Look local for true banking alternative

Money. Picture by Joe Giddens/PA Wire.
Money. Picture by Joe Giddens/PA Wire.

In Northumberland we have a bank that serves its community, is run by its community, and whose profits go back into that community. Its name is the Tynedale Community Bank.

Ours is a local credit union backed bank, built from the ground up, not the top down.

It is based around local people, supporting a local bank that helps invest in the area and supports local people.

Launched last year by Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, the bank has gone from strength to strength. It now has a membership of nearly 100 people, and one loan has already been repaid. Earlier this summer the bank held its first conference, inviting people to hear about its progress.

It plans to expand its number of information points. There is currently one at Hexham Abbey and one at Allendale Village Hall, with plans to set up more in Haydon Bridge, Bellingham and Prudhoe.

It is early days for our community bank and we are still making huge strides.

At the very heart of the bank there are three guiding principles: choice, consumer, and community.

You should have a choice over where to save your money, yet there are increasingly fewer options. The UK banking market is concentrated in a small number of large banks. The six largest have over 75 per cent of the current account market.

Not only is your choice of where to save money limited, but also where you can access it. In 1979 there were 20,000 banks and building society branches for ten million customers. Today, there is half the number of branches yet five times the customers.

There is a desperate need for an alternative, and that is why the Tynedale Community Bank is so important. It aims to provide those who most need it with a local option.

The primary objective of any bank should be to put the consumer first. Often those who need the most support from a loans and savings bank are those who have the least to give, those struggling to make ends meet. Instead of being forced into the hands of payday lenders, who may charge 1,000-plus per cent interest, the community bank aims to step in, providing a real, affordable alternative.

But it is not just those struggling with their finances whom the bank wants to support. It wishes to, and needs to, attract middle class savers who wish to invest in a local bank. With their support, the bank can truly put the needs of the consumer first.

We have a special community in Northumberland. There is a strong sense of identity, pride and passion. The Tynedale Community Bank can bring out the very best in our community. For example, at the conference it was announced that the bank has launched a scheme which will see it working closely with schools.

It has teamed up with national charity Young Enterprise on its LifeSavers project, where schools set up their own savings bank to promote a healthy attitude to money. Collection days are held once a week, encouraging children to get into regular saving habits. Work will begin on the scheme this month, with the banks starting in January.

Too many people have become disjointed from the concept of money and where it comes from. By educating children on money and saving, the bank wants to encourage a healthier attitude towards money and save more people in the future from payday lenders.

This is just one Tynedale Community Bank initiative. I want there to be many more.

At its heart, the bank, which I am so enormously proud to be involved in, is a community. The solution to many of the issues we face in banking, rather than a heavy-handed, top-down solution from the state, is local and society driven.

It provides an alternative to the big six banks, offering savings and loans that are affordable, putting the consumer first and taking people out of the pocket of payday lenders. It provides banking services that support the community, issuing dividends to local members and backing local residents and not-for-profit initiatives. It is based around local people, supporting a local bank that helps invest in the area and supports local people.

It has its roots firmly in the community — exactly as a bank should be.