Published On: Sat, Oct 21st, 2023

Banks branded a disgrace for closures with 5,000 now axed | City & Business | Finance

So the news this week that 27 communities may be set to get ‘banking hubs’ – where essential banking services can take place in physical surroundings – is good news, and it’s good news not just for our financial health but our physical and mental wellbeing too.

Every time a bank—or a ticket office, cash machine or corner shop for that matter – closes, our community loses. And we wave goodbye to more than just access to the essential services or products traded there.

We lose another physical spot where, during the mundane daily tasks we all must do, there is the potential for chance meetings to happen—for friendships to begin, affection to spark, gossip to spread, jokes to be told, and for local communities to sustain themselves.

In 2023, you can purchase and send a get-well-soon card, book a train journey, and of course, do almost all your weekly shopping from your phone.

The number and frequency of opportunities to meet, greet, compliment, laugh, joke or empathise with other humans in your day-to-day life are, it seems, dwindling away.

When, after all, was the last time someone asked you, “Are you okay?”, while you were making an online purchase?

When I wrote and researched my book On Belonging, meeting with and trying to understand communities all over the world, something I noted was the many, varied and often unexpected places where people truly feel a sense of Belonging – of connection to a place and other people.

Everywhere from pubs, churches and community halls to a little leafy corner or a few benches on a street corner. Often, sadly, the importance of these places is not understood until they are lost.

Banking is an essential service. Losing access to banking can bring your life to a halt unlike any other trade offered on our high streets.

If someone is slow to learn how to make and send greeting cards online, they will get by. But not if they struggle to use their banking app.

Banks give us confidence when we see their physical presence in our towns and communities, and they increase footfall in nearby shops – adding to community wealth.

Technology is wonderful until it stops working – which it tends to do from time to time. And the prospect of losing access to banking, especially for vulnerable or older people and those living in isolated places, can be terrifying.

Having a physical place and a qualified person to rely on provides reassurance. For better or worse, the rise of electronic payment will transform our economy and change our daily lives forever and I am not standing in the way of change or progress for the sake of it.

I am campaigning to persuade decision-makers that every physical element lost in our towns is a blow to our sense of community belonging, and so they should think through these decisions more carefully. Those 27 new banking hubs are a very good start.

* Kim Samuel is a campaigner, lecturer and author of On Belonging: Finding Connection in An
Age Of Isolation. She is founder of The Samuel Centre For Social Connectedness.

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