Ten days ago the Nationwide Building Society announced it was closing its Wanstead High Street branch, even though it had promised there would be no branch closures before 2023. We sent these questions to the Nationwide – their answers are below.

Dear Nationwide Building Society

We note with sadness your announcement that you are closing your branch in Wanstead High Street in August 2021. While we understand that fewer people use branches now, we do nevertheless have some questions for you.

  1. How do you reconcile your decision to close Wanstead branch with your promise that no branches would be closed before January 2023? On the face of it, your decision makes your promise entirely worthless.
  2. In your announcement, you say that 13% of the customers of your Wanstead branch use only that branch. You also say that 28% of Wanstead branch customers do not use online banking. This means there is a proportion of your customers who clearly rely completely on your branch for their banking – it is likely these are older people or people who do not have access to internet banking. Is the only option for them really to get the bus to Walthamstow, Ilford or South Woodford?
  3. Nationwide Building Society announced recently that your profits had doubled to £823m. You make great play in your advertising about your role in building societies, but your actions here will damage the Wanstead community. Do you not accept that customers’ expectations of you are higher than they are of commercially owned banks?

We received this reply:

“Branches play a vital role for our members and the communities in which they live. That’s why we extended our promise originally made in 2019 to leave no town or city where we currently have a presence without a Nationwide branch until at least 2023. We’ve committed to maintaining a strong network, upgrading over 240 branches and investing over £225 million since 2017. That’s a vastly different position from many of our competitors who continue to close significant numbers of branches. To put this into context, between 2015-2020 our network reduced by around five per cent compared to a sector average of 32 per cent.

“However, for branches requiring significant investment, and where there are modern branches nearby, we must consider whether it is the interest of our wider membership to keep the branch open. We need to determine whether it makes more sense to use that money to improve and retain branches elsewhere in our network, particularly in areas where there is lower provision.

“This is the case with Wanstead, where we have eight branches within a three mile radius and we know that 87% of members already use another branch and only 2% of members use the branch exclusively and frequently. Locally, we’ve invested in our branches in Hackney, Walthamstow and South Woodford to bring them up-to-date, ensuring people in the area have modern branches with the latest technology and services. This means we can focus on delivering better services that will provide our members with the best face-to-face experience and help to protect our branch network in the long term.

“We would like to encourage any member who needs any support to contact their branch to talk through their options in more detail. In addition to this we will be holding a tea and tech event on 4 August at 3pm to help members explore online services, anyone interested can speak to our colleagues in branch to book the session.”

Wansteadium is delighted to announce that the Wanstead Fringe will take place in September, after last year’s cancellation. The Wanstead Festival, run by Redbridge on Christ Church Green, is also taking place.

The Fringe will this year run over two weeks – Friday 3 September to Sunday 19 September – and the Festival will take place on the middle Sunday, the 12th.

The Wanstead Fringe Association is currently planning events, including the much-loved Kinema, comedy, Jumble Trail, music and talks, and there are hopes too for some theatre.

A spokesman for the association, which is a not-for-profit organisation, said: “It’s clear that even if the nation’s return to normality continues, things won’t be completely back to normal. But we know how much we want some cultural events and trust the rest of Wanstead is the same, so we’re going to do our best to get things together for September.”

  • Do you want to organise an event? Please get in touch with the Fringe organisers at wansteadfringe.org.
  • Do you want to get involved and help out? There are lots of interesting jobs needing doing as the Fringe continues to help develop the cultural life of Wanstead. Please email info@wansteadfringe.org

A new book tells the remarkable story of the role ordinary people living in and around Wanstead had in getting public access to open spaces and also helping to create the idea of environmental protest.

Saving the People’s Forest by Mark Gorman, which has just been published, is marking the 150th anniversary of the protests, which happens next month.

The book’s publishers say:

150 years ago, on 8th July 1871, thousands of people gathered in Epping Forest to mount a protest. A campaign was in full swing – a campaign that renowned ecologist Oliver Rackham has dubbed “the origin of the modern British environmental movement.”

This campaign, to preserve Epping Forest and other commons for public use in the face of unchecked housing development across London, had its watershed moment that day. The crowd gathered to protest the illegal enclosure of Wanstead Flats, at the southern end of the forest, by a local landowner. But the demonstration started a popular campaign which contributed significantly to a change in the law – the Epping Forest Act of 1878 – which was the first legal declaration of the public’s right to use an open space in Britain for leisure.

The story of the demonstration, set within the wider context of the campaign to preserve the London commons, is told in a new book by local historian and environmentalist Mark Gorman. Saving the People’s Forest: Open spaces, enclosure and popular protest in mid-Victorian London sheds new light on the dynamics of the campaign, focussing not on the metropolitan upper middle class players most often credited with its success, but instead on the proletarian grass roots movement whose popular protests would steer the campaign towards its successful conclusion.

The book is published by University of Hertfordshire Press, and is now available from Wanstead Bookshop, below, priced £16.99

This is a parklet. Artist’s impression from Meristem Design for Redbridge Council

Work is soon to begin on Wanstead High Street’s ‘parklet’ – a seating and planting area with bike racks and electric vehicle charging points, similar to one installed last year on George Lane in South Woodford.

The parklet – the name Redbridge Council is giving to the new community ‘mobility hubs’ – will be sited at the edge of the pavement in what are currently parking spaces running from outside Harvey’s greengrocer up to the dry cleaner’s next to the Co-op.

The idea of mobility hubs is to, in the council’s words, to be “small scale transport interconnection hubs that make it easier to change from one mode of transport to another”.

Four parking spaces which are currently pay and display will go – two to make space for the seating, one for an electric car charging bay and one for a “car club” bay, ie for a vehicle available for short term hire.

The proposal went through a period of public consultation earlier in the year. The council says most responses were in favour of the idea.

Councillor Jo Blackman, Redbridge cabinet member responsible for the environment, said: “We’re keen to promote active travel in Redbridge, as well as supporting the transition from diesel/petrol to electric vehicles, and providing more street space for residents and local businesses. The mobility hub in Wanstead will provide a perfect way to combine these aims and we are delighted to be offering this facility to the local community.”

Image: Meristem Design proposal for Redbridge Council

(Google Streetview)

Redbridge Council is proposing to introduce new rules on what can and can’t be done in its parks, including Christ Church Green and George Green, which would tackle a range of anti-social behaviours.

The measures, known as a Public Spaces Protection Order, would include:

  • Drinking alcohol (when asked to stop by an authorised officer)
  • Damaging trees and plants
  • Using or selling drugs
  • Urination, spitting and begging
  • Holding informally organised events, except those authorised by the council
  • Loitering in groups and refusing to disperse (when asked by an authorised officer)
  • Flying drones
  • Littering

A public consultation (available here) is currently asking for views on the proposals. If approved, the plan would bring Christ Church Green into line with the rules introduced two years ago on the High Street.

The consultation comes after Redbridge proposed to set up a café kiosk on the green which would have an alcohol licence and through which small events could be organised. There were objections from some nearby residents who feared the licence could lead to problem drinking on the green, but a PSPO would give the council the powers to intervene if it happened. It is thought the kiosk proposal might be resubmitted in a new form.

The Nationwide Building Society in Wanstead is to close leaving a high street with only the NatWest left standing.

A poster placed the window on Thursday announced the closure, which is to take place in August. Customers are directed towards branches in South Woodford, Walthamstow and Ilford.

The past few years have seen Santander, HSBC and Barclays close. The HSBC in South Woodford has just closed, with its customers directed towards the Post Office in Wanstead.

This week the Nationwide announced that its profits had doubled to £823m.

On a message on its website, it says that it has chosen to close Wanstead branch because there are five other branches within a 2.8-mile radius. It says only 13% of members use only the Wanstead branch, and that 72% of Wanstead branch members are registered for online banking.

Bizarrely the building society had promised that there would be no branch closures until January 2023. It’s not immediately clear how the two positions can be reconciled.

Wanstead Councillor Jo Blackman issued a statement saying:

Bank and building society branches provide a crucial lifeline for older residents in our community who may not be comfortable with online banking. Wanstead high street has lost many of its branches over the years and it’s really disappointing to see Nationwide shut theirs. I’ve written to Nationwide to ask them to urgently reconsider their decision.