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Katherine Shonfield

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Victims of the Barclays Bank closures are unlikely to forget its current, gross advert, set in the us, which yells the word 'big' at viewers in five-second intervals.

Among the condemned are two unlikely London targets: Hampstead Heath and Islington's Caledonian Road. What makes these two branches unique is that they finance high streets where 'big' chains are entirely absent. On Caledonian Road, you will find five builders merchants, none of them B & Q; six chemists but no Boots or Superdrug; two booksellers, neither of them W H Smith or Waterstone's, and three kinds of watermelon merchant. Both high streets border affluence and social housing and make the space where they can happily meet. They spontaneously do that much- vaunted thing: they regenerate themselves and the places around them. The individual businesses depend on the local bank where, face to face with real people, they need not depend on a multinational chain's established name or national credit rating.

Jane Jacobs wrote the best ever guide to urban well-being, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in 1961. In it she notes how the gradual money of banks committed to a locality is like the regular drip of an irrigation system. It provides the steady means for small businesses to come, go and remain, providing diversity and individual commitment to neighbourhood success. This is not about big plans, 'best practice', pavements or bollards: it's about allowing cities and the individual, entrepreneurial urges within them to get on with what they are good at.

The irony is that if Big Barclays had undertaken the same closure of branches in the Big us it would have committed a Big Federal Offence. It seems that in the heartland of the free market, they realise the paradox that the free market itself must sometimes be protected.

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