A historic meeting took place in London's East End this week between religious and community leaders and representatives of Britain's top banks. Citizens' Organising Foundation delegates from East London, Bristol, Sheffield and the Black Country met British Banking Association members to discuss working together on a number of key issues including 'cash deserts' (urban areas where all banks and cash dispensers have been removed), small business loans and private finance initiatives in schools and hospitals. Banks represented by the BBA at the meeting were: the Nat West, Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds TSB, the Woolwich, the Halifax and the Alliance and Leicester. The outcome of the meeting was an agreement to form a two-year partnership, explained Paul Bunyan, from the East London Community Organisation (TELCO) yesterday (26 July). "We plan to meet four times a year to work on these projects in four inner-city areas of England," he explained. In East London, more than half a million people stand to benefit if the proposals currently under discussion go ahead. During the 1980s, the area was hit hard by the withdrawal of the high street banks. Ten areas are classified as 'cash deserts'. One of the main reasons the banks pulled out was lack of security. TELCO have put forward the idea of installing cash machines in hospital lobbies, community centres and police stations. The banks stand to profit by supporting the scheme. TELCO has 20,000 members in four London boroughs and these would be encouraged to transfer their accounts to participating banks. A similar situation is reflected in Bristol, Sheffield and the Black Country. The activities of the Citizens Organising Foundation were supported by the late Cardinal Hume and are endorsed by Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor. On 16 June this year, Archbishop Cormac praised the work of TELCO (see East London communities come to Trafalgar Square). Speaking at a gathering in St Martins in the Fields, he said recent studies had shown that in areas with strong communities, there was better social and economic development. He said: "I am told that, through TELCO, better relations have developed between Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians and those of no faith, through communities working together on common issues of local concern. This is a very important achievement especially in a multi-faith and multi-ethnic area where barriers of ignorance and fear can all too easily separate and divide."
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