The return of face-to-face banking to a Denbighshire town has come as a massive relief to residents like 74-year old Pearl Williams.
Corwen’s last full banking service ended when the Nat West branch closed its doors in 2015 and since then there has only been a limited service available at the town’s post office and a one-day a week mobile service provided by NatWest in a car park.
But now South Denbighshire Community Partnership’s Canolfan Ni headquarters in Corwen is home to a new Cambrian Credit Union hub which will be open three-days a week.
The new counter service offers facilities to deposit and withdraw money and apply for loans and other financial products.
Pearl, who lives in Llandrillo, near Corwen, recalled the time there were three banks in Corwen and said the full counter service now on offer was much needed.
She said: “There was a Barclays here years ago and an HSBC and a NatWest but they’ve all gone.
“Corwen has been without such a facility for far too long. The Post Office offers some of the services we need and the mobile van, when it comes, is fine as far as it goes but it’s not enough.
“We need somewhere where we can talk to someone about something in private. We can’t do that in the Post Office and the mobile bank is so small you can hear just about everything. And that’s before I complain about having to queue up in the rain.”
David Loydon, a retired logistics manager who lives in Cynwyd, just outside Corwen, said: “I think it’s a brilliant idea, especially for the older generation.
“I’m quite comfortable with online banking but I know a great many people are not and they will welcome the opportunity to discuss their financial affairs on a face to face basis.
“I really hope this new hub is a great success.”
Corwen resident Sheila Hughes hopes the new banking service will play a key role in attracting more people to the town.
“When Corwen had a livestock market the farmers would come to town and visit other businesses. Not having a bank in town has been a huge loss. The nearest one now is Ruthin and not everyone can drive.
“The banks say we can do everything online or on the phone but when my husband wanted to alter something on an account he couldn’t do it online or on the phone. He had to go to town and when he did the matter was resolved in a matter of minutes.
“The new bank hub in Corwen is very welcome and with the arrival of the train back in town too I hope we will see many more people around.”
Margaret Sutherland, Chief Executive of South Denbighshire Community Partnership, a grant-funded community charity, said: “Tackling rural poverty in all its forms is a key part of what we do and the ever-declining banking facilities in rural communities further exacerbate this.
“Lack of banking in rural communities seems to be an irreversible trend, the loss of access to face to face banking not only excludes those who do not use the internet but can force people into being trapped in a cycle of debt.
“Corwen hasn’t had a fixed banking facility for eight years and the mobile branch visits Corwen for an hour and ten minutes once a week.”
“Improving access to services is key to us. Over the last six years we have worked in partnership with more than 18 organisations to bring services to our community that otherwise are miles and miles away and our transport links ar poor.
“Becoming a branch for Cambrian Credit Union is a significant, much needed service that we are proud to be able to bring to our local community.
“They have words like community in their ethos and their mission and their values are to provide access to financial services and to offer a responsible alternative to high-cost credit.”
“This area is not immune from people having to go to loan sharks and pay-day loans to cover unexpected costs.
“The cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated that so I’m delighted we will be able to bring affordable loans and face to face banking facility back to the community.
We hope it will be a really positive thing and we look forward to working closely with the Cambrian Credit Union, the local community and local employers to develop the services available.”
South Denbighshire Community Partnership chair Michael McNamara welcomed the partnership with the Cambrian Credit Union and added: “Online banking does not meet everyone’s needs, especially not older people many of whom have a real fear they will be scammed and having an internet connection at home is an additional expense on a limited income.
“Many people rely on their car to get to work because of inadequate public transport and high maintenance bills can force them into the arms of the pay day loan sharks.
“The opportunity for them to save regularly for those rainy days can help including for those whose work is seasonal.”
Mr McNamara added he was proud to be able to make potential members a very special offer.
“As part of South Denbighshire Community Partnership’s Tackling rural poverty work, we will cover the first-year membership fee of £3 and the initial minimum deposit of £5 for the first 100 members. So, if you’re quick and among the first to join you’re already £8 up” he said.
The South Denbighshire Community Partnership are inviting local employers to engage with them to raise awareness of the new service and the opportunities it provides to save and repay loans directly through their pay.
And putting their money where their mouth is, the South Denbighshire Community Partnership were the first to sign up.
Treasurer Julian Sampson said the 10 staff employed by the Partnership will have the opportunity to save a set amount from their salary.
“Not all of them may join but the opportunity will be there for them to save regularly and easily. We will collect the money and pass it on,” he said
Ann Francis, Chief Executive Officer of Cambrian Savings & Loans, said they are a member-owned financial co-operative with no external shareholders.
She said: “We are run for the members, the people who save and borrow with them.
“It’s been some time since Margaret first approached us to open a hub here. I told her we’re not for profit and not making much money so unless there’s funding there’s not much we can do.
“I then realised you don’t say no to Margaret and she came back to us and said I have the money for you so we said OK, we’ll start a hub and it’s escalated from there.
“The back of the building has been repurposed into an office that can be used by the community to access financial services and we are really pleased and proud to be opening here in Corwen, bringing services closer to our existing members in the county and welcoming more people to Cambrian.”
The Cambrian Credit Union will operate three days a week, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from 10 am to 2pm. The services it will provide will include access to personal loans of up to £15,000, safe, and secure savings accounts, payroll deduction schemes to repay loans and a protected savings service. More details online at www.cambriancu.com or call 0333 2000 601.
SDCP, founded in 2010 with a remit to combat rural poverty, has helped 2,171 local people claim £4.2 million in unpaid benefits, introduced community transport along the Dee Valley, run a meals on wheels service and even pioneered a hydro-electric power scheme.
For more about how South Denbighshire Community Partnership and about their work in the community go to www.canolfan-ni.org or call 01490 266004.