Norbury residents fear the loss of their last remaining bank would lead to the “further decline” of their high street

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Residents of Norbury are desperate to stop the proposed closure of their NatWest branch.

The possible closure would leave the area without a single bank. The bank is relied upon by the area’s large elderly population, as well as charities and small business owners.

The community opposition to the closure attracted the support of Labour’s Croydon North candidate Steve Reed, who subsequently set up a petition that attracted 471 signatories.

Steve Reed is standing to be re-elected as the MP for Croydon North. Photo by Harrison Galliven

Residents across the area believe this potential closure demonstrates a ‘decline’ of high streets in general and across the borough.

At an event organised by Steve Reed, residents explained why they decided to show their opposition to the proposed closure. One such resident was Shirley, who has lived only a few hundred metres from the bank since 1994.

Shirely said: “When I first moved to Norbury I think there were seven banks and they have just slowly been evaporating and our high street has died along with it. It’s a real pity.

Shirley (centre) feels banks are important for the community. Photo Harrison Galliven

“There are still shops but you don’t get that healthy variety and community feeling, so people are going elsewhere. Banks are important for the community, you bump into people at the bank.”

NatWest is the last remaining bank branch on the high street, with Lloyds and Barclays pulling out their branches from Norbury last year. For this reason, it has been relied on by many in the local area, not just for financial management but for simple cash access.

Many of the closest remaining branches are either in Streatham, Croydon or Tooting. While bus services serve these routes, many people who cannot either afford or make long journeys have said they will be ‘punished’ if the bank is to close.

Labour councillor Matt Griffiths, who represents the Norbury and Pollards Hill ward, said: “These banks think we can take away the bank there, what does it matter when Streatham is up the road?

“Yes, Streatham is up the road but for a lot of people that is inconvenient or even impossible if you’re someone who has a mobility impairment.

“What we also see is places like the old Barclays have planning applications going for slot machine places, so people are seeing their access to places that will look after their money replaced by places that want to take it.

“It really distils that sense of a steady decline of the high street. There are many reasons why we want NatWest to keep it open, it almost becomes a moral responsibility really.”

Cash access on Norbury High Street, or a lack thereof, was a particular concern for people at the demonstration last Friday (May 31). The closure of the bank would mean the high street would have no indoor cash machines, which many locals see as a pressing security concern.

Resident Damian said: “I know we are moving towards a cashless society but I always end up needing cash, and this is where I get my cash.”

“If this was closed I would have to walk all the way to the other end of the road to the one remaining cash point on the high street, and I can’t imagine what the queues would be like outside of that.”

Steve Reed believes Norbury used to feel more prosperous than Streatham. Photo by Harrison Galliven

Shirley shared these concerns and added that her fear of the anti-social behaviour that often centres around high street cash machines.

She said: “At some, there’s people hanging around, and you can only assume people are up to no good. It’s just a matter of personal security and I never use the cash machine at night any more.”

The bank is also used by several voluntary organisations that operate in the area. The Cassandra Centre, a domestic violence charity, has accounts with NatWest as it is the last remaining bank near its base.

As a charity, they have suffered from previous closures. They used to operate some of their services out of the old Lloyd’s bank premises before it closed down in recent years, and they have since not been able to find a permanent home.

Many residents mentioned that Norbury often feels ‘left behind’ and ‘forgotten’, and said this latest incident was a symptom of that. Geographically, it sits in the far north of Croydon and is passed while en route to its larger neighbour Streatham.

This was a view shared by Steve Reed, who held a talk outside the branch to a crowd of Labour activists and residents. Reed, who has served as the MP for Croydon North since a by-election in 2012, was also previously the head of Lambeth Council.

Residents feel the Post Office will be the only place on the high street where you can get cash out if the bank closes. Photo Harrison Galliven

When asked about why Norbury residents feel like the high street is dying, Mr Reed said: “It’s very interesting as it’s all on the same road, from Streatham to Croydon, and not that long ago this was the most prosperous part and Streatham wasn’t.

“We put a lot of investment into Streatham, negotiated with Tesco to build the superstore they also built the leisure centre as part of that. That all attracted more money and regenerated it.

“If Croydon Council were doing the same kind of things we were doing in Streatham, there’s no reason that Norbury couldn’t be thriving like Streatham is thriving.

“The council is not good enough, they don’t think about regenerating the district centres. People just need to look at the wasteland that is the town centre in Croydon, that isn’t the same in the neighbouring borough.”

Councillor Leila Ben-Hassel, who represents the Norbury and Pollards Hill ward alongside Griffiths, believes the Tory-run Council could take more responsibility for the regeneration of the high street, but admitted change was needed at the national level.

“The council has got powers with its local plans, but planning is too much down to national legislation. We need more powers to be given to local authorities, so they can then be able to shape their high streets and environment and have their say.”

She added: “This is very personal to me because my mum has Alzheimer’s. It takes her ages to get ready and the branch closes at three so we’re never able to get her there.

“Instead we have to phone, but she gets so confused on the phone so I have to answer questions. Then we get referred to fraud because we have answered the questions too many times and my mum has answered the questions too badly.”

NatWest announced that closure could happen as early as July 23. In his letter to NatWest, Mr Reed wrote: “While I appreciate the trend in banking for some has been toward online, I am highly concerned about residents and businesses who are unable to do this, particularly the many local businesses on London Road who depend on in-person banking to operate.”

Anthony Boutall, his Conservative competitor for the seat, has also launched his own campaign in the run-up to the campaign. In anticipation of the closure, he is supporting the growth of banking hubs in Croydon.

He said: “In Croydon South with Conservative representation, a new banking hub is arriving soon. It is being set up by an exciting new organisation called Cash Access UK, with the active support of their local Conservative representative, Chris Philp.

“I am already in contact with this exciting organisation, and I am asking for residents’ votes so I have a mandate as their local MP to introduce a new banking hub to our area. With Labour representation locally, high street banks have been closing for months and they’ve done nothing about it – except set up petitions to collect data in the run-up to an election.”


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