Community savings and the Pardner Hand

Learn about Pardner Hand, a community savings scheme integral to Caribbean heritage
Published on 16 June 2023


Catherine Ross and Lynda Burrell, co-founders of Museumand

We at Museumand – the National Caribbean Heritage Museum have organised an exhibition at the Bank of England Museum about Pardner Hand, a community savings scheme close to the hearts of the Caribbean community here in the UK and in the Caribbean. It enables people to save as a group, with everyone putting in a set amount of money at a regular interval, such as £20 each week. Each person, or ‘pardner’, taking it in turns to receive the pot, or ‘hand,’ of money. One person is appointed as ‘banker’ to hold the pot until it’s ready to give out.

Community savings schemes can be traced back as far as 3000 BC in Africa. They evolved to meet people’s needs as societies transitioned from small, rural communities to larger, industrial cities and towns. Today, people use the Pardner Hand system to save for the things they want or need. Their weekly or regular savings means that when it is time for them to get their hand, they have access to a large amount of money at once which allows them to buy big ticket items such as holidays or home appliances.

A man stands proudly next to his new car, purchased with savings gained through Pardner Hand. Image: Provided by Museumand.

“People join a pardner because they don’t like debt hanging over them! It’s a financial management system.” - Ivylynn

During the Transatlantic Slave Trade, millions of Africans were trafficked to the Caribbean, as well as North and South America. Britain was responsible for enslaving around 3.4 million people between 1662 and 1807, half of all enslaved Africans. Many enslaved Africans in the Caribbean used the Pardner Hand system to save in order to buy their freedom.

When slavery ended in 1838, many British plantation owners and merchants, including former slave owners and traders, were involved in setting up and running banks in the British West Indies. Despite being regulated, these banks often made it difficult for low-paid African workers to access their services, excluding former enslaved Africans from economic life in the Caribbean.

Ever since, the Pardner Hand system has thrived and helped to support and grow local economies in the Caribbean. But it didn’t stop there. The Windrush Generation were invited by the British government to help rebuild the UK after the Second World War and along with their skills and belongings, they also brought the Pardner Hand with them.

Margaret came to the UK in 1956 to study to become a nurse (shown here in her uniform in 1960). Image: Provided by Museumand.

When trying to access financial services in the UK, the recently arrived Windrush Generation faced many barriers. To get bank accounts, they had to meet certain criteria:

  • A specific length of residency in the UK (but they had only recently arrived)
  • Matching capital for business loans for vehicles and equipment or deposits for mortgages (but most had come to the UK to make money, so didn’t have the ready funds for a deposit)
  • A financial track record (but they may have been using ‘unofficial’ systems, such as the Pardner Hand before arriving in the UK)

They also faced discrimination in the form of customer profiling. Some banks assumed that the regular large sums people were putting into their accounts was money that had been illegally acquired. Instead, the money had actually come to them through a Pardner Hand – it had been their turn to have the pot, or they had acted as the ‘banker’.

This exclusion from financial services meant the Pardner Hand was an important lifeline, as well as a key cultural legacy. By pooling experience, expertise and money they were able to achieve independence and secure a future for themselves. They reached their goals despite the discrimination they faced from the prevailing economic and financial systems.

“It gave us money so we could be more independent, in a country that wasn’t making it easy for us.” - Dirg

A group of community historians and friends of Museumand gather at the Bank of England Museum to share their stories in March 2023. Image: Bank of England Museum.

The impact of this relationship is still felt today, with many of the Windrush Generation and their descendants still distrustful of using mainstream banks. But one legacy to celebrate is that the Pardner Hand system still exists. A centuries-old tradition has survived the enslavement of Africans in the Caribbean, been critical to their establishing themselves and their country following Emancipation and key to them settling into the UK, making it home and to supporting the ideas and dreams of a thriving Caribbean community.

“I have been in a Pardner since I started work in 1979! Saving this way, I have been able to acquire so much, a quality lifestyle reflected in my homes, holidays and hobbies.” - Colin
With gratitude to the Museumand community for sharing their stories and memories of Pardner Hand.