Modernity, ain’t it great? Without it, you wouldn’t be a couple of clicks away from watching last week’s episode of the documentary series Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands, in which Paul Murton trailed around the unified islands of Harris and Lewis. Thanks to BBC iPlayer we can soak in the programme's insights – of the region’s departed whale trade, of its still-thriving tweed industry, of the mysterious Lewis chessmen – even if we missed them the first time around.
But the show also reminds us of modernity in a different way. We’ve become so used to organising our bank accounts over the Internet, and of drawing out cash in seconds from the nearest ATM, that we forget what it must be like for people who don’t have these facilities. And yet there are those on Harris and Lewis, and elsewhere, who are so cut off from everyday banking that the Royal Bank of Scotland has laid on a special service for them. Converted Transit vans travel around remote locations bringing all the amenities of an RBS branch to customers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach them. It is, as Murton says between the 17:46 and 20:13 marks of the episode, ‘a bank on wheels’.
These banks on wheels have been operating since November 1946. Since then, Hitachi Capital has been brought in to help manage the fleet. It’s work that we’re very proud to do. As our own case study observes, ‘the mobile branch banking service now covers over 7,000 miles a week making over 500 stops serving over 360 different communities in 19 different areas of Scotland, England and Wales.’ This is a hard-working and wonderful service. It binds communities together, even as so much else changes around them.
Anyway, the episode of Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands is available on iPlayer for another few weeks. It’s a rewarding way to fill half-an-hour of your time.