The campaign to keep a bank in Whitchurch gained momentum at a meeting at Testbourne School, when local people heard of discussions between the Newbury Building Society - which has a branch in the town - and a bank. If these came to fruition, conventional banking services might become available in the building society offices.
Sir George paid tribute to the lively campaign in the town to save the bank. (Below is the campaign's website, and the report of the meeting which is on that website.
"This has been positive and professional - and as the local MP I want to add value to what it is trying to achieve"
Speaking after the Mayor and Mike Stead, Sir George said that Whitchurch was a growing town, with many initiatives taking place to improve the quality of life and economic activity. "HSBC's decision to close the bank was a kick in the teeth. Instead of taking an irreversible decision, they should have consulted with the local community to see if there were ways of making the branch busier and more profitable"
Sir George spoke of his meeting with the bank, at which he had asked them to keep the ATM, even if they closed the branch. The ATM will now be kept for the time being.
Geoff Knappett, Development Director of Newbury Building Society, described discussions which were taking place with a clearing bank to have a partnership based on the building society's premises in the town. He said that there were examples of similar partnerships elsewhere in the country.
Sir George said that, if pump-priming finance was needed to get the project going, he would be happy to approach funding bodies.
County Councillor Tom Thacker addressed the meeting and pledged his support.
Sir George made the point that, if local people were prepared to move their accounts to a bank which invested in the town, that might assist the decision.
My thanks to Andrew Reeves-Hall for the photos
From the Campaign's Website.
A packed and attentive audience in Testbourne Theatre, with standing room only, saw the latest stage of the Save Whitchurch Bank campaign's aim to keep a bank in the small Hampshire town, following HSBC's announcement that they were to close the town's last remaining bank.
Opened by Town Mayor Vince Bradbury, the assembled audience heard how local residents had approached the Town Council to create a true community campaign. They learned of the various levels at which the campaign had worked from grass roots to HSBC boardroom. Sir George Young MP, now Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, detailed the importance of local banking to local communities and the value of professional communication. However, Sir George expressed disappointment that HSBC had not consulted locally before deciding to close the Branch.
A Very Professional Campaign
"This has been a very vigorous, very positive, and very professional campaign" was how Sir George opened his presentation. The campaign's reasoned discussion is producing positive outcomes, with the innovative business-like approach receiving national interest.
Meanwhile a petition of over 1700 had asked HSBC to talk with the town, but they had declined the invitation to attend. They sent apologies and the seat remained empty.
Residents, customers, local government heads, business agencies and Sir George had all lobbied HSBC to the highest levels. The meeting heard how information was collected on branch footfall, ATM useage and local business use as well as on the other financial services available to the town. Ideas had also been discussed on innovative community banking schemes. There was a sharp intake of breath as it was announced the very low rent that HSBC had been paying for the premises.
A major campaign success was HSBC reversing its plans to remove the ATM and it would now remain until an alternative location were found. This is excellent news for the town as there is no other 24-hour machine, and is a credit to the hard work of the campaign team and those working behind the scenes particularly those who had spent days out in all weathers collecting information. HSBC are commended in this change of heart.
But while HSBC remain committed to closing the Whitchurch Branch, the campaign team has received exciting evidence that other banks consider the town as a viable location for banking. Newbury Building Society which already has an office in the Town Square has informed the campaign group that it has been approached by at least one high street bank interested in working with them to provide additional banking services. Geoff Knappett, Development Director of the Society, who spoke at the meeting, said "This is a good sign that Whitchurch is seen as a viable investment by a major bank".
Wealth of Support available
Guest speaker John Carroll from North Hampshire Enterprise then explained the wealth of information that was available to small and large businesses and how support was readily available. The Save Whitchurch Bank group and the Town Council will be working together locally to ensure that as much information as possible is now made available for local residents and businesses.