‘People are devastated’: anger and anxiety as Peak District loses its last bank

‘People are devastated’: anger and anxiety as Peak District loses its last bank

It’s midday on a Friday and a sizeable queue has formed inside the NatWest branch in Bakewell, the last remaining bank in the whole of the Peak District.

The two staff members on duty are dealing with a stream of customers including elderly people with queries, people cashing cheques and business owners collecting change for their shops.

But the queues will soon be gone as the branch is scheduled to closeearly in 2024, prompting anger and genuine worry in the town.

Darren Marsden, 49, a butcher at Critchlow’s farm shop over the road, was one of those in the queue, leaving a few minutes later with bags of coins to keep the till filled over the weekend.

“I’m in here every day. I would say most of our customers definitely favour cash so we have to pay a lot in and out. There’s a lot of elderly people in Bakewell who don’t do online banking and things like that,” he said. “It’s going to be a massive loss for the community – it’s part of Bakewell.”

Darren Marsden, butcher: ‘There’s a lot of elderly people who don’t do online banking. Most favour cash so we pay a lot in and out.’ Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

“It’s going to be awful. I don’t have a bank card, I’ve never had one, so I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said one woman as she walked out the door.

Derbyshire Dales has one of the oldest populations of any constituency in the UK, with more than 35% of people there aged 60 or over, according to ONS data.

Aside from ATMs and a post office which offers some banking services, the nearest bank branch is in Chesterfield, a 25-minute drive from Bakewell and even further for some of the surrounding villages.

“People are frightened. How can they just de-bank a whole town, a whole district? There’s no consideration if you are the last bank, and if there’s a high level of elderly people,” said the local Conservative MP, Sarah Dines, who has launched a campaign to save the bank.

Sarah Dines, local MP
Sarah Dines, local MP: ‘We have 13 million tourists a year, a livestock market and a lot of farmers. What are they going to do?’ Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

“I don’t expect them to subsidise loss-making branches, but there is a compromise where I think we should consider the effect on the community.”

NatWest, which is 39% owned by the taxpayer, said that the branch is closing because staff were only serving six customers on a regular weekly basis, and counter transactions for personal customers had decreased by 55% since 2019.

Dines said she had challenged the figures as dozens of constituents have contacted her saying they use the bank on a regular basis.

Bakewell locator map

“We get 13 million people a year coming here as tourists and a lot will pay cash into the economy. We’ve also got the livestock market on Mondays. A lot of farmers aren’t online; they come in with their physical cheques to pay in. What are they going to do?”

Steve Flitter, leader of Derbyshire Dales district council, wrote to the CEO of NatWest in December urging him to reverse the decision, saying that “rural residents were feeling overlooked and isolated” about the withdrawal of services.

“People are devastated. A lot of elderly people depend on this bank – they depend on the fact that they’re known and they know the staff,” said Lida Ellsworth, 75, an associate priest at All Saints Curbar, a Peak District village church six miles north of Bakewell.

“A lot of people are not on the internet and wouldn’t have the facilities to do that, and also many people don’t drive. This entire area is bankless now, and when other branches closed they said: ‘Well you’ve always got Bakewell’ – and now look what they’re doing.”

NatWest has closed more bank branches than any other banking group, shutting 1,257 since January 2015, according to the consumer group Which?.

In total, ONS data showed the number of bank and building society branches in the UK fell by about 34% between 2012 and 2021.

Lida Ellsworth, priest
Lida Ellsworth, priest: ‘A lot of elderly people depend on this branch – on the fact they’re known and they know the staff.’ Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

Rural areas are the worst affected, and people often face long journeys to reach their next nearest bank.

“For rural high streets, when that last bank goes, it has a much wider impact than people losing the ability to come and get cash out or use banking services,” said Kerry Booth, chief executive of the Rural Services Network.

“Particularly for older residents, it’s an important source of social contact in places where there is also often poor public transport, which means they can’t get out to other places to access services.

“And businesses are suddenly faced with having to take an hour-and-a-half round trip to find a bank where they can deposit cash.”

Booth added that although residents are directed to local post office branches as alternatives, there is no guarantee these will remain long term, especially as the government starts to withdraw services, such as DVLA licence applications, from post office branches.

A NatWest spokesperson said vulnerable and elderly branch customers were being offered support before the closure: “Most of our customers are shifting to mobile and online banking, because it’s faster and easier for people to manage their financial lives.

“We understand and recognise that digital solutions aren’t right for everyone or every situation, and that when we close branches we have to make sure that no one is left behind.

“We take our responsibility seriously to support the people who face challenges in moving online, so we are investing to provide them with support and alternatives that work for them.”

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