RURAL communities in the North-East and North Yorkshire breathed a sigh of relief after Barclays pledged to keep more than 100 banks open in remote areas.

These areas include rural towns and villages where Barclays is the last bank in town. It grantees the branches stay open for the next two years.

One area that has been affected by bank closures is Weardale. Stanhope is the only town in the dale to have a bank – without it people would have to travel to Crook or across county to Alston. The branch proves a lifeline for many.

Rachel McKenna, of McKenna Wallart in Stanhope said: “I think it is important to keep it open, even if it is reduced, because it gets very busy, It's very handy for small businesses like us – without it we would struggle.”

Dawn McCormack, of Keystore Express said: “It's open three days a week but you queue for a long time as it gets busy very quickly.

“I thought it was going to close. Unfortunately it’s the only bank between Crook and Alston – it feels like we are losing everything here.”

Gill Worthington of Woodall Fruit and Veg shop said: “After they closed Wolsingham’s bank two years ago everyone from up and down the dale has come here. If it closes it would be no good for people who can’t drive – it can already be a struggle as it is.”

Stanhope Parish Councillor, Joan Carrick of The Old Weardale Bakery said: “It would be a disgrace for it to close. Not everyone does online banking especially the older generation in Weardale. This is great news for Stanhope.”

Branches saved because they are the last bank in town include Barnard Castle, Bedale, Leyburn, Pickering, Middleton-In-Tees, Saltburn-by-the-Sea, Stanhope, Whickham and Yarm.

While Richmond, Thirsk, Easingwold, Whitby, Helmsley are ring-fenced due to their rural location.

Barclays also launched a new cashback scheme enabling people to withdraw money at small businesses. It will no longer offer over-counter cash withdrawals at Post Offices from January 2020, but bosses say they are “committed to the Post Office framework” and customers and businesses will still be able to pay in cash, cheques and check their balance. The scheme should make it easier to withdraw money at businesses in small towns without a branch or ATM.

Barclays is working with customers and communities, including MPs, councillors and business groups, to see if customer demand can be increased, which would help to make branches more viable in the longer term. The 12 trial locations include Barnard Castle, Yarm and Pickering. The trial includes flexible opening hours and making technology available to extend services.

Barclays said “pop-up” banking facilities to help communities will also appear at 300 locations by the end of 2021.

Adam Rowse, managing director of branch-based banking at Barclay, said: “By maintaining last-in-town or remote branches over the next two years, and working with the community, we hope to increase demand and keep these branches viable.

“We really want to focus on engaging customers in the local community to find out what it is that they want.”