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Money project has rich rewards

Jackie Cosh reports on a competition that is putting money management skills to the test and shaping attitudes to finance for life

Jackie Cosh reports on a competition that is putting money management skills to the test and shaping attitudes to finance for life

Debt is an increasing concern for all, particularly students. Research has found that while information is freely available, young people are more likely to seek advice from their peers than go into a bank and ask questions. Companies offering pay-day loans prey on those who can't afford to shop around or who don't know that the interest rates offered are so high.

Working with Scotland's Colleges and Young Scot, Lloyds Banking Group runs the Money for Life Challenge, a national competition to find the most successful and innovative way learners can improve their money management skills, and those of their friends, families and communities. Targeted at 16- to 24-year-olds in further education, work-based learning or adult learning, each group is given pound;500 and two months to set up and implement a project.

"Rather than design resources for the website, we wanted to work with communities. Organised people look at websites, young people don't. We wanted to help people understand financial products. Research says that young people are more vulnerable as they look to their peers," says Sarah Porretta, head of the Money for Life programme.

Nine groups gathered at the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel in Edinburgh earlier this year to hear the finalists' presentations. The winning group would receive pound;1,000 for a charity of their choice and a trip to London for the UK finals.

While the judges interviewed the three finalists, guests walked around each group's stalls. Thomas Britt, 21, was part of the Reid Kerr College Money Talks team, which worked with people struggling with debt, raising awareness of the damage pay-day loan companies can cause. Having researched and educated themselves on the subject, they distributed leaflets and set up an information stall in Paisley town centre where, increasingly, high street shops have been replaced by moneylenders.

"As soon as I heard about it, I wanted to do it, as I thought it was a really good opportunity to put our opinions across," said Thomas. "The people we spoke to said the information was really interesting. Personally, it made me more financially aware. I didn't know much before, but we went on the internet and I was shocked at how high some of the interest rates were."

Rose McKendry, student adviser at Stevenson College, worked with The Credit Crunch Bunch who did talks with college students and visited primary schools. She said: "They were nervous at the start. The first group they spoke to were 16-year-olds and they looked bored, but as soon as money was mentioned, they got interested. Over a short period of time, the group gained confidence and experience as well as team-building skills."

Louise Donegan, a sixth-year pupil at St Luke's High in Barrhead, took part in four radio shows as part of Pounds, Pence and Common Sense. Their focus was on students leaving home for the first time.

"As well as the radio shows, we did telephone interviews with Young Scot and with the University of West of Scotland, who interviewed me for their Facebook page. They are now going to incorporate financial advice into their website," she said.

The projects developed beyond what the organisers had imagined, said Helen Cormack of Scotland's Colleges. "A lot of them went deeper than we thought they would. We expected ideas such as `shopping on a budget', but they took it to a much higher level.

"They were very creative in how they went about it. I think it (money) is something that crosses all classes and ages and it is obviously something which concerns students."

Having spoken to all three finalists, the judges awarded the prize to Reid Kerr's Money Talks team.

"I feel brilliant," said Thomas Britt. "We didn't expect to win but I felt we deserved it. We worked so hard."

Sharon Gardiner, head of business, and lecturer Elaine Bain were just as pleased. "The college supported them wholeheartedly," said Mrs Gardiner. "We went out with them but they led and did the planning. I was delighted by the amount of motivation, creativity and commitment outside college time. It is really good to see how they have grown in a short period of time."

Ms Bain added: "It is important that they see that being at college is about gaining qualifications and that is important, but personal development is also important."

This year's new challenge is now open at:

Young minds on the money

There were nine Scottish entrants, of which three reached the Scottish final.

Pounds, Pence and Common Sense The St Luke's High group conducted four radio shows at their local community radio station Pulse 98.4, where they covered issues such as setting up a bank account, credit cards and sticking to a budget. They advertised the shows in local schools as well as via Twitter and Facebook, and the shows could be listened to online.

Money Talks

The Reid Kerr students focused on saving money and avoiding pay-day loans, producing leaflets and speaking to members of the public at a local shopping centre.

The Credit Crunch Bunch

This group at Stevenson College set out to make learners more aware of the costs of borrowing, the dangers of getting into debt, and the benefits of saving. They focused on school-leavers and adult returners to education, as well as two groups of primary-aged children. They delivered talks and presentations to 10 student groups and two primary groups, and set up a stand outside the college refectory at lunchtime, talking to students about the pitfalls of debt and benefits of saving.

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