A long queue has formed outside Cambuslang Bank Hub, snaking its way down the high street. Despite its length, there are more smiles among those queuing than frowns.
Proof, to my unscientific mind at least, that shared branches, a new form of banking being trialled in the town, could revitalise communities up and down the country – salvation for those left without a bank. I am in Cambuslang on a beautiful, hot early summer’s day to visit the ‘pilot’ shared branch. Six miles south-east of Glasgow in South Lanarkshire, this 30,000- strong town offers a tantalising glimpse of the future.
And if the Government holds true to a recent pledge to support vulnerable communities with a £4.8billion ‘levelling up fund’ to regenerate town centres, you may find one of these new hubs opening in your town next year.
Lifeline: Cambuslang’s shared hub caters to customers of high street banks
This new world of banking is welcomed by those waiting patiently in the Cambuslang queue, as locals fully understand the impact on a community of bank and cash machine closures – currently running at hundreds a month.
Retired NHS cleaner Elaine Redford is there to withdraw cash, as she prefers to use notes and coins to help with household budgeting, rather than relying on debit or credit cards.
The 72-year-old says: ‘This hub is the best thing that has happened to Cambuslang in years. It is providing a financial lifeline to a community struggling to survive.’
Cambuslang was once an industrial powerhouse. It has a proud coal mining and steel making history, and until recently played its part in keeping British homes clean – with vacuum cleaners made at a Hoover factory. But sadly, the firm that once employed 5,600 people closed down 16 years ago. The last mines in the area shut decades earlier. It’s a community struggling to survive.
And, as is often the case, in its greatest hour of need all the banks deserted the town. The first to quit was Royal Bank of Scotland five years ago. It was followed a year later by Clydesdale. Finally, the last bank in town – a TSB branch – shut its doors for the final time in 2018. Not only did the branches shut, but free-to-use cash machines were also removed.
Now, the community is pinning its hopes for all its banking needs on this abandoned butcher’s shop – reopened in April as a shared banking hub.
It is one of two such hubs being piloted in Britain as part of a ‘community access to cash’ scheme that runs until September – funded by a £60,000 grant provided by the major high street banks. The other one is in Rochford, Essex. The hub has a Post Office counter where people can do all their basic banking, for example, deposit or withdraw cash, or bank a cheque.
After waiting patiently in the queue and observing a one-in, one-out Covid rule where only four people are inside at a time, I am cheerfully greeted at the hub’s counter by husband-and-wife team, Jan and Paul Culverwell.
‘Ignore the sign,’ says Paul, gesturing to a placard listing five bank names. ‘We accept all high street bank customers on any day. The sign is just to show which days these banks will send staff to the hub – staff who customers can chat to in a separate meeting room.’
The sign indicates that on Monday, there is a representative from Royal Bank of Scotland, part of NatWest Group, to handle any queries its customers may have. Tuesday is Santander’s turn. Wednesday sees a representative arrive from Virgin Money (Clydesdale as was). Thursday is the turn of Bank of Scotland, which is part of Lloyds Banking Group. And Friday is TSB’s day.
As a First Direct customer, he says, I can still use the hub to withdraw or deposit cash. I can also get an up-to-date bank balance and if I had a business account I could bank takings. The same applies to Barclays and HSBC customers.
Like Elaine, retired primary school teacher Fiona Walker is a fan of the new banking hub.
‘I have just used the branch to deposit a cheque,’ she says, ‘but it is also a great place to withdraw or deposit money. There is no substitute for the personal touch – being served by a person, not a computer.’ The hub’s friendly atmosphere and open counter – albeit with the obligatory Covid screen – is welcoming.
The livery, with its near-black hue, is more in keeping with a funeral parlour than a bank. But this is a minor criticism. The hub is seen as a revitalising force and it is not just residents who feel this way. The town’s businesses have welcomed its opening as well. Helen Buchanan, a beautician at Classy Chicks parlour a few doors down, says: ‘We bank with Royal Bank of Scotland so we now use the hub to bank our takings.
‘The shared bank has also increased footfall in the area and as a result we are attracting more customers.’ A key driving force behind the new hub is Cambuslang Community Council, an independent volunteer action group.
Its chairman, John Bachtler, says: ‘The hub is proving a great success. The next step is to get the Government and the banks foursquare behind the idea. There is no doubt that vulnerable communities get a real boost from having a banking presence on the high street. It helps local businesses as well as providing a service for those who rely on cash and cannot travel long distances to the next nearest bank. The Government’s levelling up fund would be put to good use if it provided support for shared bank hubs.’
Handy: Toby Walne checks his balance inside the shared hub and, left, a bustling branch in the Seventies
The community access to cash scheme is led by Natalie Ceeney, ex-head of the Financial Ombudsman Service and author of a key report on the need to preserve cash on high streets. She said: ‘Eight million people in Britain rely on cash for their day-to-day needs. Shared banking hubs offering access to cash are vital for communities.’
Ceeney is also chairing a separate ‘access to cash action group’ that the major high street banks have signed up to in a bid to find solutions to the problem of accessing cash. Critics say banks are using the action group as a smokescreen for further branch closures, but Ceeney hopes that cost-effective ideas such as shared banking hubs, might offer a practical solution.
She says: ‘Shared bank hubs will save banks money in the long-term, especially if legislation is introduced that requires them to provide nationwide access to cash.’
Last month, John Glen, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, said that consultation on cash legislation would begin this summer – though any proposals may not be announced until the autumn. In a campaign to be launched tomorrow, the Post Office will call upon the Government to bring forward this legislation to ensure access to cash becomes a legal right.
The Government has pledged that it is ‘committed to levelling up’ communities across the UK to support economic growth. The £4.8billion ‘levelling up fund’ was announced in March.
In addition a further £220 million ‘UK community renewal fund’ and £150 million ‘community ownership fund’ will come on stream. For further details on these grants and how communities might apply for them, visit gov.uk and tap in the names of the funds.
As part of the community access to cash scheme, cash machines have been installed at various locations, including a military base in Lulworth, Dorset and a post office in Hay-on-Wye, in Powys. New ways of providing cashback are also being trialled.
There is no doubt that access to cash on the high street is increasingly endangered by a combination of bank branch closures – currently averaging 55 a month – and the removal of free-to-use cash machines, of which 8,700 have been axed in the past three years.
But Cambuslang’s bustling shared banking hub suggests that this new form of high street banking may be the way forward. A vital cog in the renaissance of the high street.
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