Sadly, Berwick is not immune to the blight of empty shops that’s sweeping Britain, with no less than six on the lower part of Marygate alone.
But in some instances, is an empty unit preferable to the alternative?
In a store sympathetically refurbished recently by the townscape heritage initiative, pay day lender The Money Shop opened its doors to Berwickers this week – to a mixed reaction from the town’s folk.
Highfields resident Alan Turnbull believes it’s just a shop like any other, and far better that the space is used. “At least the shop is being filled and not left empty,” he wrote on the Advertiser Facebook page. “I’m also assuming that it will be creating employment?”
But fellow commenter John Weightman disagreed. Speaking about the latest addition to Berwick’s High Street, he said: “This is a matter of great regret. People who have the misfortune to use these places do not have choice: they are in despair.
“They roll over loans and charge multi-thousand percentage interest. Once trapped people often never get free. A £100 loan can reach thousands.”
With the UK economy barely above rock bottom, most businesses are feeling the pinch, while short term loan firms are quids in. More people are turning to the super high-interest lenders just to get by. Earlier this year the payday loan industry’s total profits had more than doubled from £900 million in 2008 up to £1.9 billion.
Jennifer Hall, manager of Berwick Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB), said: “We would always say look very carefully when thinking about applying for a loan. Do you really need it, and if you do you really need to think about it first. Are there other sources of cheaper credit? Are you a member of a credit union or high street bank?
“Look for that magic APR (2949.10% at The Money Shop) and always compare.”
Research by the Debt Advisory Centre showed that two million UK adults borrowed money to make a debt repayment in July, with borrowers in the north east among the most vulnerable.
In Berwick, debt is a very real problem. In the last 12 months the CAB has seen 143 clients who have 465 debts, amounting to £846,825 – and the real figure will be much more – these are just the ones that the CAB are negotiating on behalf of clients.
“Debt can have a significant impact on clients’ health, stress levels and family life,” Ms Hall said. “If debt is an issue, or if you have money problems, seek advice. You can always come to the CAB – we are free, independent and we don’t judge.”
Northumberland County Council last week agreed to have blocks placed on computers in its buildings, preventing users accessing short-term loan firms’ websites, and to investigate the use of planning law to regulate the growth and spread of such companies.