Much Wenlock’s last bank closing

I suppose it was only a matter of time.  First, Lloyds Bank in Wilmore Street closed in 1998. It was an inconvenience, but we could always slip into their Broseley branch to pay in a cheque. Lloyds installed a cashpoint at the NISA store on Bridgnorth Road – I think the only one in town at that time. Then Barclays moved out of its premises in the old Swan & Falcon and moved into Avril’s former flower shop. This seemed like a positive move then.

The Staffordshire Building Society was taken over by the Portman, which closed its Much Wenlock branch, the premises currently occupied by Stenton’s estate agents, in 2004

Then, in 2010, HSBC announced that it was going to close. Despite a vigorous local campaign that attracted the attention of the national press, the closure went ahead.

Campaigners to save HSBC's Much Wenlock bank branch get their photo in the national press - L-R: Paddy Ryan, Olwen Yeats, Much Wenlock Mayor, Town Cllr Tim Pinches, Jenny Tyler, Much Wenlock Town Cllr David Turner, and Rob Cumberland
Campaigners to save HSBC’s Much Wenlock bank branch in 2010 get their photo in the national press – L-R: Paddy Ryan, Olwen Yeats, Much Wenlock Mayor, Town Cllr Tim Pinches, Jenny Tyler, Much Wenlock Town Cllr David Turner, and Rob Cumberland

The then mayor, Cllr Tim Pinches nailed his colours to the mast when he said “I will advise people not to use HSBC and change to Barclays, which also has a branch in the town, as a protest [at HSBC’s closure].” Much Wenlock Chamber of Trade also got involved, as reported by the BBC.

So, then there was one – Barclays.

Barclays and its staff have been big supporters of Much Wenlock over the years. Apart from its ubiquitous blue ballpoint pens which appear at quizzes, funerals, and even in the bank, they and their lovely staff have helped out with a number of charity initiatives, including the local Severn Hospice support group and providing matched funding to other charities. So the loss of this amenity will mean more than simply involving moving our money about.

Whilst I wasn’t notified by Barclays, both Much Wenlock Town Council and Philip Dunne MP received emails on Friday (25th May) announcing that the branch would be closing on 4th October. Philip forwarded to me the email he received from Barclays within fifteen minutes of it landing in his inbox.  It detailed this proposed closure, and one in Church Stretton, which will leave TSB as the only bank in that town.

In Much Wenlock, there are a number of issues that arise. For those who don’t live in the town, but travel into Wenlock to use its services, these are even worse:

  • There is a significantly higher number of elderly (and mostly digitally-excluded) folk in the area than elsewhere, who don’t generally bank on-line. Many of them carry out all of their daily activities in Much Wenlock and they don’t venture further as a matter of course.
  • Public transport to the quoted alternative branches is reasonably quick – Madeley can be reached by the 18 bus service in about 40 minutes. Bridgnorth, using the 436, in less than half an hour. However, if all you wish to do is visit the bank, it’s a big chunk of time for a single purpose.
  • The same will apply to car-drivers. A local business has already told me that, if they’re going to have to drive from the Corvedale to Bridgnorth to use the bank, they might as well do the remainder of their shopping there, rather than returning via Much Wenlock where they currently bank and shop. All other matters apart, why pay for parking in Bridgnorth and then pay again in Much Wenlock? And, if you’re travelling by bus, why not pick up a few bits and pieces while you’re out. This is to Wenlock High Street’s detriment.
  • This brings us on the thorny topic of off-street parking – it’s perfectly possible to have your parking fee refunded at Sainsbury’s in Bridgnorth and pop to the bank in High Street, or to park for free in Tesco’s car park in Madeley, do your shopping and slip to the bank nearby. So – free parking in Bridgnorth and Madeley, versus new off-street parking charges in Much Wenlock.
  • So, the loss of the last bank in Much Wenlock may have a greater impact than simple inconvenience when paying in a cheque, or speaking to a bank adviser (we don’t see a “bank manager” any longer, do we?). Other traders, the hairdressers, the optician, the dentist, and the cafés are all vulnerable to losing trade as a result of this unfortunate move.
  • The departure of Barclays is, of course, because over-the-counter business is falling – many customers are using different means of accessing their accounts and only 56 customers use this branch exclusively for their banking, according to Barclays “Access to Banking Standard“. The Wenlock data is here. The adage “use it or lose it” could never be more apt – and every time a supermarket home delivery van is seen outside a home in Much Wenlock, fewer £££s are dropping into Wenlock shopkeepers’ tills. Much Wenlock Town Council’s controversial decision in 2013 to move its main bank accounts away from Barclays was but one nail in the coffin.
  • Barclays suggest that routine banking transactions such as depositing cash or cheques can be carried out at Much Wenlock Post Office. This is situated in the Spar store and, as many will know, service there can be slow. For busy traders, they will have to chose their moment very carefully in order not to be away from their business for too long.

I was the first to sign a petition to Barclays protesting about their closure plans. The petition is on the counter in Ryan’s butchers and at Croft Design. It maybe found elsewhere in the next few days. I hope that the Town Council will take action – apart from one of our new Councillors, I haven’t heard from them yet. I intend to meet Barclays, with our MP Philip Dunne, in the near future in order to set out my concerns and to present the petition. I would welcome your views.

If our bid to keep Barclays open fails, there will be a number of implications, including who might take over the premises. Importantly, the loss of Barclays would probably mean the loss of its cashpoint in the heart of the High Street. Hopefully another cashpoint could be sited, and I’ll write about this in due course.

For the time being, we should direct our efforts at stopping Barclays in their tracks.