Fears for elderly as another Lancashire town prepares to lose its last bank

Six bank closures in four years will leave a Fylde coast town without a single local branch when the last one disappears next week.

Friday, 25th January 2019, 5:37 pm
Updated Friday, 25th January 2019, 5:50 pm
Kirkham loses its last bank branch at the end of January

Kirkham’s traders fear the impact that will have as people are forced to travel elsewhere for their banking needs.

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Santander to shut 140 branches

But the town is not along in seeing a decline in bank branches. No more than a decade ago, banks were a common sight in the high streets across the Fylde coast.

Districts of Blackpool and communities like Knott End and Kirkham were well represented.

Fleetwood had six branches stretching across Lord Street, where customers could call in and conduct any kind of business over the counter, or enjoy a pre-arranged meeting in the bank manager’s office.

Internet banking?

That was for others, slick young people in the cities.

It had no bearing on the lives of ordinary folk who could just call in at their local branch and be met with a kind, familiar face across the counter.

Fast forward to January 2019 and the picture is so very different. By the time June is over this year, Fleetwood will have just one branch left, the Halifax, following the shock news that Santander is pulling out this summer.

Kirkham’s last branch closes at the end of the month and Knott End has none at all.

The Whitegate Drive area of Blackpool had several but now there are none.

In just a few short years, one bank after another has pulled out of high streets up and down the land.

The story is usually the same.

The bank’s spokesmen will say the decision to close branches was a difficult one, but customers were now banking in different ways, using online facilities.

But back on the high street, older customers who are distrustful of on-line banking and who sometimes struggle to travel far from home, feel bitterly let down.

In some cases, they have been loyal customers for decades.

The developments have not been lost on charities who work with older people.

The latest announcement from Santander, which is closing 140 branches across the UK, drew a quick response from charity Age UK.

A spokesman said: “The closure of local bank branches is at best an inconvenience and at worst a serious blow for the millions of older people who are not online or confident with mobile banking.

“We often hear about the challenges faced by older people when it comes to managing their money and a move towards online banking is already causing difficulties for many older customers, particularly those with visual impairments or dexterity problems.

“These problems are exacerbated when branch closures coincide with poor public transport locally, substandard internet service and mobile black spots, making both digital and analogue alternatives difficult for customers to access.

“What really concerns us is that banks are withdrawing these essential services before putting in place alternative solutions to meet the needs of their older customers, particularly those in rural and semi-rural areas which have already been hard-hit by branch closures. Older people have a right to be able to carry out essential banking in an accessible and secure way.”

The town with no banks

When RBS in Kirkham closes on Tuesday, it will leave the town without any banks at all, with no fewer than six having shut their doors in less than four years.

Since Barclays and HSBC both pulled out in 2015, NatWest and Lloyds shut their branches there within a month of each other in 2017 and Santander closed last October.

It’s a situation which worries traders.

Steve Lilley, of Grundy’s Ironmongers, who has chaired the Kirkham and Wesham Business Group, said: “The prospect of a town the size of Kirkham not having a bank is very worrying.

“There are still people who come into town for their bank day’ and spend money in local shops and cafes while they are here.

“When the last bank goes, they will change their routine and we might not see them at all.”

RBS has already closed in Lytham, where the branch which shut in August 2015 has since been converted to a restaurant, and St Annes, where the doors were closed last August.

St Annes has got off relatively lightly so far when it come to bank closures, with the departure of RBS the first in the town since Yorkshire Bank shut up shop in late 2005.

The town still retains branches of NatWest, HSBC, Barclays, TSB, Santander and Halifax, while the Skipton Building Society has recently moved from premises in Wood Street to a more prominent site in St Annes Square.

In Lytham, Halifax moved out as long ago as 2010, while the closure of RBS three and a half years ago was followed in 2017 by the departure of both NatWest - in premises also now converted to a restaurant - and HSBC.

The town still retains branches of Barclays, Lloyds and Santander.

‘People don’t trust online banking’

There is anger in Fleetwood that the town, with a population of around 27,000, will have lost all but one of its banks by the end of June.

The news that Santander is to close its branch on Lord Street has shocked residents.

While other communities such as Poulton and Bispham have lost out too, Fleetwood has been particularly hard hit.

The HSBC departed in November 2010, followed by the Furness Building Society in March 2011, Barclays in January 2015, the TSB in November 2016, Nat West in June 2017, RBS on January 14 this year and now Santander in June.

The Halifax on Poulton Street will be the last bank standing.

Pensioner Angela Patchett said: “It’s very disappointing that Fleetwood is losing yet another branch, soon it will be a ghost town.

“It’s not always convenient for older people to travel to the next nearest branch in Cleveleys.

“People talk about online banking but a lot of older people don’t trust it and won’t do it, even if they can use the internet.

“Why should we be forced into it?”

Things were even grimmer for Knott End lost its final branch, the NatWest, in August 2015.

Fortunately, a 400-strong petition helped pave the way for a mobile bank from Nat West to start visiting the Over Wyre village once a week.