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How will this north Norfolk town cope with no bank? Residents have their say

PUBLISHED: 06:31 16 October 2018 | UPDATED: 14:45 16 October 2018

Barclays Bank in Wells will close in February next year. Picture: Dan Bennett

Barclays Bank in Wells will close in February next year. Picture: Dan Bennett

Archant

Bank branches across the country have been closing at an alarming rate, leaving people struggling to access the financial services they rely on. The national picture is being mirrored in the region and Wells is the latest town to be hit. DAN BENNETT reports...

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb did not hold back when giving his views on bank closures. Picture: Sonya DuncanNorth Norfolk MP Norman Lamb did not hold back when giving his views on bank closures. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Barclays has just announced it will be closing its Wells branch in February, meaning Wells will be one of just a few towns in the region to have no bank at all.

Barely a week goes by without news of another bank branch closure.

Nationally, almost 3,000 bank branches have closed since 2015 or are due to close this year, research from Which? has revealed.

Banks blame the advance of technology, with customers turning to the internet and smart phones for day-to-day banking.

Norfolk county councillor Marie Strong, who represents Wells, has spoken about the closure of the town's only national bank branch. Picture: Ian BurtNorfolk county councillor Marie Strong, who represents Wells, has spoken about the closure of the town's only national bank branch. Picture: Ian Burt

The national picture is being mirrored in our region and the north Norfolk seaside town of Wells is the latest to suffer.

In February, Wells will become one of the few towns in the region to have no bank at all.

Wells residents and councillors have expressed their anger, and the town’s Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb said banks should show communities “more respect.”

A Barclays spokesman said the number of customers using the Wells branch has fallen 27pc in two years with only 118 regular customers using the branch exclusively for their banking.

Wells' main shopping area, Staithe Street. Traders and residents have expressed concerns about the closure of the town's final bank. Picture: Ian BurtWells' main shopping area, Staithe Street. Traders and residents have expressed concerns about the closure of the town's final bank. Picture: Ian Burt

Chris Channell, deputy community banking director for Barclays Norfolk and Suffolk, said: “The way customers undertake their banking is changing as people increasingly use online, telephone and mobile devices.

“At the branch in North Walsham more than 74pc of the customers are already using online, mobile or telephone banking, and the figure in Wells is more than 69pc.”

All customers will receive a letter explaining the decision, and posters will be displayed in branches,

Colleagues will also be on hand to help customers with any concerns they may have. And ‘tea and teach’ sessions will be held at the branches for customers wishing to explore alternatives to branch banking.

Arthur Howell Bakery on Staithe Street still has a cash point for people to use. Picture: Dan BennettArthur Howell Bakery on Staithe Street still has a cash point for people to use. Picture: Dan Bennett

But the news was hard to take for Wells residents.

Brian Bailey, who lives in Wells and still uses the bank regularly, said: “I think it’s disgusting, I always use it. There’s not another one round here. I will have to use the post office or go when I’m in Fakenham.”

Another resident said: “It will affect a lot of people. It’s a shame it is closing, it’s still important for a lot of people and a lot of people use it. I don’t have a computer so I’ll have to phone or go into Fakenham.”

The Wells branch of Barclays is just one of a number of banks announced to close across the region in recent months.

Businesses like Book Sale on Staithe Street in Wells still rely on cash payments. Picture: Dan BennettBusinesses like Book Sale on Staithe Street in Wells still rely on cash payments. Picture: Dan Bennett

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “It is extremely depressing. It is part of a national trend of banks withdrawing from local communities.

“For many people it will stick in the throat that banks did so much damage to our economy and affected lots of livelihoods in such a profound way through their reckless behaviour in the run up to 2008 are now withdrawing from local communities.

“I have little sympathy for the banks. People are doing so much banking online, there is a real challenge but I would hope that banks show some respect to rural communities. It means that the post office becomes even more critical.”

Wells mayor Mike Gates, said: “We cannot afford to lose these facilities; it’s the only bank in town. It’s not good. It’s another example of rural communities losing services.”

Norfolk county councillor for Wells Dr Marie Strong said: “The loss of yet another facility will hit our residents and businesses hard. “Whilst the institution of Barclays is not a charity and will have no concern for the difficulties this closure will cause local people and the essential tourist trade I believe the staff will have considerable sympathy.”

Residents of Wells will now have to travel to towns close by such as Fakenham to access a bank or will need to use the Wells Post Office.

Carol Starkey is the postmistress at Wells Post Office and said: “We should be able to cope. On the whole, there should be no problem.

“I think we will see more people come in, once people get used to the idea that they can use us for most of the things they would normally do.

“We always welcome people to come in and ask us questions.”

Some businesses in Wells remain reliant on cash sales. Michael White runs Book Sale on Staithe Street and said: “Over the years I have found that in the summer if it is a busy day, if the cash machines run out of money then sales will suffer.”

Though despite the bank closure, a number of other cash machines will still be available across Wells, one of which is in Arthur Howell Bakery on Staithe Street.

One of the shop assistants said: “I think a lot of people will be coming in here for cash. People are always welcome to come in here and use the machine.”

According to the residents of Wells the negative impact caused by the closure of the town’s last bank is undisputable.

The key question now on many people’s minds, is which is the next town to suffer the same fate.

Other communities hit by bank closures

Last month, Lloyds Bank closed its branch in Watton, saying 70pc of customers used online and telephone banking.

Other communities hit by bank closures include Halesworth, Reepham, Loddon and Bungay where there are no high street branches.

RBS closed its branch in New Conduit Street, King’s Lynn and Lloyds Bank and Halifax have closed six branches across Norfolk and Suffolk.

A large concern in Norfolk is that with branches closing the elderly population will be left without banking services.

Branches have been replaced in some rural areas by mobile banks.

In Diss, NatWest closed on May 30 of this year. Since then there has been a mobile bank visiting the town for two hours twice a week.

Reepham lost its last branch, HSBC, in October 2015 and Loddon was left without a bank last year.

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