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Rural banking project gets mixed reception

A PILOT scheme which may help halt the trend of rural bank closures is receiving a mixed welcome from villagers and businesses.

Lenham, near Maidstone, is among 10 communities nationally which have been chosen to take part in a year-long shared banking experiment which began on January 1.

Under the scheme, personal, small business, club and charity customers of Barclays, Lloyds TSB and HSBC banks are able to use the Lenham branch of NatWest free of charge.

Derek French, head of the Campaign for Community Banking Services, visited the branch, in the Square, to see how the scheme was being received locally. He said: "It's early days at the moment and there aren't any official figures on uptake available yet.

"Early indications are that personal customers have actually taken up the scheme rather better than had been expected, but business customers have been less quick to capitalise."

Mr French, who is based in Hertfordshire, said the Lenham NatWest was the only pilot branch in the south east and in a bid to prevent another round of rural closures in the region, much depended on what happened there. If the shared banking pilot is a success, it is more likely that banks will roll out the scheme to other villages which have only one bank.

In this way they may retain enough customers to be deemed viable by the banks and escape closure. The issue of rural banking is particularly relevant to Kent.

According to figures released by the British Bankers Association, the county has more villages with only one bank and with more than five miles to the nearest alternative bank than any other English county.

The Campaign for Community Banking Services (CCBS) is supported by 27 national consumer groups and charities, including several which champion the interests of elderly people.

It was set up in response to the closure by the four biggest banks of more than 4,000 branches since 1990, a move which has left hundreds of rural communities without a bank.

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