How Personal Banking is Just the Beginning for Local Library Hubs

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Barclays bank in Havant Library Hampshire
Barclays bank in Havant Library Hampshire

Until last August Barclays bank had been a popular business premises with a team of bank staff who worked in the monumental building at 18 East Street, on the way into the main town centre in Havant, on the south coast of Hampshire in England, for more than thirty years. The Havant branch was one of 103 Barclays branches to permanently close their doors last year.  (1)

After promising in a farewell message to continue be an ‘active presence’ in the community, this week Barclays have popped up in the town centre library in the Meridian Centre in Havant in Hampshire instead. Barclays welcome banner says “We’re here to help” and invites customer to “talk to us about your money matters”.

The bank operates a ‘cashless site’ which means no physical money is available to give out. They do however state that they can help the general public with banking services like getting started with digital banking, making your finances work better, protecting yourself from fraud, buying or improving your home and working out your insurance needs.

The introduction of digital banking has had a major impact on the way that banking is carried out. Banking customers can now manage many aspects of their account on their mobile phones and devices as using banking apps become the norm for most young people and adults who are confident with using technology. This has led to a decrease in people choosing to visit a bank to use ‘counter services’ according to the well-known high street financial institutions.

However, this digital banking trend can negatively impact citizens who struggle to afford or embrace the latest technology. Even simple activities such as paying bills and transferring funds can be fraught with potential obstacles for those who find anything to do with computers rather baffling. There is a real threat of online fraud for people of all ages and the security processes, involved in managing private information safely when using the internet are often complicated. It is understandable that those who are not confident will feel unsupported and unable to complete their financial tasks, without a real person to help them.

Libraries in the UK have for the last few decades provided a facility to help those on lower incomes gain access to current technology and they have offered internet services such as using personal email for applying for jobs. This has been an important community support role especially as the employment market has become almost exclusively digitalised.

This winter libraries have provided warm spaces and an ever-wider range of community services across England, Wales and Northern Ireland for men, women and children from all walks of life. The cost-of-living crisis has meant massively increased household bills particularly to heat older and more energy inefficient homes. Libraries have responded in welcoming and creative ways, such as handing out winter coats, in order to be a hub of support for their residents.

As early as 2005 a research paper sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation identified the possibilities of how libraries have an opportunity to maximise the value of services provided to their residents and outlines how “Any entity is a potential partner for a library: local and state government institutions and agencies, nonprofit organizations, foundations, businesses, schools, faith-based organizations, clubs. The most obvious way for a partner to help is to provide funding, but there are innumerable other ways for partners to get involved.” (4)

In 2015 the Halifax were pleased to announce a successful pilot scheme in operation in the library in Calderdale in West Yorkshire. Since then the Halifax building society known as the largest mortgage lender in England followed this event with a roll out in its namesake town of Halifax and to many other libraries around the country. Halifax, in conjunction with other banks have not been slow to identify the PR opportunities in sponsoring and physically supporting members of their community with learning about how to use IT and portable devices to access internet services. The Halifax has also described how another positive outcome is increased job satisfaction amongst their colleagues who feel they are given time in their work week to support their vulnerable and elderly customers in an important and personal way. (5)

“Almost 200 banks have closed in the last year including the likes of Santander, NatWest, Halifax and HSBC.” exclaimed the Basildon, Canvey and Southend Echo this January. The Basildon, Canvey and Southend Echo’s reporters have seen several libraries work in partnership with different high street banks, across the county of Essex in south eastern England. (3)

This spring in Shropshire in England libraries have been teaming up with HSBC to plug the gap in services for those who want to interact and get advice from another human banking specialist. Daniella Rudd, Local Director for HSBC stated that “We are so thrilled to have created this partnership with Shropshire Libraries, and are really looking forward to talking to local people to help them protect themselves against fraud, manage their money better and look at new ways of banking. The sessions are open to anyone, you don’t have to be an HSBC customer; so our friendly team look forward to meeting as many people as possible to chat over these important subjects.” Bishop’s Castle, Church Stretton, Much Wenlock, Oswestry and Shrewsbury (main Library) have all positively embraced HSBC’s expert sessions in their book lending centres. (6)

Many village libraries in England have closed in recent years partly due to the advancement of digital learning and the decline in book reading in the UK. Government enforced lockdowns during the pandemic have affected thousands of remaining libraries and community service centres in a variety of ways. However, over the last year or two libraries that are still funded by local councils have gained a new momentum as spaces to support both academic learners and those who need supportive spaces in the local vicinity of where they live. Families and individuals need to engage with others, find out what is available locally and access a multitude of health, education and social services.

Many libraries such as Waterlooville in Hampshire are inviting volunteers who live within a short walk or driving distance to help facilitate children’s story times, nursery rhyme times and more specialist meetups such as dementia friendly art classes. Volunteering can help people build skills and working with volunteers helps libraries reach out into their communities more effectively within their strict budgets.

Providing financial services and working with other commercial organisations can offer an ideal solution for organisations looking to work in partnership. Libraries can hire out spaces and this in turn can help them with much needed funding. Businesses can benefit from connecting with their customers and communities in supportive, flexible and creative ways. Libraries are usually situated with good transport links and it makes sense that during what are difficult times for many that the knowledgeable and valuable expertise of library managers and their teams can be pivoted and maximalised to provide a variety of supportive ways to serve their communities in ever more diverse, useful and uplifting ways.

Hampshire residents please note:

Barclays are currently available at The Library in Havant, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. From 9:30am to 5:00pm on Tuesdays and 9:30am to 1:30pm on Thursdays. Walk in appointments may be available, or to make an appointment visit barclays.co.uk/local

There are cash machines nearby at Lloyds, Nationwide and Halifax all these facilities are free to Barclays customers.

(1) ‘The Hampshire Barclays branches that have closed in 2022 including Totton, Petersfield and Havant’ Robert Edwards, Hampshire Live News, 21 September 2022 ‘The Hampshire Barclays branches that have closed in 2022′ Robert Edwards, Hampshire Live News

(2) ‘Warm Banks’ at U.K. Libraries Invite Locals To Get Cozy’ Molly Enking, Smithsonian Magazine, 19 December 2022 ‘Warm Banks’ at U.K. Libraries Invite Locals To Get Cozy’ Molly Enking, Smithsonian Magazine

(3) ‘Calls for south Essex libraries to host banking services’ Matthew Critchell, Crime and Courts Reporter, Basildon, Canvey, Southend Echo ‘Calls for south Essex libraries to host banking services’ Matthew Critchell, Crime and Courts Reporter, Basildon, Canvey, Southend Echo

(4) ‘World Library and Information Congress – Libraries a voyage of discovery’ Jessica Dorr, Martha Choe and Kara Hannigan, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 22 August 2005 ‘World Library and Information Congress – Libraries a voyage of discovery’ Jessica Dorr, Martha Choe and Kara Hannigan, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

(5) ‘Case Study: Halifax Community Bank’, Gov.UK – UK government official website, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, 16 December 2015 ‘Case Study: Halifax Community Bank’, Gov.UK

(6) ‘Shropshire libraries hosting friendly banking advice sessions’ Shropshire Council, 19 January 2023 ‘Shropshire libraries hosting friendly banking advice sessions’ Shropshire Council, 19 January 2023