EXCLUSIVE: Dismay as town loses its last bank
By Simon Hacker | 30th March 2023
Lloyds Bank plc says that it has taken the "difficult decision" to shutter its branch in Wotton-under-Edge. The move for closure, scheduled for August, will mark the end of 126 years of the bank's service at the address in Wotton – and leave the market town bank-free.
For former manager William Cruickshank, who lives in the town, the decision is poignant.
William said: "I arrived in September 1987 as assistant manager under Andrew Evans. At the time we had 20 staff and two sub-branches in WIckwar and Sharpness Docks. I left in 2016. Personally, I do feel there is an ongoing need for a cashpoint and interview access.
"Since Covid, the need for cash has really diminished, so this may be why the branch is not as busy as it once was. I also feel it is that, and the general apathy of customers to switch bank accounts when their bank closed, that has created the problem."
He added: "Clearly, the banks have encouraged customers to use their online facilities and, of course, why not, but not when it leads to reduced face-to-face contact. I guess it's the modern world and I need to be more accepting but I am disappointed."
As well as traditonal banking facilities, the move leaves Wotton, with a population of just under 7,000 at the last census, with no street-access cashpoint. One dispenser will remain, along with a Post Office, embedded within the town's Co-Op store.
Ken Tucker, Stroud District Councillor for Wotton said: "They claim they are simply responding to the way their customers use branches... they suggest using a Post Office for your everyday banking. Lloyds says it will publish and overview of the feedback they have received as part of its Closing Branch Review Part Two."
Formerly The Vine coaching house, the building was taken over by Lloyds in 1897, Lloyds having arrived in Wotton in 1863, when it occupied the premises, opposite, that are now a book shop). The bank's address is currently owned by Kent-based businessman Martin Mitchell, with rental and management run by USA investment managers CBRE.
The building's handsome cut-stone classic facade is a signature of architectural design seen as typical for the Lloyds banking group, such architecture, says Liberty Street Economics, being "not merely about aesthetics... banks are designed to convey strength, stability, and security to would-be depositors".
The local community has reacted with dismay and anger.
Said resident Debbie Wardle: "The cashpoint going is the worst problem for most. Hopefully Tesco or the Co-Op will pick up the opportunity for a 24/7 access cashpoint."
Martin Clarke, of the town's Under the Edge Arts centre, added: "To have no bank having had four at one time is terrible news – if the majors had pooled their counters into one building it would have pulled more customers into Wotton."
Another resident was furious, having recently changed to Lloyds on the explicit understanding the branch was staying put.
However, any shockwave that retailers in the town will face cash-deposit headaches could be over-anticipated. According to Mike Smylie, who runs the next-door Fish Out of Water gallery and sustainable gift shop and immediately adjoins the bank, cash has all but disappeared as an entity in day-to-day trade.
Mike said: "What concerns me more is whether liaison with the owners and their operators gets worse: as well as flooding from a gutter that's missing from the old stables for coaching horses, we have been struggling to remedy a wall they own that tumbled down at the back of our properties for a very long time. You'd think it might be a security concern, but I guess there's no cash in the bank!"
As part of a raft of 80 closures across the UK, Lloyds' Wotton branch will see its last day of trading on August 23rd.
Punchline says: "We're hardly surprised as this creeping shrinkage of high-street banking and we can all blame ourselves to some extent. But it's a disincentive to business for startups and SMEs to lose an easy point of face-to-face contact. For those who claim banking is increasingly inhuman, Lloyds just wrote a blank cheque.
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