Nationwide’s SE London closures debated in Parliament

Three Greenwich and Lewisham MPs joined forces this afternoon to condemn the Nationwide Building Society’s decision to close seven branches in south-east London from May.

(You can now watch the debate on the BBC’s Democracy Live website.)

Nick Raynsford secured a short debate on the organisation’s plans to close offices in Blackheath, Catford, Greenwich, Lewisham, Peckham, Walworth and Woolwich, a decision he branded “shocking”.

“A quick look at the map will reveal the scale and enormity of what Nationwide is doing,”
the Greenwich and Woolwich MP said.

“All 7 branches inside the South Circular Road will close, while all the branches outside will remain open. Leafy outer south-east London is favoured while inner south-east London is punished.”

Comparing the population of the areas affected with that of large cities outside London, he added: “Suggesting that an organisation the size of Nationwide would pull out of Manchester and Sheffield would be regarded as bizarre.”

He also spoke of the history of the Greenwich branch, which can trace its roots back to London’s first recorded building society in 1809.

Mr Raynsford said he had raised the issue with Nationwide executive Matthew Wyles, but found his response “shocking”, and that the mutual was unwilling to reconsider its decision.

Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander admitted she had orginally given Nationwide “the benefit of the doubt”, believing the closures were part of a far larger programme. “My initial generosity of spitit turned into complete disbelief,” she continued.

“It seems to come down to transaction patterns. They aren’t as profitable in south-east London as they are elsewhere. Nationwide sees customers with a SE postcode as a drag on their business.”

Ms Alexander said she had put the possibility that the Lewisham branch could remain open to Matthew Wyles, but had been told it would “topple over” under the demand. “‘A vortex effect’ were the words he used,” she said.

“Ours are not the parts of London where people have easy access to the internet,”
she continued. “There is a reason why I have 40 people come to my advice surgery. They want to see a human being because it’s easier.”

Lewisham Deptford MP Joan Ruddock said Nationwide had behaved with “complete contempt” for local customers. On Nationwide’s claims that it could not find larger premises in Lewisham, she said: “They can’t have been looking very far, I found two eminently suitable premises close by.”

For the government, financial secretary to the Treasury Mark Hoban said Nationwide’s decions were a matter for the building society. But he added the government was committed to making sure all current accounts could be operated through post offices, and to introduce closer links between post offices and credit unions to make sure all people had easy access to financial services.


  1. I live in Camberwell and use the Peckham branch. I wrote to Nationwide when the announcement was made and had a similar reaction to that of the MPs. I do not have a current account with them, which is a mixed blessing. Banks are also a rarity in this neck of the woods.

    This is madness for a so-called mutual. If they take money from us they should ask us how we want to access it. The people I see down in Peckham queuing up to take their money in or out of Nationwide are not going to have easy or free access to the internet. I am utterly appalled by Nationwide’s explanation: they are not supposed to behave even worse than banks.

    Can someone know of a decent padlock for a mattress and bed instead?

  2. I believe (don’t know, as they haven’t had the decency to write to me as a customer) that they won’t be closing down until after the deadline for this year’s ISAs – just in case anyone cares to lodge three grand with them one last time before they run off with it…

  3. Should have written “Does someone know of a…”.

    It’s Friday – brain turned to porridge.

  4. I don’t care particularly about the closures, it’s hardly difficult to up your money and dump it into some other dirty financial organisation.

    What I do have an issue with is putting more pressure on Post Offices, especially POs that are already too busy and force me to stand in an eerily quiet line whilst one person serves and the others stand around chin wagging.

  5. They deserve to lose every Customer in south-east London, if not beyond. If I was a Customer of their’s I would be pulling out. Disgraceful.

  6. Nationwide is losing all my accounts. I am lucky enough to have substantial savings, so I hope some faceless bureaucrat may notice the letter I will send explaining my actions. I have easy access to the internewt but I welcome the ability to nip into a local office for human contact when things go tits-up [online “customer service” is a joke].

    I am also angry that the group spends enormous amounts on publicity claiming to be focused on members rather than the shareholders who own commercial banks. It was a major part of the argument against proposals to de-mutualise and hand a windfall to members about 10 years ago.

  7. Just read comments: I would like to close my accounts to but was wondering about another mutual in South East London. Any ideas welcome.

    Are we likely to become the first mutual free zone in an urban conurbation? Surely what Nationwide is doing is likely to set a precedent.

    By the way Alex, do you give a stuff whether there is mutualism or are you against that kind of thing? Doesn’t sound like you have much sympathy for or understanding of those of us who use Post Offices and building societies (or the staff). When you see chin-wagging, I see someone being given advice.

  8. Inside the South Circular, only the Chelsea Building Society (now part of the Yorkshire) in Lewisham will remain, along with the Co-Op Bank down the road. Can’t think of any others.

  9. Thanks Darryl.

    Looks like if the government and banks don’t kill off mutualism, the mutuals will in effect do it for them. Sad times.

    What would it take to start up a new mutual, Building or Friendly Society nowadays?

  10. Presumably Metro is not a mutual?

    Of course banks will take the place of building societies and other mutuals where they can on any high street. The point is that banks are a different animal – witness the banking crisis (or should that be crises?): and they are not an unmitigated good thing especially in a generally deprived area such as ours. They cannot truly be said to replace mutuals just because you can put your money in and take it out….

    By the way the former staff at the Nationwide branch I used to use were friendly too – it’s just the upper echelons of management that don’t give a monkeys about customers (or staff?); but then that’s basically British management for you isn’t it?

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