On 25th May, Much Wenlock learned that Barclays, the last bank in town was to close on 4th October. I set out the problems this would cause in an article published on the following day.
We got a petition to Barclays onto shop counters on the day of the announcement, and Philip Dunne MP and I issued a bank and cashpoint user survey on 31st. The enthusiasm to demonstrate opposition to the planned closure displayed by local residents was immediately evident – the petition and survey had to be reprinted, and shop and house windows throughout the town displayed the flyer. Online versions of both the petition and the survey were also well-used.
I ensured that Much Wenlock Town Council were fully aware of folks’ concerns – apart from inconvenience for bank customers, residents in the town and the surrounding settlements are alarmed about the impact this closure will have on the vitality of the High Street. I was told by the Town Clerk that the Council could “only make an official response following a properly convened meeting”. That meeting was held on 7th June, and some of the discussion about the closure took place in a confidential session – in other words, the public and press were excluded.
I managed to secure a meeting with representatives of Barclays and, together with Much Wenlock Town Council and our Church Stretton opposite numbers, I met Philip Dunne MP and representatives of the bank on 8th June.
We advanced the arguments that we have been developing over the previous two weeks since the bank closure was announced. We focused especially upon the plight of the elderly and vulnerable, to whom internet banking is a closed book, and on how business customers will be forced into time-consuming journeys that will “take them away from the shop”.
Nonetheless, and despite the strong local support from Much Wenlock bank customers, shoppers and residents, “it was crystal clear Barclays had made up their minds before the meeting” as Philip Dunne said to the Shropshire Star.
The potential loss of all cash machines in the High Street following the earlier removal of the ATM from Spar caused Barclays to pause for thought. They said that they are prepared to maintain a cash machine, providing adequate rent-free space is made available to them. This will be a further challenge to our traders and one that must be addressed swiftly.
Much Wenlock Town Council pulled a rabbit out of the hat at the meeting. The mayor, Cllr Graham Edgcumbe Venning, made a proposal to Barclays that they should sell the freehold premises of the current bank to the Town Council. The Council proposed using part of the premises for Town Council purposes and dedicating an area for use by bank customers and bank staff. The intention was “to transform banking services to appeal to all ages with assistance from banking providers and to provide banking services from a variety of banks working in co-operation”. The draft minutes of the Town Council’s meeting show the detail of their approach at items 6 and 20. I was advised of this moments before the Barclays meeting took place.
The Town Council intends to establish an Action Working Group to plan locally based banking and financial services to the local community. The Working Group will comprise Cllrs Graham Edgcumbe Venning and Herbert Harper together with interested members of the local community. The Town Council will seek an agreement with Barclays to defer the closure date whilst it attempts to put “alternative processes” in place. And the Town Council says it will communicate its intentions to the local community. Clearly, the Town Council seems prepared to accommodate a cash machine, which is welcome. It seems unlikely, however, that Barclays will enter into a joint banking arrangement with the Town Council.
I have asked Shropshire Council’s economic growth team to work with the Town Council in endeavouring to deliver this ambitious plan. The Portfolio Holder for Economic Development, Cllr Nic Laurens, has already visited the Corn Exchange to try to make contact. EDIT Today (13th June), I have met with Cllr Nic Laurens, the Leader of Shropshire Council Cllr Peter Nutting, and Gemma Davies Shropshire Council’s Head of Economic Growth to discuss the impending closure in Much Wenlock. A number of scenarios were discussed about the ways in which we might assist the Town Council, and local residents, in terms of maintaining services in Much Wenlock and working towards a sustainable future. The Economic Growth team will be making contact very shortly.
Thanks to everyone who has written to Barclays, who has signed the petition (over 800 signatures and still more coming in), who has displayed a flyer, and who has completed the bank/ATM user survey – 150-plus at the last count. We knew that it was a long shot to change Barclays’ mind, but we gave it our best. Now we need to channel our energy into ensuring that the Spar/Post Office can serve bank customers better, helping the elderly and vulnerable, and ensuring that local businesses and our High Street weather this storm and prosper in spite of adversity. And hoping that the Town Council’s proposed locally based banking and financial service for the community gains traction.
It’s going to be a busy few months for the Town Council, businesses, and those personal banking customers for whom a weekly visit to the bank is part of their way of life.