A queue of people shiver in the cold as they wait their turn for the Lloyds Bank cash machine in Atherton’s market square.
A sign on the glass doors says the bank closed today at 3pm. But customers know the branch will soon shut forever, leaving not one bank for miles around.
The town’s market square was once home to a dozen banks, including NatWest, Santander and RBS.
But over the last four years all but one have shut, and in March residents will lose the last remaining bank after Lloyds announced theirs is among 44 branches to go in the latest round of closures.
More and more communities are losing the only bank in town, creating so-called “bank deserts”, that cause serious problems for the elderly and small businesses.
Just this week TSB announced another 70 branch closures by the end of June.
It means the bank, which had 475 branches just over a year ago, will be left with 220 high street branches around the country.
Among those in the queue in Atherton, Gtr Manchester, are Bernard Brundrett , 84, and wife Margaret, 81, who sadly point out the buildings around the square which used to be banks. Some are boarded up, while others have now been turned into shops or eateries.
The couple say they now face a 40-minute round trip to another town, Leigh, to get to their nearest branch.
Bernard says: “I go to the bank weekly. It’s the last bank we had, you used to have a choice of three or four.”
Margaret says: “We’ll miss it, won’t we? You can talk to them here, you know them and it’s easier. It’s nice to know they’re there when you have problems.”
Carol Minton, a 61-year-old carer who has lived in the town since 1985, agrees. She says: “They know you by your name when you go in.
“They say, ‘Right Carol, what you having?’ I don’t bank online, I’m hopeless. I like to go inside a bank to draw my money out as I think it’s safer. We’ll have to go out of our way to do that.”
Julian Cooke, 63, a retired driver, describes the bank’s closure as “ridiculous”. He says: “It’s a disgrace, what else can you say?
“They’re part of the community aren’t they, a bank? One of my close friends, he does business there and obviously he’s going to have to go into Leigh now.
“He’s a contractor and it’s going to inconvenience him a lot.”
But not everyone cares that Atherton, which has a population of 22,000, will lose its last bank.
Stuart, who did not give his full name, says: “I don’t really mind, it won’t be missed by me. Because of internet technology now I don’t have to use the inside of a bank.
“Looking at the argument going on on the Atherton website, it’s not so much about the bank, but the need to withdraw cash. There isn’t that need any more – I don’t really use cash.”
Around 500 towns and villages are down to their last bank branch, including 200 places which would be severely cut off if it were to close.
Banks and building societies have been closing at a rate of 50 a month, down 4,299 branches since 2015.
Barclays has reduced its network most in that time, and will have closed 650 branches by the end of 2021.
ATMs, meanwhile, are closing at a rate of 578 a month, with people living in 259 postcodes having little or no access even to a hole-in-the-wall ATM.
There is also a North-South divide, with communities in the north of England more likely to have no bank.
Among the 14 towns for which the latest Lloyds closures means losing their last remaining bank, 10 are in the North or Midlands.
On the other hand, of those places that will still have two or more banks after the Lloyds branch closes, 19 out of 23 are in the South.
In Scotland, more than a third of banks have closed in the last six years, with 396 branch closures from January 2015 to August 2019.
And in Wales, the number of bank branches has almost halved from around 715 in 2010 to 370.
Among the communities with no bank is Hale, Gtr Manchester, 20 miles from Atherton. Hale’s last bank, Barclays, closed last December.
A dapper gent who gives his name as Michael says: “We used to have six banks. All gone. The life saver is the post office. If I want cash, I go there.”
In another part of the country, residents in Ware, Herts, have had to make do without a bank since the last one, TSB, closed in February.
The town of 18,000 people lost all six of its high street banks in just four years. Vic and Vera Martin, both 79, are among those who are reluctant to bank online.
Vic says: “At our age we’re nervous because there is a lot of fraud.
“If I was phoned by someone and I thought it might be a scam I could always say I was going into the bank, but now that’s impossible.”
For binman Brian Galloway, 57, it causes different problems.
He says: “I’m a tiler on the side and often clients pay me cash. But without a bank I can’t just deposit it on my way home, I have to hold on to it.
“Also, because there are no banks people don’t come into town as much, so the town centre is slowly dying.”
Abbas Arza, 32, owner of Gadgetech 94 on High Street, agrees and says the bank exodus costs him customers and money.
He says: “When I opened four years ago the town was really busy, but as the banks have closed there are fewer people coming in.
“They go to Hertford instead, where they can do their banking and shopping at the same time.”Internet Explorer Channel Network