It is time to raise a glass of mulled wine to the residents of Trawden in Lancashire.
This year, they have come together to save their local pub from closure – this triumph after saving the villages’s only shop, post office service, community centre and library. They now also have high street access to cash.
Their fighting spirit has breathed new life into the community. It also sends out a positive message to communities up and down the country – in danger of losing their pubs, bank branches and cash machines – that they can fight back against big city and public institutions which have little or no interest in preserving the infrastructure of small towns and villages.
Cheers! Toby Walne, left, with landlord Adam Young and partner Jo Stafford, villagers Stephen Wilcock and Molly Ralphson
Earlier this year, the Trawden Arms was destined for the chop after 127 years of serving locals. Plans were afoot to turn the building into flats by developers.
But the 2,000-strong community pulled together to raise £520,000 so that the pub can keep serving the residents of Trawden for years to come.
It is the latest in a series of survival ‘miracles’ the villagers have conjured up to keep the fabric of the community intact.
Desperate to find out the secret to its success, I stand at the pub bar in this former cotton mill village in the Pennines with a frothy pint of Pride of Pendle in my hand.
The beer is from Moorhouse’s Brewery, eight miles away in the footballing town of Burnley.
I get a warm welcome from new landlords Adam Young and partner Jo Stafford, who arrived from Leeds last month.
Has your community come together to save a vital high street service? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam explains: ‘There is something truly special about the community spirit here in Trawden.
‘The secret of the pub’s survival is that we are not the only ones running it – there are another 400 landlords living in the village.’
What Adam is referring to is the 400 villagers who bought a share in the inn, paying at least £500 each to ensure its survival.
Although not a wealthy community, they managed to raise £460,000. Plunkett Foundation, a charity, handed over a further £30,000 and lent an additional £30,000 to make the purchase possible.
Part of the pub’s appeal is that as part owners, many villagers are keener than ever to use it – even suggesting new ways the pub can be used.
I am too early for both the weekly ‘folk music night’ when locals sit by the open fire to sing songs and play music – and a special festive visit from carol singers raising money to fix the village church’s roof.
During the day, activities include Christmas wreath making and willow weaving lessons.
It must be thirsty work as the pub is thriving like never before, selling up to 1,000 pints a week, way up on sales pre community ownership.
Joining me for a drink is Steven Wilcock, chairman of the Trawden Forest Community Pub Group.
His modest demeanour hides the true Lancastrian grit and determination that was required to transform what was fast becoming a ghost community into a thriving, bustling village.
Steven was instrumental in the transformation of this community seven years ago when the local district council decided to shut down the community centre.
Then the county council shut the library and the Post Office pulled the plug on the village.
Steven says: ‘It was a tough battle. Individually, we are not rolling in money, but there is something about this former cotton mill community that binds us like a family.’
Out on the village’s cobbled streets, the togetherness is embodied by the tightly packed Victorian terraced houses that were built for mill workers.
Gracey Farthing, three, with her grandmother Emma Haines in the shop
Opposite the pub is a shop with an adjoining library and next door a community centre – all having been saved by locals.
At the back of the library, a local subpostmaster visits every Monday morning – but only because locals were prepared to provide him with premises.
This service enables locals to deposit cash or cheques into their bank accounts or make withdrawals.
The shop also allows customers to use a cashback service for up to £50 six days a week. Shoppers only need to make a purchase of a few pence to use the service.
A pool of 80 volunteers work two-hour shifts to keep the shop open. The pub and shop are run on a commercial basis, with profits ploughed back into the services.
Molly Ralphson is volunteer co-ordinator at the shop and library, which reopened in 2018 after two years of fundraising.
The aisles are packed with local produce, including irresistible homemade walnut cake and brownies. With one eye on the environment, essentials such as coffee, tea, sugar, flour and an array of spices and herbs are sold without packaging. Residents simply bring their own containers.
Nicola Sharples, a local resident and a jeweller, regularly gets £20 cashback from the shop. The 56-year-old says: ‘When it comes to budgeting, there is nothing better than having cash in your hand.
‘Paying with cards is dangerous as you never quite know how much you are spending.’ Last week a bank-backed access to cash action group announced that by the end of the year 2,000 shops nationwide will offer a cashback service without customers needing to buy anything. Currently 1,000 offer this service.
It will also roll out shared banking hubs in five new towns – branches where customers (personal and business customers) can do basic banking as well as see a representative of their bank on a specific day of the working week.
These are in addition to two hubs – Rochford, Essex, and Cambuslang, South Lanarkshire – that have been running since April this year. Eleven free cash machines will also be opened and a further 30 may be installed inside local post offices.
But Molly Ralphson is unimpressed. She says: ‘Cashback is hardly a new idea. This is just a smokescreen for the big banks to continue axeing branches and ripping out free ATMs at an alarming rate.’
Over the past decade, a third of all bank branches have been axed with 4,300 shutting since the start of 2015 – equivalent to 50 closures a month. Some 500 free to use ATMs are being shut every month.
Natalie Ceeney, chair of the action group, says: ‘We know demand for cash is declining – but we are also aware that it continues to play a vital part in the lives of at least five million people in the UK, including some of the most vulnerable.’
She adds: ‘The shared banking hubs in Rochford and Cambuslang have shown there are many ways to meet people’s cash needs. I’m confident our new plans lay the foundations for a positive future for cash access right across the UK.’
The Plunkett Foundation provides guidance as well as financial support for those wanting to save community services.
Communications manager Liz Woznicki says: ‘We provide free support for any community considering a shared ownership project, which includes legal advice.’
Don’t forget we must help people to go digital too
By Lord Holmes, Joint Chair of Parliamentary Banking and Fintech Group
It is pleasing to see the progress made in the last few days on preserving high street access to cash.
It’s a victory for The Mail on Sunday’s personal finance editor Jeff Prestridge who has battled long and hard to ensure communities nationwide are not deserted by the banks.
In recent years, there has been a sense of real desperation and a powerlessness to act when a local bank branch closes. If you’re old, disabled or poor, then the only alternative is to travel to the nearest town – often time-consuming, costly and inconvenient.
For small businesses, the only options left have been to shut up shop in order to deposit their takings – or stop accepting cash altogether. I am hopeful that the new framework set up by the cash action group means communities will have a form of redress if their last branch in town is earmarked for closure. I am also certain The Mail on Sunday will keep a close eye on what’s happening and hold offending banks to account.
We also need to use this opportunity to reflect on the wider conversation around digital services that goes beyond banks.
Anyone looking to book their booster jab, make a GP appointment or even renew their subscription for their garden waste are all instructed to do so online.
Therein lies the desperation and frustration that many people face.
They keep being told they can do things online without a thought to whether they’re able to do it in the first place.
If you are digital-savvy, then you can get to the front of the queue to renew your prescription or get a better rate on your savings account. If you aren’t, then tough luck.
This is turning into a key public policy issue that was acutely highlighted during the pandemic as many families struggled to educate their children from home because they did not have access to the internet. We need to provide fibre broadband access to all homes. We also need to help people ‘go digital’.
It wasn’t so long ago that millions of people retuned their TVs from analogue to digital. We don’t reflect on this exercise because it worked so well, but it was part of a huge, joined-up project by Government, charities and industry.
The digital economy is here, but for many it’s not and they are being left behind. We need to help these people go digital. It’s time for another joined-up project.