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NatWest branch closure in Stanmore deepens community concerns

Residents living in Stanmore fear ‘things are getting worse’ as they say the area has lost its community feel over the years.

Sweeping bank closures and growing issues with flytipping have left locals thinking Stanmore is ‘not the same anymore’.

Situated at the northern end of the Jubilee line, Stanmore in Harrow is the location of the former RAF base of the Fighter Command during both world wars and home to a raft of green spaces – including Bentley Priory and Country Park.

But some residents are concerned that a growing population and high street changes are having negative consequences.

Raj, 60, has lived and worked in the suburban town for the past 20 years. Throughout that time he has run Brian’s Shoes on The Broadway, which specialises in children’s footwear.

He said: “Business and retail in general has changed over the years, now it’s getting much tougher but we are still here.”

Raj says buyer habits have changed drastically and this has had a big impact on his business, namely the move to more online shopping – a service which he doesn’t offer.

But he says the nature of his business has enabled him to continue trading. He explains: “We are fitting specialists so we have survived”.

NatWest branch closure in Stanmore deepens community concerns Harrow Online
Stanmore Broadway. Image: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

Raj is in the middle of his busiest period as children get ready to go back to school after the summer holidays meaning he is in high demand. However, he believes the high street is not what it used to be. He said: “There used to be more quality shops around here but it’s really gone down.”

He added: “There used to be five or six banks along here but most of them are gone now. It doesn’t matter so much for us as a business because payments are all on card now but I feel sorry for the elderly people and there’s a lot that live round here and they want to go into the bank.”

This sentiment is echoed by married couple Rosalin, 70, and Harold, 71. They have lived in the area for around 50 years. Rosalin said: “It’s changed a lot, for the worse. We have had four banks close now. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Since 2019, Barclays, Santander, Lloyds and Halifax branches have all closed in Stanmore. The NatWest is set to close its doors for the last time in October, which will leave just one Nationwide branch remaining.

NatWest branch closure in Stanmore deepens community concerns Harrow Online
A general view of Stanmore London, Britain 23 August 2023. Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

Those residents who rely on in-branch banking, particularly pensioners, have been left with growing concerns about how they will get access to their money and leave them relying on younger friends and family members to help them with using online banking.

Rosalin said: “When my mum was very elderly I would go into the branch to get out money for her carers or for whatever she needed. Unfortunately she is not with us anymore but you can’t even do that now. I can’t even go in and get my own without going to Edgware, if I’m lucky somebody will help me.”

She added: “I know with my grandchildren, if they’ve got a cheque they do it on their phones but I haven’t got a clue about that. When I went into the bank to ask how to, they said they didn’t have time to show me. What can I do?”

A statement from NatWest on branch closures said: “Banking has changed dramatically in recent years, with an increased demand for mobile and online services, as our customers benefit from a faster and easier way to bank. Closing a branch is a decision we take very seriously.”

It adds: “We know it can affect those less confident with alternatives we offer.  We’ll always work hard to guide and support you through the changes and find the best way to serve you from now on.”

Raj, Rosalin and Harold also all highlighted a growing concern with the number of flytipping incidents in the area and are calling on the council to do more to tackle it.

Raj said: “Overnight they just dump it, even in my parking space at the back and it can be there a couple of days before someone collects it. Something needs to be done.”

Rosalin adds: “Down Stonegrove if you drive up from the Edgware end you find mattresses, old furniture, whatever. People just dump it and go. We have always lived here and we’re not planning to go anywhere but it’s not the same.”

Over the past 10 years, Stanmore has seen a population increase of one per cent each year, according to the latest census data. Harold explains that the growing number of people in the town has caused issues with parking and traffic.

He said: “There’s a lot of people coming to the area and it’s impossible to get through the roads. Parking is a nightmare as well, there’s a slip road in front of our house and there’s always cars parked there so we can’t get a spot.”

Diana, 66, who has lived in the area on and off all her life but has been here for the past 20 years consecutively, thinks the growing population makes the area feel “overcrowded and over developed”.

She said: “There seems to be more people now and loads more flats, there’s flats going up everywhere. Along with the council tax!”

NatWest branch closure in Stanmore deepens community concerns Harrow Online
Stanmore Station. Stanmore Underground Station is the northern terminus of the Jubilee line. Image Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga.

She also suggests that a consequence of many of the new flats being made up of buy-to-lets is that they are less well maintained as tenants and absent landlords don’t care about the area in the same way.

She said: “This was a big driver for me moving to a different part of Stanmore to avoid that. There’s a sense now that people don’t plant roots here and see it as an investment opportunity.”

Like the other residents, the move from high street branches to online banking has left Diana feeling angry. Rather than being incapable of using the new technology, she wants to be in control of how she accesses and user her finances.

She said: “Again, it’s all part of that personal contact. It is part of that local interaction and the building of trust that builds a community. To some extent, the sense of Stanmore as having its own character feels a bit more diffuse and I’m not sure what to make of that.”

Despite the issues, residents also highlighted aspects of the area they like, including the one hour free parking introduced by the council and a steering away from high-rise developments, as well as the cosmopolitan nature of the town and the amount of green spaces.

They pointed to the walks up in the Bentley Priory – an 18th to 19th century stately home and deer park in Stanmore – and Country Park. Rosalin joked: “We are happy here, it’s just a bit of a pain sometimes.”

Harrow Council’s deputy leader and portfolio holder for planning and regeneration, Cllr Marilyn Ashton, who lives in Stanmore, said: “It’s changed, everywhere changes […] but it’s still a very nice place to live”.

She acknowledged that there is is flytipping in the town but insisted that the council are doing everything possible to crack down on it.

Cllr Ashton said: “It’s disgraceful people don’t want to pay and just dump it […] none of us like it, some people just don’t care. We don’t have a magic bullet but we do clear it as soon as we can. However, I understand perception is sometimes quite different.”

She added: “We have introduced CCTV in hotspots to try and catch people and put them off doing it. We have also introduced four free items of bulky waste collections, which does encourage people not to go and dump their mattress because they can have it taken away for free. […] We are going to come after people, I’m telling you.”

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