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The British community abandoned by banks – where it costs £240 to visit a branch

Scilly Isles
The last bank in the Isles of Scilly shut its doors two years ago – leaving locals without a branch for the first time in 70 years - Dale Cherry

Almost two banks close in Britain every day. Since January 2015, 5,934 branches have shut, according to consumer group Which? – at a rate of 54 per month. If the closures continue at the same pace, we will be left bankless within a decade.

There is one part of Britain which is already living in this dystopia.

Robert Francis is standing outside the derelict and deserted Lloyds Bank building in Hugh Street, St Mary’s – the largest of five inhabited islands which make up the Isles of Scilly.

Lloyds shut its doors for good almost two years ago to the day, leaving Scilly without a bank for the first time in at least 70 years.

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Rust now streaks across the walls of the 19th century Grade I-listed building. The paint is peeling on the once-grand pillars at its entrance and, last month, the building had to be cordoned off after slate tiles from the roof came loose and threatened to rain down on passersby.

Robert Francis
Robert Francis stands outside the derelict and deserted Lloyds Bank building on Hugh Street, St Mary's - Dale Cherry

Local politician Francis, who is chairman of the Council of the Isles of Scilly, is seething. “It’s a blot on our public realm,” he says. “We are trying to make the place look lovely and they are an absolute eyesore. They left it in a disgusting state.”

It’s not just Lloyds that has upped sticks. A few hundred yards away lies the empty Barclays building, the first of the two banks to abandon the isolated community when it closed in 2018.

A £240 journey to visit the bank

If any of the 2,100 islanders want to visit their bank in person, they need to cross the sea. They can do this either by flying to Land’s End airport and then relying on an infrequent bus to take them to Penzance or, in the summer months, they can take a direct ferry.

However, because of the timings of the ferry, islanders have to pay for a night’s accommodation in Penzance before getting the next one back the following morning.

If an islander wanted to visit their nearest bank next Monday, even for just a 30-minute appointment, it would take almost eight-and-a-half hours and cost at least £142.

The journey begins at St Mary’s airport at 7.50am, one hour before departure on the 17-seater plane to Land’s End. Despite landing at 9.10am, there’s no bus for another 73 minutes. One hour, three minutes and two bus transfers later, they would arrive in Penzance at 11.26am. Even if they left the bank by midday, there’s no bus back to the airport until 1pm, meaning they’d be back at the airport for 2pm, before an almost two hour wait for the flight, which lands back in Scilly at 4.15pm.

This all assumes there are no delays, which is a common occurrence. Transport to the islands is disrupted up to a third of the year, with poor visibility often delaying flights and high winds cancelling ferries.

Isle of Scilly
Due to limited ferry times, islanders visiting their local bank have to pay for a night's accommodation in Penzance - Dale Cherry

Lloyds and Barclays have both defended their closures, pointing to a dwindling customer base which used the branches and the increasing number of people using online and mobile banking.

Lloyds said 71pc of islanders used other ways to do their personal banking and branch transactions fell by 47pc between 2016 and 2020. Barclays said 73pc of its Scilly customers were using alternative methods to bank, and that nationally 98pc of customer interactions are now carried out digitally.

There is no community banking hub in Scilly, and residents can only go to the Post Office for simple tasks such as depositing money. Both Barclays and Lloyds sent representatives to the islands for a short period after closing their banks, but difficulty finding staff and making the journey meant both have since stopped.

Avril Mumford, an 82-year-old resident, says: “Going to the Post Office is just not the same as going to the bank. I’m not asking for a bank manager, but even if they just had a representative here to help people. Even if it was just once a month, it would be something.”

But while simple tasks such as checking your bank balance have become easier by the advent of mobile banking, often when islanders need to visit their bank, it is because they have no other option. Scilly has a disproportionately high number of small business owners and unlike personal banking, tasks often need to be carried out in-person.

Avril Mumford
Avril Mumford, 82, says that 'going to the Post Office is just not the same as going to the bank' - Dale Cherry

Frances Grottick, who is vice-chairman of the Council, recently paid close to £200 to visit the mainland and visit her bank. “I wanted to add somebody as a signatory onto an account…you can’t do that online, you have to attend in person which means going to Penzance or for some islanders as far as Truro which is obviously a considerable expense.”

Joe Babcock paid even more money – it cost him £240 in airfares to get to his local bank. “That’s money you don’t really need to spend,” he says. Babcock, who owns Guiding Star, a passenger boat which ferries tourists between the different islands, recently had to travel to Penzance to change his business address.

“We can go to the Post Office to deposit money, and some of our business has gone online anyway, but I had to go on a special trip to change my business address. You couldn’t do that online in the same way that you could do with a personal bank,” Babcock says.

Joe Babcock
It cost Joe Babcock £240 in airfares to get to his local branch - Dale Cherry

Tim Guthrie spent weeks dealing with Lloyds over the phone in the summer of 2022 after receiving an unexpected letter saying that his two business accounts were to be shut down.

He manages almost 60 different holiday lets for owners and used his two accounts to hold the funds before they were paid out to owners after the guest had completed their stay. While his accounts were still eventually closed, he believes the issue could have been dealt with had the bank manager still been in place.

He has since had to set up 56 bank accounts, one for each property, to resolve the problem; otherwise, he says he would have had to close his business, making eight members of staff redundant.

Guthrie, who has been banking with Lloyds for almost 50 years, says: “Eighteen months I’ve been doing that. It’s absolutely bonkers but the amount of work and the amount of grief, it’s shortened my life by god knows how long, my blood pressure was through the ceiling.”

‘There is a big social implication to this’

Guthrie’s anger is that despite no longer being able to see his local branch manager or having any local representative from the bank who understands his business, he is still paying Lloyds the same amount for his business accounts.

Council chairman Robert Francis, who owns the Star Castle Hotel, in St Mary’s agrees with Guthrie.

“I know people call it progress but it’s not progress really. It might suit the banks to operate in this kind of way, but it certainly does not suit the end consumer.”

Tim Guthrie
Tim Guthrie was forced to deal with Lloyds in Penzance over the phone after the bank said his two business accounts would be shut down - Dale Cherry

Both banks appear in rude health, Barclays had a pre-tax profit of £6.6bn last year, while Lloyds stood at £7.5bn. The most recent figures for the Isles of Scilly show the GDP was just £63m in 2021.

Francis says: “If you are running a business over here like we are, we are obviously taking a lot more money in our main season and the winter costs us a lot of money but you can’t pick and choose. It seems to me Lloyds is picking and choosing.

“At the end of the day they’ve got to say this is where we make our money, however in order to run a bank that is actually going to work for its customers and not just work for commercial purposes, we have to take a hit with these other expenses.

“We’ve got an ageing population here as well. Some of them are pretty savvy [with online banking], some of them don’t want to go anywhere near it and yet they still need financial guidance and help.

“They need to understand their retirement and have discussions about their money and what they can do. If you can’t get on the internet and you can’t get any local support, it’s very difficult for them and their mental health to sort it out.

“You’ve got to have family or other people who can do it for them and not everybody has that. Some people are living alone, some people just don’t have the support. There is a big social implication to this.”

The population of Scilly fell by 6.8pc between 2021 and 2011, according to census data, despite the South West as a region increasing by 7.8pc. Between the two censuses, the average age of islanders increased by four years from 46 to 50, and more than a quarter of the population are now retired.

After almost 40 years running Scilly’s oldest newsagents, Mumford is about to join them and take her well-earned retirement.

Last month, her husband Clive died. Rather than visiting her local Lloyds branch, a bank she joined at the age of four, she was left having to speak to call centres to help close her husband’s accounts.

“Normally you could pop into the bank and do it there but I had to do it by telephone and you have to wait quite a long time before you get through. In the past, you could have gone into the bank and had it explained to you because I didn’t know what the procedure was.”

She adds: “I can do banking online but there are some elderly people who can’t, they wouldn’t know where to start. I run a corner shop and people like to have a chat, they like to talk to somebody, they don’t really want to do it all online.”

‘It hit home how vulnerable we are’

Back in the Council chambers, vice-chairman Grottick recalls how Lloyds broke the news to the local politicians it was closing Scilly’s last remaining bank in 2022.

“They set up a Microsoft Teams meeting when they realised they were going to take away our last bank.

“We sat there and four people with very long titles sat around a table and one of them was the ‘customer facilitation relationship manager’ and she said ‘What can we do to help?’, I replied: ‘Don’t close the bank.’

“The conversation got a bit stilted because it seemed only at that point did they realise what they were doing to a small isolated community.”

Frances Grottick
Frances Grottick says the loss of the community's last bank 'hit home' and 'showed how vulnerable we are' - Dale Cherry

Famed for its pristine beaches and turquoise waters loved by thousands of holidaymakers each summer, the locals are crying out for help to make sure Scilly remains a viable place to live all year round.

Grottick says: “We aren’t looking for handouts, we want to look after ourselves, but we need help and something like the loss of our last bank [hit] home just how vulnerable we are and just how much support we need.”

Francis says: “I may be short-sighted but I don’t think so, I’ve been in business all my life. I know from my hotel business how much value there is in word of mouth and goodwill. Nearly all our guests return and they tell everyone else, and that is the backbone of our business  – and it can’t be much different with a bank.”

He adds: “If there was serious goodwill generated by a bank, they would actually benefit from that far more than they are possibly imagining.”

A spokesman for Lloyds Bank said: “We made the decision to close our St Mary’s branch in 2022 as customers were choosing to bank in different ways and using the branch less often. The local Post Office on Hugh Street offers everyday banking, customers can also manage their money online, through our mobile app or by calling us.”

A Barclays spokesman said: “As visits to branches continue to fall and customers increasingly bank online, we need to adapt to provide the best service for all our customers. In 2018, the majority of our branch customers in the Isles of Scilly used alternative methods to bank, which led to a decline in branch use prior to closure.

“Where levels of demand don’t support a branch, customers can use our digital services be it online or via the Barclays app. We also support access to cash with our cashback without purchase service, 24-hour deposit-taking ATMs and by working alongside the Post Office and Cash Access UK.”

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