This week we had the immense privilege of speaking at the Leeds Building Society beautifully designed HQ to delegates from over 20 Building Societies & Credit Unions from across the UK, their CEOs and partners. The whole aim was to look at how community-led High Streets create not just financially sustainable places, but also socially cohesive and vibrant places to live.

Totally Locally has never just been about High Streets. It’s always been about empowering people to make the place they live a little better, and giving tools for those people to share that with their local communities.

So we thought “Yeah, building societies fit with that“. But we never realised just how much they did!

The Conference was organised by Glory & OneBanx – the people putting banking hubs into towns where banks have left, to keep cash on the high street. We listened to fascinating talks (which included a great opener from Kevin Hollinrake), Iain Nicholson MIPM, Ian Goodliffe (making data cool!) Lucy Crumplin Michael Heanue, Ben Nadel, Andrew Gall & Richard Fearon.

We have always been aware that Building Societies operate differently from the normal corporate ‘maximise profit over everything’ school of operation, but we had no idea just what incredible assets to towns & communities they were.

Firstly, being mutuals, for the benefit of the members who deposit money into those accounts which then drive the business. That in itself is worth supporting. The big eye opener for us was that whilst banks are closing physical branches at a crazy rate, Building Societies are OPENING new branches – often in those towns that the banks have deserted.. and customers are loving it.

Some building societies now have free social spaces where groups can meet at no cost, bringing people together to help with loneliness, organise local initiatives and groups and tackle social issues. And no you don’t need to have an account to be part of it! Building Societies are setting up in places like libraries & village hubs to give access to services which wouldn’t be financially viable in small places, like Newcastle Building Society.

The Cambridge Building Society have an incredible scheme – Rent to Home – where first time buyers can rent one of their newly refurbished homes for up to 3 years, then CBS return you 70% of the rent you’ve paid to act as a deposit on buying your first house! There were so many more things like this that the building societies do, and of course they tie into local economies and keeping our High Streets thriving (and we got to show some people our favourite bits of Leeds too).

Our great thanks to our friend Stuart Fearn for inviting us along.

As we say in Totally Locally – Support Your Local Anything… this definitely includes your Building Society!