You can’t bank on it

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Closure notice as posted in the window of Barclays Bank, Brownhills, and photographed last weekend.

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.

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Barclays Bank was here in the 1960s, before what was then Lloyds. We’d all love to see these days back. But then, there were no out of town centres, no hypermarkets, few folk had cars and there was certainly no Amazon… Image from ‘Memories of Brownhills Past’ by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

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.

I’ve written about this before, and stand by it. We can blame who we want, but the reason for the decline is mainly us, and our changing shopping habits.

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.

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The Brownhills in Bloom effort this year has been really astounding. Well done – and thank you.

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17 Responses to You can’t bank on it

  1. Mick P says:

    Natwest in Bloxwich closed last Friday as well. I suspect that as the older generation dwindle, the use of online banking is killing the branches. I was lucky that when I had to deal with a load of paperwork recently because of a bereavement, I could still go to the Bloxwich branch, and received efficient, friendly service. But hey, who needs humans?

  2. Trevor says:

    This happened in Aus Bob the Banks all seemed to close then in the last two years banks have reopened everywhere, so the power still remains with the customer, just hang on it will only take one Bank to reopen then the others will soon follow,
    Trev

  3. ianrobo says:

    Very good post Bob.

    When was the last time I used a bank branch, probably 4 years ago ? As the older generation dies out the usage will only get less and less, in 20 years time IMHO there will not be stand alone branches anymore.

    for example I use the Co-Op (ignoring current issue with them) and I can post cheques etc at the Post Office if I need to. But with modern tech everything I do now is by electronic transfer in and out. The key therefore becomes excellent Customer Service on the phone and with the Co-op in my experience they have it. NO foreign call centre, no issues with language (even for me !!) and very good service when I need it.

    We have to move with the times and that means some services we used to rely will go as usage will become a bare min. The PO & RM have been saved by Ebay for example !

    as you know I live in area where int he past to go to a branch meant a visit to Kingstanding, Hawthorn Road or the Scotts arms so everyone here was always used to travelling.

    You can not hold bcd the tide but find successful models that work.

  4. Martin says:

    Hi Bob,
    I agree with what you say about High Street Shopping, use them all lose them, with Banks who are more guilty then most for trying to get more people to use online banking , and even most Supermarkets encourage us to shop online, unfortunately we cannot have it both ways something as to go.
    There is nothing worst then seeing shops boarded up in a High Street and Brownhills is at the wrong end of that problem, and I for one do not know the answer.

  5. Edwina says:

    Sorry, but at the end of the day you need footfall on the High Street and if there is no custom there, then there will be no shops. What has the average shopper got in Brownhills to make the journey worthwhile? Not a lot to be honest and quality shops just would not cut it in Brownhills, everybody wants cut price and who can blame them, no money, no shopping … so until that is sorted and there are loads of jobs generated (not much hope there – what with driverless cars and the internet) then things are not going to change. So things closing down are going to become a sight we will be seeing all too often. I believe its what they call progress ….

    • I’m sure the businesses that do exist and are doing well, including the prizewinning butchers, are flattered.

      Reatil, the nature of town centres and the way we shop is changing. This doesn’t have to be a change for the worse. A lot has hanged in three decades, a lot will change again. Bear in mind we may be on the verge of 200 homes bringing much needed work and business to the town.

      I find we can either be relentlessly negative, or we can look outwards.

      Cheers
      Bob

  6. Peter says:

    Hi all……… it was only a generation or two since some social housing in Brownhills, and beyond, didn’t have running hot water or indoor toilets but now everyone has both, before the advent of the ATM you could only access cash when the branch was open (4 and a half days a week), trains used to be powered by steam and we used to live in caves but society changes and so does the High Street. I agree with Edwina that for the High Street to survive you do need footfall and if you consider the shops in Brownhills then I don’t think there is much incentive to visit Brownhills unless it is on your doorstep. Society dictates how society behaves and as individuals we can either embrace change, get on with it and adapt or moan about it, fight it and hark back to the “good old days”.
    People get off their backsides and go somewhere, anywhere, if they think it’s worth bothering with, if they think they’re going to get a “bargain” or a good deal.
    I have no facts or figures but I would imagine that most people shopping in Brownhills live in the very near area, but I would also imagine that most people living close to, or in Brownhills, also travel to Walsall, Lichfield, Sutton, Aldridge and Cannock on occasions, but do people who live in Sutton visit Brownhills? do people living in Aldridge, Cannock or Lichfield visit Brownhills? I doubt it very much.
    So it might be fair to agree with Bobs comment about using it or losing it, the people of Brownhills have the future of Brownhills in their own hands (or feet) yes there will be technical advances that mean we need less people, the internet being the best example, but given a choice who could hand on heart say they would pay 10%, 20%, 30% or even more in the High Street compared to clicking a few buttons on the old laptop and have it delivered tomorrow?
    Times, people and society changes, either move with it or get stuck in the past……….
    Just a thought…….

    Peter

    • Yes, we must embrace change. That’s what I’m saying. All High Streets will and must contract – and comparing Browhills to Walsall, Lichfield or Cannock is specious. They aren’t the same thing.

      Brownhills should serve it’s local need. And believe me, I’ve been to Aldridge a couple of times – it ain’t all that.

      The problem with Brownhills is to many folk are hung up on a half-imagined past where we were in Staffordshire, the sun always shone and we lived in some other Eden. I suspect time has been kinder to it that it actually merited.

      I believe the future is probably more like Chasetown – which is a better comparison in terms of social profile and population size. Chasetown always looks well to do and busy, even though it isn’t – it took me a long time to realise the reason for this was that houses blend with the shops on the high street, so even on the darkest winter night, the place looks lived in. I think turning more of the town centre back to housing will stimulate what’s left, and give the same kind of feel.

      It’ll come, in time.

      Meanwhile, there are folk berating me because I support turning wasteland back into houses which ‘we don’t need’ – I despair, sometimes.

      Cheers
      Bob

      • peter says:

        Hi Bob, The comparison of other local towns wasn’t to compare them per se but to demonstrate my opinion that the fate of Brownhills is in the hands of the people of Brownhills alone. Of course Sutton isn’t the same as Brownhills but if the people of Brownhills used the High Street more it could be as busy as sutton town centre is?
        Don’t despair just do as you are, over one and a half million hits! Somethings right.
        Peter

  7. Maybe the future for banks (if we want branches) is in a corner in the massive superstore (Post Offices & Travel agents have gone this way)

    Need a USP to get people into the high street/area these days, I’m no expert on Brownhills but maybe the closure of the market killed it?

    • I agree with that. People just aren’t using banks the way they used to. I only ever go in to pay cheques in, because one person still insists on using them, perhaps twice a year.

      Brownhills died long before the market did; it was dying in the 80s. Brownhills, lot a lot of small, district centres relied on a captive market, and when better social mobility arrived, people used it. Much the same way as other unremarkable district centres suffered like Darlaston etc., and even Walsall.

      The loss of the market just compounded everything.

      Cheers
      Bob

    • peter says:

      Maybe I’m being a bit dim or just of a certain age, but what is a USP?

  8. James Cooksey says:

    Some time ago my partner and also a friend tried to open a shop in Brownhills but the Italian company that own a vast majority or at the time did demanded £2500 bond and then £750 per week paid at two months in advance. My son is now looking for a place to open as a Martial Arts Academy but he won’t consider Brownhills due to this. Shame really as Brownhills is the only town without such a facility in the Walsall and Staffordshire area.

  9. Andy says:

    Totally disagree with you. Every high street branch has cues of people waiting to be served. I have never been into a bank, and go straight up to a counter. people use banks loads, its all about saving money, and forcing people to use computers rather than people !

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