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Friday, 7 April, 2000, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Village 'devastated' at losing bank
barclays nameplate
Villagers say closures will leave them stranded
One Northumberland village will be devastated at the loss of its only remaining bank when the Barclays branch closes on Friday, say protesters.

Belford villagers will face a round-trip of 20 miles to their nearest alternative bank - costing both time and money.

The bank is the very fabric of a rural community. Barclays is flying in the face of common sense

Geoff O'Connell
Geoff O'Connell, organiser of the village's Save our Bank (SOB) campaign, says: "If you have your own transport, you have to drive to Seahouses, pay to park and walk through the streets carrying your business takings.

"If you don't have transport, you have to get the bus - at 3.80 a return ticket - for a round trip that takes four and a half hours.

mortgages sign
Customers say post offices cannot offer a variety of services
"A bright spark at Barclays suggested we go to another town, Wooler - but there's no return bus the same day from there. Are Barclays going to provide bunks and hammocks in that branch? It's ridiculous. In the meantime, you're losing money because you're not doing business."

Mr O'Connell says the Belford branch serves a population of 1,000 in the village and up to 10,000 including surrounding parishes - and it is set to grow by up to 50%, according to official planners' forecasts.

More families will move in if a commuter rail link to Newcastle wins the go-ahead.

"In the tourist season the area trebles. Visitors want to come and spend money - so they'll need money.

'No alternatives'

"Also, this is a big farming area and farmers pay their workers in cash. Where are they going to get that? Or think of families who only have one car, which the husband drives to work. How is his wife going to get cash to buy food?

"This has not been thought out. There was no consultation. Just before Christmas, they spent a fortune giving the branch a facelift."

Mr O'Connell says his market research has shown that fewer than one in 10 people would use telephone or internet banking.

And he dismisses the offer to use post office facilities, because postmasters cannot offer the facilities a branch can, such as investment advice.

We have to move with the times, otherwise in 10 or 15 years' time, we wouldn't be able to offer anyone anything

Jo Wright, Barclays
Four members of staff, two full-time and two part-time, will lose their jobs when the Belford branch closes.

"The women in the branch often gave up their lunch hours to visit elderly, frail customers and help with their banking needs. No-one will do that now," says Mr O'Connell.

"The bank is the very fabric of a rural community. Barclays is flying in the face of common sense."

Shareholders' protest

As a shareholder, he is confident he will not be alone in staging a big protest at the bank's annual meeting this year.

Protests are also being staged in several other towns across the UK.

The SOB campaign group is lobbying three other banks to move in to replace Barclays.

Earlier this week, local farmers staged a demonstration by surrounding the bank building with combine harvesters.

And he says when he and other protesters have been "stonewalled" with letters going unanswered.

Barclays spokeswoman Jo Wright said it was a difficult decision to close branches, but the company had decided each one was not economically viable.

"We have to move with the times, otherwise in 10 or 15 years' time, we wouldn't be able to offer anyone anything," she said.

"Look at the positions of NatWest or Rover - we wouldn't want to be in their situations.

"There are alternatives available, such as paying bills by direct debit or using post offices.

"And many of our business advisers are peripatetic, so they would go to customers."

But local protests would make no difference to the closures, she said.

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See also:

06 Apr 00 | Business
Barclays clinches Post Office deal
30 Mar 00 | Business
Top salaries anger Barclays staff
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