A new RTÉ One series beginning this Tuesday steps inside what could be considered the most secretive room in Ireland – the Credit Union loan office.
For most of us, no significant life event ever goes "unborrowed", and it’s often said that milestones in family life can be charted through a quick glance at someone’s Credit Union book.
Producer Des Henderson of Alleycats Television said he thinks Credit Unions hold a special place for Irish consumers because of the role they play in our lives.
"Selling ideas for television programming is a big part of my job so I’m always on the lookout for great stories or interesting places that could possibly be the inspiration for a documentary idea, and sometimes the spark can come from the most ordinary of things," he said.
"I first thought of ‘The Borrowers’ when I was sitting in my local credit union applying for a holiday loan."
"I’ve been a member of the credit union for as long as I can remember. As kids we would probably never have been on a holiday, had new school uniforms or football boots if there hadn’t been a loan to cover it. So I was well aware of the special place it held in the community and I also knew that the credit union as an institution was the ideal setting for a television series."
There are over 350 Credit Unions in Ireland, both North & South of the border, covering every town and village and Mr Henderson said it is hard to think of another institution where you can walk in and talk to someone that has that kind of reach.
"I knew that if we got agreement we would have a shortcut into people’s everyday lives all over the country – it’s a bit of a holy grail for access documentaries like the one I was proposing," he explained.
"Not only that, but people from all walks of life use it. I don’t think we see Credit Unions as a place to go just when we are stuck for cash. Even if we have money we go for a loan – it’s a cultural thing and as such it can be quite aspirational."
One story in the series, for example, follows a borrower who was turning forty and wanted to celebrate by going on a shopping spree.
"The Loan Office is the beating heart of any Credit Union, that’s where the interesting conversations happen and that’s where the filming for our series is focused," the producer said.
"I knew from my own experience of the loan office that it really is a unique interaction, you end up more or less telling the loan officer your life story and chatting about how things are going."
"Most times the chat isn’t about the loan at all and in most instances you’ll know the loan officer and have a bit of craic too. I felt that if we could 'fix rig' the loan offices (put remote cameras on the walls to 'spy' on the conversations) we could create a 'first dates of finance'."
Mr Henderson said he was also excited at the prospect of giving the public a peek into what many consider the most secretive room in the country.
"It’s quite daunting to step into the loan office and discuss your personal finances, it’s probably somewhere we don’t feel cameras should be, and that’s the same reason why we want to see what’s going on."
And he says the series isn't really about the credit union at all – it is about the people working there and using it.
"We met some great characters with really interesting stories, but we also meet the loan officers who are there throughout the series," he said.
"Viewers will have the opportunity to hear the real-life reasons behind credit union loan applications, from family reunions, to new cars, houses, cosmetic procedures and more. To quote one for the great loan officers in The Borrowers, ‘all of life is in the credit union’ and viewers will certainly get to see that in this series."
The Borrowers is an 8 part series for RTÉ One and starts on Tuesday 16 April at 8.30pm.