Revealed: The 30 towns and villages most at risk of being bankless in 2022

Bakewell, a market town in Derbyshire popular with tourists, is known for its delicious cakes and puddings.

The products are so popular that The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop does a bustling trade posting its wares across Britain.

Yet Bakewell is currently attracting national attention because it is about to lose something that no other town or village in the vast Peak District National Park has: a bank branch.

At the end of February next year, the NatWest branch will close for good, leaving Bakewell and the National Park – all 500 square miles in size – bankless.

The impending closure has irritated everyone in the city's eclectic mix of independent retailers, MP Sarah Dines, councillors, residents and the farming community.

More than half of the country's banking and building societies have closed since January 2015, leaving just 3,900 open and not yet likely to close

And bank branch staff are in tears over NatWest's decision to close shop.

Bakewell is of course not unique. High streets across the country have been damaged by the closure of bank branches.

But after spending Monday in the picturesque (and freezing) town speaking to locals and traders – and visiting the livestock market – it raises one big question.

If the banks have concluded that Bakewell cannot support a branch, what community outside the cities and large towns can?

To put it bluntly, the big banks – the internet and mobile apps are crazy – seem to want to disappear from the High Street altogether.

“It's a crazy decision,” says Georgie Stewart, co-owner of Stewarts gift shop in Bakewell, located just yards from the bank.

“We have banked with NatWest forever and a day. Now a bean shop in London has decided that its branch here must close.'

She added: 'While NatWest may say otherwise, they don't seem to care or understand what the branch means to the community – to businesses like mine, who need to bring in regular income, and to the many residents who still prefer face-to-face banking.

'The thought of Bakewell without a bench is unbearable.'

Closing branches is of course nothing new. Money Mail and The Mail on Sunday have been reporting on this for more than twenty years – partly due to Barclays' decision to close 171 branches, all on one day – April 7 – in 2000.

Revolution: Matt Fitz, from the Cornish Bakery in Bakewell

Revolution: Matt Fitz, from the Cornish Bakery in Bakewell

According to consumer group Which? More than half of the country's banking and building societies have closed since January 2015, leaving only 3,900 open and not yet closing.

Alarming? Yes. But worse is to come. As the big banks increasingly push their customers towards mobile banking, the death of bank branches outside cities and large towns is fast approaching.

Data collected by ATM network Link shows that 1,259 branches have closed since May last year – or will close between now and the end of next year. In the last month alone, more than 100 closures have been announced by Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest.

You don't have to be an actuary to do the math. If the current closure rate were to be maintained, most of the country could be without a nearby bank by the end of 2028.

It's not a good prospect. There are around 300 communities that, like Bakewell, are currently served by just one bank branch. All evidence suggests that most of these businesses will suffer the same fate as the Derbyshire town and lose their last remaining branch in the coming year.

As the graph shows, there are towns like Dolgellau, Gwynedd; Erskine, Renfrewshire; Glossop, Derbyshire; Portishead, Somerset; and Guisborough, North Yorkshire, are all in danger of losing their last bank.

Analysts believe that communities with Lloyds (including the bank's other brands Halifax and Bank of Scotland) or NatWest (Ulster Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland) as the last bank in town are at risk of becoming bankless.

This is because these two groups have until recently been less aggressive than rivals Barclays and HSBC in closing branches.

Campaign: Mark Wakeman, with a petition to stop the closure of NatWest, outside his pet shop in Bakewell

Campaign: Mark Wakeman, with a petition to stop the closure of NatWest, outside his pet shop in Bakewell

Link says that more than a quarter of the 1,259 branches that have closed – or been announced to close – in the past 20 months have been the last bank in town.

While a new agreement between the banks and organizations representing older people and small businesses is intended to ensure unbanked communities on the high streets continue to have access to cash, it is not proving to be as effective as some would like.

Link's data shows that only half of these bankless towns (176 out of 341) have received (or been promised) support from Cash Access UK, set up and funded by the banks to protect communities from the impact of branch closures .

This support takes the form of a banking center, a shared branch operated by the Post Office where representatives from the major banks are available to assist customers. Alternatively, it could be a new ATM or a cash deposit service (aimed at small retailers).

1701820695 94 Revealed The 30 towns and villages most at risk of

Even if a replacement service has been agreed, it may take a while before it is commissioned. So while there are 63 hubs dedicated to communities affected by the loss of their last bank, only 19 are currently operational.

The delays are due to difficulties in finding suitable premises and to the inadequate resources made available to Cash Access UK by the banks.

Last week, Labor pledged to “accelerate” the rollout of hubs if it won the next general election – and legislate to eradicate “banking deserts”. It said it would help set up at least 350 hubs across the country.

Derek French, a long-standing campaigner for shared bank branches, welcomed Labour's announcement. He is becoming increasingly frustrated by the slow rise of hubs.

He says: 'Hubs will save banks millions of pounds in branch costs. So they would have to devote much more financial resources and energy to Cash Access UK, allowing it to set up more shared branches where customers can get personalized advice.”

Access to the big banking system could become a bigger political issue as the election approaches. Research from analytics firm SAS shows that 28 constituencies (out of a total of 650) already have no banks run by the seven biggest banking and building association names: Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, Nationwide, NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland and Santander.

But if constituencies continue to lose branches at the same rate as the past three years, another 10 could become unbanked next year. This includes the constituencies of Conservative MPs Mel Stride (Central Devon) and Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury).

The impending closure of NatWest's Bakewell branch has certainly irritated Sarah Dines, Tory MP for Derbyshire Dales.

Seven days ago, armed with a petition with hundreds of signatures opposing the bank's closure, she raised the issue with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the House of Commons. She didn't hold back.

'As disturbed as I was that British politicians were being unbanked by NatWest, you can imagine my horror that an entire town, Bakewell in the Derbyshire Dales, is being unbanked by NatWest.'

She added: “Can you please share my concern? Since we are the national shareholder of NatWest, why are they ignoring my vulnerable elderly and also business people? It's a big, thriving market town.'

The Prime Minister responded by saying the banks would fund a new cash deposit service in the city – useful for retailers to gain banking income. He also said that Bakewell, like most towns, has a post office that bank customers can use.

This did not sit well with Mark Wakeman, a district and city council member, whom I met on Monday between negotiating the city's icy sidewalks and struggling to keep my fingers and toes vaguely warm.

“I would like Mr Sunak to visit our post office,” he told me. 'No matter how nice the staff is, there is always a queue. If the queue is larger than five, customers will be asked to wait outside. “There is also no personal banking advice available for NatWest customers to get at the branch in the city.”

No one I met in Bakewell was willing to defend NatWest's decision. Matt Fitz, of the Cornish Bakery, said he responded to the closure announcement by going cashless – despite the promised cash deposit service.

“I'm not standing in line for 45 minutes to get cash at the post office,” he told me. “Eighty percent of my revenue came from cash, so my business could suffer. But NatWest forced me down this path.”

Threatened: The death of the bank branch outside cities and large towns is fast approaching as major banks increasingly drive customers to mobile banking

Threatened: The death of the bank branch outside cities and large towns is fast approaching as major banks increasingly drive customers to mobile banking

At Bakewell Market, the farmers present – ​​most of whom were selling or buying livestock – vented their spleens.

“I've been with NatWest all my working life,” says Peter Atkin, whose farm is close to the Snake Pass – often impassable in the snow.

'I don't have WiFi where I live, so I use a branch for banking, including the one in Bakewell.

'Unfortunately, banks are now all about profit and greed, and nothing more about customer service. Loyalty no longer pays. Am I angry? Yes. Will I survive? Naturally. I'll just have to find another NatWest branch.'

For the record, NatWest says that when it closes branches, it ensures no customer is left behind.

A message in the branch window informs customers that their nearest branch in February will be Chesterfield, 13 miles away. Alternatively, they can bank online or via an app.

But how long before the Chesterfield branch closes? Not much longer given the current number of closures.

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