Trawden’s story offers hope to cities facing an exodus from the big banks

Time to raise a glass of wine to the people of Trawden in Lancashire.

This year they came together to save their local pub from closing – a victory after saving the only village store, post office service, community center and library. They now also have access to cash from Main Street.

Their fighting spirit breathed new life into the community. It also sends a positive message to communities across the country – at the risk of losing pubs, bank branches, and exchange machines – that they can battle big cities and public institutions that care little or no interest in maintaining infrastructure in small towns and villages.

cheers! Toby Wallen, left, with owner Adam Young and partner Joe Stafford, villagers Stephen Wilcock and Molly Ralphson

Earlier this year Trawden Arms was dedicated to chopping after 127 years of serving the locals. Plans were underway to convert the building into apartments by the developers.

But the community of 2,000 have come together to raise £520,000 so the pub can continue to serve Trawden residents for years to come. It is the latest in a series of “miracles” of survival that villagers have conjured to keep the fabric of society intact.

Desperately trying to figure out the secret to her success, I am standing in the pub bar in this former cotton mill village of Pennines with a frothy pint of Pride of Pendel in my hand. The beer is from Moorhouse’s Brewery, eight miles away in the football town of Burnley.

I have a warm welcome from new owners Adam Young and partner Joe Stafford, who arrived from Leeds last month. Adam explains: ‘There is something really special about the community spirit here at Trawden. The secret to the pub’s survival is that we’re not the only ones running it – there are 400 other owners living in the village.

What Adam is referring to are 400 villagers who bought a stake in the inn, and each paid at least £500 to ensure its survival. Although they are not a wealthy community, they have managed to raise £460,000. The Plunkett Foundation, a charity, handed over an additional £30,000 and loaned an additional £30,000 to make the purchase possible.

Has your community come together to provide a vital service on Main Street? Email [email protected]

Part of the pub’s allure is that many villagers, as part owners, are more eager than ever to use it – even suggesting new ways to use the tavern. I’m way too early for the weekly “folk music night” when locals sit by the fire singing songs and playing music – and a special festive visit from the hymn singers raising money to fix the village church roof.

During the day, activities include Christmas wreath making and willow knitting lessons. The business must be thirsty because the pub is booming like never before, selling up to 1,000 pints a week, boosting community pre-owned sales.

Join me for a drink by Stephen Wilcock, President of Trawden Forest Community Pub Group. His humble demeanor conceals true Lancastrian determination and determination needed to transform what was quickly a ghost community into a thriving and bustling village.

Stephen played an instrumental role in the transformation of this community seven years ago when the local area council decided to close the community center. Then the county council closed the library and the post office pulled the village plug.

It was a tough fight, says Stephen. On an individual level, we don’t spin money, but there is something about the former cotton mill community that connects us like family.

In the cobbled streets of the village, cohesion is embodied in the tightly packed Victorian terraced homes built for mill workers.

Gracie Farthing, three, with her grandmother Emma Haines at the store

Gracie Farthing, three, with her grandmother Emma Haines at the store

Opposite the pub is a shop with an adjoining bookshop and next door is a community center – all kept by locals. At the back of the library a second local office manager visits every Monday morning – but only because the locals were willing to provide him with the premises.

This service enables citizens to deposit cash or checks in their bank accounts or make withdrawals. The store also allows customers to use a cashback service of up to £50 six days a week. Shoppers only need to purchase with a few pennies to use the service.

A group of 80 volunteers work two-hour shifts to keep the shop open. The pub and store are operated on a commercial basis, with profits returned to the services.

Molly Ralphson is a volunteer coordinator at the store and bookstore, which reopened in 2018 after two years of fundraising. The aisles are brimming with local produce, including irresistible homemade walnut cake and brownies. With one eye on the environment, essentials like coffee, tea, sugar, flour, and an array of spices and herbs are sold without packaging. Residents simply bring their own containers.

Nicola Sharples, a local resident and goldsmith, regularly gets £20 cashback from the store. The 56-year-old says: ‘When it comes to budgeting, there’s nothing better than having cash on hand.

“Paying with cards is dangerous because you don’t know exactly how much you’re spending.” The Bank-Supported Access to Cash Working Group announced last week that by the end of the year, 2,000 stores across the country will offer a cashback service without customers needing to purchase anything. Currently 1,000 are offering this service.

It will also launch joint banking centers in five new cities – branches where customers (personal and business customers) can perform basic banking services in addition to meeting a bank representative on a specific day of the work week. These are in addition to two hubs – Rochford, Essex and Cambuslang, south of Lanarkshire – which have been in operation since April this year. 11 free cash machines will also be opened and another 30 can be installed inside local post offices.

But Molly Ralphson is unmoved. “Cashback is not a new idea,” she says. “This is just a smokescreen for the big banks to continue eliminating branches and tearing up free ATMs at an alarming rate.

Over the past decade, a third of all bank branches have been canceled with 4,300 closed since the beginning of 2015 – the equivalent of 50 monthly closings. About 500 ATMs that are free to use are closed each month.

‘We know that the demand for cash is declining – but we also know that it still plays a vital role in the lives of at least five million people in the UK, including some of the most vulnerable,’ says Natalie Sene, chair of the working group.

She adds: “The combined banking centers in Rochford and Campslang have shown that there are many ways to meet people’s cash needs. I am confident that our new plans are laying the foundations for a positive future for access to cash across the UK.

The Plunkett Foundation provides guidance and financial support to those who wish to salvage community services.

“We offer free support to any community considering a co-ownership venture, which includes legal advice,” says Liz Zannici, Director of Communications.

Don’t forget that we have to help people digital transformation too

Lord Holmes

Lord Holmes

Written by Lord Holmes, Co-President of Parliamentary Banking and FinTech Group

It is gratifying to see the progress that has been made in the past few days in maintaining access to cash on the main streets.

It’s a victory for The Mail on Sunday’s personal finance editor, Jeff Prestridge, who has struggled long and hard to ensure that banks do not abandon communities across the country.

In recent years, there has been a sense of real despondency and inability to act when a local bank branch is closed. If you are elderly, disabled or poor, the only alternative is to travel to the nearest city – often time consuming, expensive and inconvenient.

For small businesses, the only option left was to close the store in order to deposit their money owed — or stop accepting cash altogether. It is my hope that the new framework established by the Critical Working Group means that the communities will have some form of redress if their last branch in the city is designated for closure. I’m also sure The Mail on Sunday will keep a close eye on what is happening and will hold the offending banks to account.

We also need to use this opportunity to reflect on the broader conversation about digital services beyond banks.

Anyone looking to book their own booster injection, make an appointment with a GP or even renew their garden litter subscription is asked to do so online.

Herein lies the despair and frustration that many people face.

They are constantly being told that they can do things online without even thinking about whether they were able to do it in the first place.

If you’re proficient with digital, then you can get to the front of the waiting list to renew your prescription or get a better rate on your savings account. If you are not, then bad luck.

This is turning into a major public policy issue that has been brought into sharp focus during the pandemic as many families have struggled to educate their children from home because they did not have access to the internet. We need to provide broadband fiber access to all homes. We also need to help people “go digital”.

It wasn’t long before millions of people rebooted their televisions from analog to digital. We don’t think of this exercise because it worked so well, but it was part of a massive joint project by government, charities and industry.

The digital economy is here, but it is not for many and they are far behind. We need to help these people go digital. It’s time for another joint venture.

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