There has been a fair amount of dismay and disbelief locally in response to the decision of Barclays Bank to close their branch in Brownhills, which will apparently cease trading on Friday, 24th October 2014.
Many people are upset about this, and I can understand and sympathise; after all, we’ve lost Natwest, the building societies and now, the only bank left in the High Street will be HSBC. This is a body-blow for the town, and will be one less reason for folk to come into our High Street.
I would point out though, that this seems to be symptomatic of a deeper change within Barclays Bank itself. Recently they’ve introduced eye-watering increases in overdraft charges, and as late as June, they were still denying they had plans to close a quarter of their 1,600 branches across the UK.
Brownhills seems a victim in an ongoing external battle, and the reason for that is largely the change in banking itself. The simple fact is we don’t use bank branches, and retail banking the way we used to. The rise of the cash machine, debit cards and online banking – together with direct debits, automated payments and BACS transfers means there are less and less people using local branches.
All UK banks seem to be facing the same problem, and seem to be experimenting with different approaches, including opening bank counters in supermarkets, and allowing cheques to be paid in by submitting photos through a smartphone app – not much use if you’ve no access to a smartphone or are not technologically clued up.
This is why recent Barclays TV advertising has focussed on getting older folk online. It all seems rather cynical, which would be completely out of character for a UK banking institution. Not.
I’m going to say this, and it probably won’t be popular. There’s lots of hand-wringing about Brownhills, the state of the High Street and general retail decline: if you value this stuff as I do, we must start to use it, or lose it. This closure is happening because the branch isn’t seeing enough trade.
The same goes for any other commercial operation in Brownhills. It’s all very well moaning that Brownhills was once thriving, and it’s all the fault of Tesco, the Council or whoever, that it isn’t anymore; but businesses close because we don’t use them.
Pubs, grocers, newsagents and all manner of stuff shut here because folk with a choice took the option to shop elsewhere. If we are to preserve and expand upon what we have, we must use it, and not just expect others to.
Brownhills may be down at heel, but we still have great shops – two excellent butchers, a newsagents, grocers, cafes and various other diverse businesses including opticians, dentists, travel agents, furnishings, and one of the last independent photography shops in the Midlands.
We also have to be realistic about what’s viable here. There are plenty of charity shops and food outlets because they have a market. You may not like it, but it’s true: were they not seeing the business, they’d close too. Brownhills has a huge amount of vacant retail space and any business at all has to be better than another shuttered shop.
We have people here fighting for the town – I don’t always seen eye-to-eye with the Town Centre Partnership and Local Committee, but they’re having a go and the Brownhills in Bloom effort this year has been astounding. I thank the people involved, and compliment them on their efforts.
I use local traders in Brownhills and Walsall Wood as much as I can, and implore readers to do the same. That includes using your local bank branches. If we don’t, we’ll lose them.