Lights U-turn by ‘Scrooge’ banks

An about-turn this week has seen North Walsham's 'Scrooge' banks and building societies don Santa Claus costumes, belatedly dishing out money from their sacks to support the town's Christmas festivities.

Before last Saturday's Walsham Christmas switch-on, only one of the town's seven banks and building societies had paid the �25 asked by organisers as a contribution towards lighting costs.

But, after being contacted by the EDP this week, four more have now promised to cough up the cash.

Dave Robertson, chairman of the town's Christmas lights committee, was furious when letters which went out to every trader asking for the donation were ignored by all the financial businesses, except NatWest, which chipped in �75 although it is the only one not in the town centre and doesn't benefit directly from the lights.

'It's less than 50p per week,' he said. 'Banks and building societies make money out of the people in this town but they're not prepared to put a bit back. It's shameful. The committee was very exasperated, to say the least.'

Most of the town's small traders had made a donation – some of which had been very generous – despite facing a tough economic climate, he added.

Mr Robertson was particularly angry that the Norwich and Peterborough Building Society had written back declining to contribute but had opened late during the switch-on, giving away mulled wine to visitors while a charity which had paid for a stall in the closed-off Market Place was trying to sell mulled wine for its cause.

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N&P had also brought in a dalek and had taken advantage of the street closure, which cost the committee �55, to let it parade and have its photo taken with revellers, according to Mr Robertson.

Lucy Hunns, N&P spokesman, said they had belatedly decided to make a donation two days before the street fair but had been unable to contact organisers on the phone and let them know.

The dalek's appearance and a Christmas hamper raffled in the branch had raised �254 for the Rainbow children's nursery in Worstead.

'The important thing is, we are making the contribution and the Worstead Nursery is benefiting from the evening too.' said Ms Hunns.

Irene East, Barclays spokesman, said the request letter had accidentally been forwarded to staff in London who did not deal with local donations.

'The branch manager is going to go and pay the �25 today,' Ms East said on Tuesday. Barclays staff volunteered their time to help North Walsham's Millfield School pupils learn about finances and the bank ran a charity scheme where staff could raise up to �750 for a good cause which Barclays would match,' she added.

Alliance and Leicester spokesman Sarah Davies said: 'Normally it is our policy to contribute. I am really sorry. With one thing and another it got overlooked. The money is now on its way.'

Candice Durrett, for HSBC, said she suspected a miscommunication or administrative error. 'We are happy to pay the money,' she added.

Lloyds TSB claimed they had not been approached. Spokesman Claire Barratt said the bank took its role in the community very seriously and 'would have happily contributed the �25 requested.'

The bank regularly contributed to North Walsham in Bloom and was involved with local schools through the Lloyds TSB National School Sports Week.

Nationwide spokesman Paul Beadle said they only had an agency, not a branch, in North Walsham and did not have funds to use for local causes.

Mr Robertson was delighted at the change of heart by the other businesses. He said. 'It just

shows what rattling a few cages can do.'