Thousands of free-to-use cash machines are closing every year, leaving communities up and down the country marooned without access to pound notes. But not on Bishopthorpe Road, a high street just outside York’s city walls.
Here, thanks to requests from local firms and residents, a brand new free-to-use ATM was installed last month – and shopkeepers say it’s already boosted local trade.
Catherine Parker-Michelthwaite, 50, works at Frankie & Johnny’s cookshop a few doors down from the ATM. She says: ‘When customers needed cash we used to send them to the Sainsbury’s store down the road to get cashback.
Lifeline: Rachel Rickard Straus uses the new cash machine at ‘Bishy Road’, where shops include Frankie & Johnny’s (pictured inset)
‘But we’re a little self-sufficient community of independent shops and it wasn’t right directing people to Sainsbury’s for cash where they would then buy things that they might otherwise have bought on the high street. Now we can send them to the free ATM instead – its installation gets a big thumbs-up from us.’
Bishopthorpe Road – or Bishy Road as it is commonly known – is a gem of a high street, the likes of which were once at the core of communities all around the country, but have now become increasingly rare.
Charlotte the butcher knows by heart which cuts of meat her longstanding customers prefer. Richard the florist supplies fresh blooms to the barber Ryan across the road in exchange for a haircut when he needs one.
If one shop runs out of change, another will step in with a loan until they can get to the bank. It’s no wonder Bishy Road won the Great British High Street Award in 2015 and is sometimes referred to as the Notting Hill of the North.
But until last month, the only access to cash on the high street was an ATM that charged £1.99 per transaction.
Businesses worried that customers who preferred cash faced a choice of paying to access their own money, walking nearly a mile to the nearest free-to-use ATM, or having to buy something in Sainsbury’s to get cash back.
A few residents and shopkeepers contacted ATM network Link to request a free-to-use machine. Since October 2019, any community where there are at least five shops and no free access to cash within one kilometre can request a free-to-use ATM.
Link has had 3,800 requests from members of the public so far, and has installed more than 50 machines. The new ATMs are a help, but they go against a swelling tide of bank branch and ATM closures nationwide.
As many as 8,700 free to-use ATMs have closed in just two years, according to consumer group Which?, while 40 per cent of bank branches nationwide could close by the end of the year.
Unless there is urgent action, including legislation to safeguard access to cash, hundreds more communities face being cut off from cash and banking services.
Ryan Dawson, 30, who runs Q Gentlemen’s Barbers on Bishy Road, knows the benefit of a local free-to-use ATM. He is currently doing a roaring trade snipping off customers’ unruly lockdown locks.
‘We filled 15 black bin liners with hair in the first week back after lockdown restrictions were lifted,’ he says. ‘Our card machine was down, so I don’t know what we would have done without the ATM next door. Most of our customers prefer to pay with cash anyway.’
Across the road, Richard Bothamley, 71, runs the florist Setting the Scene With Flowers. He sets a £4 minimum for card payments because it costs him more when someone pays by card instead of cash.
‘The card machine has cost me around £800 since January – and that doesn’t even include rental costs,’ he says.
‘Cash payments don’t cost me a penny because the flower wholesalers are happy to accept cash payments so I’ve not once had to make one deposit at the bank in the past ten years.’
Down the road, Charlotte and Ben Kneafsey don’t mind how their customers pay. The siblings, aged 22 and 19, run M&K Quality Butchers, which their grandparents Phillip and Linda opened with £200 of wedding money in 1970. ‘We don’t even mind if someone is buying two rashers of bacon for 80p and pays by card,’ says Charlotte. ‘Money is money.’
She says that almost all of their customers choose to pay by card these days, although in the event of the shop’s wi-fi going down, having a free cash machine across the road will prove invaluable.
Charlotte’s grandfather Phillip, 72, says payments have changed beyond recognition since the shop’s early days.
He says: ‘When we started, everything was in shillings and pence and pounds and ounces. Everyone who lived in the area worked at the Terry’s chocolate factory, the Rowntree factory, the railway or the glassworks – and they were paid in cash at the end of the week.’
He adds: ‘Some people have been coming to the shop for so long that they still ask for ten bob’s [50p’s] worth of steak or half a crown’s [12.5p’s] worth of bacon.’
Steve Holding, 50, owner of the Pig and Pastry cafe, is happy to take all types of payment. ‘Most people pay using their phone, some using a smart watch,’ he says.
‘But we want customers to have the option to pay by cash and we’re glad they’re not now having to pay £1.99 every time they want to get their own money out. The free-to-use cash machine is a wonderful addition to our wonderful high street.’
Does your community need a free cash machine?
Anyone can apply to have a free to-use ATM installed in their area if one is not available nearby.
Nick Quin, head of financial inclusion at cash machine network Link, says he and his team will always check whether there are other options available before sanctioning the installation of a free-to-use cash machine.
‘Sometimes, when someone gets in touch, we tell them about a cash machine in their area that they may not know about,’ he says. ‘But in other cases we will look into getting one installed or replacing a paid-for machine with a free-to-use ATM.’
One community to benefit recently is Barton in Oxfordshire, where there had previously only been a machine available that charged £1 per transaction.
Quin says: ‘One person who got in touch was a debt adviser. She was recommending that people use cash to help with their budgeting but they were being thwarted by the £1 fee they paid every time they made a cash withdrawal.’
Often, it is only by visiting a place that the Link team can fully understand why a new cash machine is so necessary.
New Tredegar in the Welsh valleys is a case in point. ‘On a map, it looks like there is a nearby Post Office,’ says Quin.
‘But when you’re there, you realise that to get to it means going 500 metres up a sheer incline, which is impossible to do by foot. So we arranged for a free-to-use cash machine to be installed.’
Apply online for a cash machine via Link.co.uk/consumers/ request-access-to-cash.
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