in my life with the Credit Union. It’s only five or ten pounds a fortnight, but eventually I might be able to go on a holiday.

“After seeing the support I received, my sister, daughter and friends are all going to Five Lamps to sort out their problems too. I’ve got peace of mind and I can’t thank Five Lamps enough for that.”

Video transcript


Well I’ve always been in debt since me kids were little, people coming to the door saying, “Do you want vouchers”? So I was getting vouchers and paying them off then they’d come before you’d even got them paid off saying, “do you want a loan”? So I got loans. then things got from bad to worse and oh it was really bad.

Then I got catalogues and there was Providence, Shop-a-cheque, God knows I can’t even remember them all. Buy as You View, just things like that and it really gets on top of you, but you think it’s there you know, could be done, they just hand you the vouchers or the money, whatever and you think oh great, go and spend it and then, oh it’s bad.

I heard about Five Lamps off me friend Joyce and that was really good when I went to Five Lamps and John sorted everything out it was brilliant and I feel loads better.


With Five Lamps it’s largely social and economic regeneration, working across the whole of the North East. We work with 25,000 people a year, creating possibilities and choice, changing lives. Increasingly, our services have become more integrated. We can wrap around almost a complete service for a whole load of people, address issues that affect the whole family.

Most of our customers live in the most disadvantaged communities in the North East and we are just an organisation focused on doing brilliant things in a brilliant way.


I arranged a one-to-one meeting with Allison a couple of days after the workshop and what I found was when she came to see me she had an awful lot of debt issue which was worrying for her.

But it wasn’t just that, it was the health side of it. When I sat and talked to her, away from the group, she did open up and she said she was having problems sleeping. She wasn’t eating and she just felt it was getting worse. She hadn’t spoken to anyone regarding this because she didn’t know who to turn to, to get help. So I sat with Allison, went through everything that she’d brought, information on and we drew up a plan to write to the creditors to make the repayments affordable.

Allison wanted to make these payments; she wasn’t running away and hiding from the debt. She wanted to make a concerted effort to get on top of this. But she felt until this was in order, she couldn’t move on with her life, she couldn’t concentrate on looking for a job and a whole range of issues.

When she came to see me she was at a very low ebb. Just the way she sat, she was hunched; she was very very quiet when she spoke. She just felt everything was getting on top of her.

Since I arranged all the payment plans and managed to free some money up and release this burden that she was under, I speak to her every week, at least two or three times just to see how she is. And just from talking to her on the telephone I can tell, by the way she’s talking, that she’s a lot happier. So it’s made a big difference to Allison’s life by managing to arrange this.


Before I couldn’t but now I can, I mean, it’s not much but I try to save say five, ten pounds a fortnight if I can so that’s really good. I might have a bit maybe next year or the year after for a holiday, so that’s really good.

End slide

Five Lamps is a not for profit charity that helps tackle indebtedness and financial exclusion. Their Capacity Builders Workshops provide financial education to the local community. They allow people to talk about their situation, so they can begin to solve their problems in a manageable way.

“I couldn’t save a penny before but now I try to save five, ten pound a fortnight, I might have a bit next year for a holiday”.

Published 16 April 2013