Many northern working class families once relied on their Provident cheques as a handy and easily-obtained form of credit. The 'Provi' agent was a regular caller at many homes, and was often regarded as a family friend. (The author's mother-in-law started as a Provi agent in Ashington and Morpeth in the 1950s and continued in the job for over forty years.) The company still exists and is now called Provident Financial . It dates back to 1880 when an insurance agent in Bradford Joshua Kelley Waddilove witnessed at first hand how some working class families struggled to pay for essential items such as furniture, clothes and shoes. He devised a system to help families provide for themselves through the use of vouchers which could be exchanged in local shops for clothing, food and coal. The families then repaid the vouchers in small weekly instalments. The company marketed itself on affordability, though in reality the interest rates were (and are) very high compared to other forms of credit, and Provident has often attracted criticism for that.
Another downside of the cheque system that prevailed in the old days was that only certain shops accepted Provident cheques. Doggarts, the shop featured in the story, was one of them.